Is it wrong to say Merry Christmas to strangers?


Fact Box

  • A variety of holidays are celebrated in December: Christmas (Christian), Hanukkah (Jewish), Kwanzaa (African), Boxing Day (British), and Omisoka (Japanese). 
  • In Season’s Greetings From The White House, author Mary Evans Seeley mentioned President George HW Bush was the last president to mention “Christmas” in a holiday card. 
  • The English word Christmas is related to Catholicism’s “mass on Christ’s day.”
  • The word Christ is the Greek translation of the Hebrew word Messiah, which means “the one anointed with oil.” 
  • According to a 2018 NPR/PBS/Marist poll, 56% of Americans favored “Merry Christmas” over “Happy Holidays” (31%).

Morgan (Yes)

Before wishing a stranger a 'Merry Christmas,' perhaps it's important to consider how it may be perceived and how it can make the one saying it looks. Christmas is a Christian holiday, and in the United States, where Christianity is the most commonly practiced religion, most people assume that those they run into celebrate Christmas as well. However, the US is an incredibly diverse country filled with people who practice other religions and celebrate other holidays. Wishing someone a 'Merry Christmas' without asking if they celebrate can make one seem presumptive and ignorant.

It's no secret that it's nearly impossible to avoid the Christmas spirit, decor, songs, and atmosphere throughout December. But this often creates an uncomfortable environment for those who celebrate holidays such as Kwanzaa, Hanukkah, and Ramadan, which get very little recognition in the US at this time of year. Specific holiday greetings about non-Christian holidays aren't typically said to strangers. While it's incredibly common to witness strangers wish others a 'Merry Christmas' around the holidays, that doesn't mean it's the right thing to do. Holiday greetings for non-Christian holidays aren't as commonly said to strangers, and this often excludes those who don't celebrate Christmas. 

While it may be done with good intentions in wishing strangers a 'Merry Christmas,' it would be more acceptable if there were no other greetings to use to show someone you wish them well. However, there are plenty of other greetings people can and should use, such as 'Happy Holidays,' which is a more inclusive way to welcome everyone during the holiday season. 

Curtice (No)

Saying 'Merry Christmas' today seems to be offensive words to some. This should not be the case. Using the phrase does not mean that the person who is expressing it is a Christian, nor does it force Christianity on anyone else. In fact, many people who celebrate Christmas more as a secular holiday of gift-giving and gathering with friends a family than as a religious holiday happily use the phrase 'Merry Christmas.'

Much like other previously commonly used phrases, once viewed as 'normal,' it seems like society now needs a dictionary written in pencil to keep up with what is acceptable to say. Saying someone is 'tone-deaf,' for example, suggests that the person did or said something thoughtless or inappropriate, given the situation. It is not, and should not be, offensive to the hearing impaired. 

For the record, those who wish others 'Merry Christmas' are not tone-deaf.

The intent of those wishing one and all a 'Merry Christmas' is a pleasantry for the holiday season, in which Christmas is central. According to an NBC News article, 'The person most likely to insist on saying 'Merry Christmas' would be a Republican man over 60 who lives in the Midwest; the archetypal 'Happy Holidays' proponent is a young (18-29) female Democrat living in the Northeast.' In other words, those most likely to deliberately avoid 'Merry Christmas' are those who are consistently aggrieved in society.

Around a season filled with joy and love, our culture really should attempt not to be so sensitive and thin-skinned. Many people today make a vocation out of being offended, often take offense on behalf of others. Let's not forget what the season is about—peace, harmony, and joy—regardless of religion.

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