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Wednesday, December 19, 2012

What makes Christmas merry? A brief history of yuletide adjectives | OxfordWords blog

Here's an article appropriate for this time of year!

It begins by describing how "Merry Christmas" came first as a holiday greeting, followed by "Happy Christmas." The article notes that "Happy Christmas" never really caught on in the United States, as it did in England.

As an American, I first recall hearing "Happy Christmas" in the great song by Britisher John Lennon, "Happy Christmas (War is Over)." I even was expecting a reference to that song in this article; it never appeared.

But I was surprised to read that "Happy Christmas" was actually
the original phrase used in the famous poem by Clement C. Moore, “A Visit from St. Nicholas." It closes with this line:
But I heard him exclaim, ere he drove out of sight—"Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night."
The articles notes that in the U.S., "Merry" is often substituted for "Happy" in that poem.

Of course, the article also describes changes in references to Christmas (emphasis added):
It is probably no coincidence that use of Happy Holidays and Season’s Greetings started picking up steam around the same time Merry Christmas peaked, gaining popularity as an appeal to greater cultural sensitivity in a society becoming more conscious of religious and ethnic diversity.
The article notes silly uses of "Happy Holidays" or versions of the phrase. It concludes, however:
[I]n phrases like “holiday recipes”, it usefully encompasses latkes as well as gingerbread, and when used as a seasonal greeting, “Happy Holidays” is an apt acknowledgement of what is in the United States a full two months of overindulgent celebration, beginning with Thanksgiving, spanning December’s multitudinous offerings, and ending arguably not with the New Year, but with the Super Bowl in early February. ...
The Oxford article is featured today, Dec. 19, in my daily online paper, Garbl's Style: Write Choices, available at the Editorial Style tab above and by free email subscription.

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