Why is it that all of our holidays and special occasions are prefaced by “happy”—Happy Holidays, Happy New Year, Happy Easter, Happy Birthday, etc.—except Christmas?

It’s always Merry Christmas?

The folks at Mental Floss looked into the question and found that the answer goes back centuries, to the connotation of the two words.

  • “Happy came from the word “hap,” meaning luck or chance implies good-fortune. “Merry” implies a more active showing of happiness—which you might think of as merry-making.
  • Merry is a much older word, that originally meant pleasant or agreeable. The weather could be merry, or the aroma of fresh-baked bread.
  • As words evolved, “happy” became distinctive as an emotional condition, while “merry” referred to behavior.
  •  
    During the 18th and 19th centuries, both words were used.

    In Victorian England, the era that advised many of our modern Christmas traditions, “merry” was used by Charles Dickens and in Christmas carols.

     

    Buche Noel

    Bûche de Noël, the classic Christmas yule* log cake (photo courtesy Pom Wonderful).

     
    However, in the U.K., “happy” took on a higher-class connotation, while “merry” was associated with the rowdiness of the lower classes.

    The royals preferred “happy.” King George V greeted “Happy Christmas” in his first Christmas radio broadcast, in 1932. That gave it the stamp of approval to his subjects.

    In the U.S., “Merry Christmas” became preferred for its sentimental meaning. Even hearing the word “merry” on its own makes many of us think of Christmas.

    Whatever your choice, we wish you a Merry Christmas. If you don’t celebrate the holiday, we wish you all the good sentiment it connotes.

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    *Yule is an archaic word for Christmas. Yule or Yuletide was a festival observed by the historical Germanic peoples. It later became Christianized into the terms Christmas and Christmastide.

     


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