Happy Holidays Through American History

Happy Holidays in the Daily Ilini of 1958

“Uttering ‘Happy Holidays’ or keeping Christ out of Christmas this season is nothing to take lightly. When we abandon the true meaning of Christmas to be politically correct to keep the vocal minority happy, we abandon both the foundations of America and of Christianity.” — Tim Wildmon, American Family Association President

“You don’t see the word ‘Christmas!’ It says ‘Happy Holidays’ all over!” — Donald Trump

With increasing ferocity, Christian Right activists and Republican politicians have been getting upset at the appearance of the phrase “Happy Holidays” in American society.  The idea is that “Happy Holidays” is some new kind of “politically correct” phrase used as a weapon against Christmas.

History shows something else.

To start out with, “Happy Holidays” has been a traditional American phrase for a long time. In 1864:

Happy Holidays in the Daily Ohio Statesman of 1864

In 1889:

Happy Holidays in the Forest Republican in Pennsylvania in 1889

In 1892:

Happy Holidays in the Rock Island Argus, 1892

In 1958:

Happy Holidays in the Daily Ilini of 1958

American history is replete with the use of the phrase “Happy Holidays” without any political-religious bludgeoning to it.  It’s an old term, not a new one, one that Americans have used without problems or controversies for generations.  What’s new is that some segments of the population are seeking to make the phrase unacceptable, to make the phrase politically incorrect.  The Christian Right and Republican political forces are trying to revise history to make Americans believe that anything other than the use of the word “Christmas” is unacceptable.

What history actually shows is that “Happy Holidays” has been around for a long time, and that the use of the phrase “Merry Christmas” is what’s surging, not the opposite.  A consultation with Google’s searchable repository of books reveals the trend:

Merry Christmas on the March: Source Google Books Ngrams

“Happy Holidays” has a long history, but it is “Merry Christmas” as a phrase that is a currently-spiking obsession in books.  There is little evidence of a “War on Christmas” in this regard, and much evidence that “Happy Holidays” is not a weapon in such a “war.”  Rather, forces on the right wing of American politics are working very hard to make people feel as if this were true.  We’d do well to watch out for the stoking of feelings, always checking them against actual observations of the world around us.