December 12, 2013

‘Merry Christmas’ or ‘Happy Holidays’?


When asked about how stores should greet their customers over the holidays, 42% of Americans prefer “Merry Christmas,” 12% prefer “Happy Holidays” and 46% say it doesn’t matter.

Whether or not there is a “War on Christmas” in the United States, as some commentators believe, there’s plenty of discussion about the topic. In Texas earlier this week, for instance, a state legislator who sponsored a new law protecting traditional holiday greetings in public schools said he hoped other states would follow Texas’ example in standing “in defense of Christmas.”

Last December, the Pew Research Center asked Americans whether they prefer stores and businesses to greet their customers by saying “Merry Christmas,” or “less religious terms such as ‘Happy Holidays’ and ‘Season’s Greetings.’” The survey asked the question in two different ways to two different groups:

• A random half of respondents were asked to choose a preference between “Merry Christmas” and the less religious terms.
• The other half were asked a version that included those two options, then added “or doesn’t it matter to you?” at the end.

When the question is presented as a choice between “Merry Christmas” and the less religious terms, 57% pick “Merry Christmas” and 27% select the less religious terms. (In this instance, even without “it doesn’t matter” presented as an option, 15% volunteer that they don’t have a preference.)

But when “it doesn’t matter” is added as an option, it draws roughly the same amount of support as “Merry Christmas”; 42% say they prefer “Merry Christmas,” 12% prefer the less religious terms and 46% say it doesn’t matter. There has been almost no change since 2005, when we asked the same question.

In either case, there is a significant split between Republicans and Democrats on the question; Republicans strongly prefer the Christmas greeting. For example, when “it doesn’t matter” is included as an option, 63% of Republicans or those who lean Republican say they prefer “Merry Christmas,” while 5% choose “Season’s Greetings” or “Happy Holidays” and 32% say it doesn’t matter. Among Democrats or those who lean Democratic, 28% prefer “Merry Christmas,” 17% opt for the less religious terms and 55% say it doesn’t matter.

Category: Daily Number

Topics: Religious Beliefs and Practices

  1. Photo of Michael Lipka

    is a senior editor focusing on religion at Pew Research Center.


  1. K Laux2 years ago

    I am currently in my 60’s and as a child I remember cards that said Happy Holidays, and Season’s Greetings being received by and sent from my parents. I always assumed they were covering the entire Holiday Season – from Christmas to New Years and “Old Christmas” or Epiphany, as it is known. No one took issue with it. When I looked it up, I found these greetings common at least as far back as the mid to late 1800’s. If these wishes now include Hanukkah and Kwanza, I don’t have a problem with that. And yes, if there were a Muslim holiday in December I would add that in too. I think we are all just a little too thin skinned these days. Acknowledging your Holiday does not detract from mine.

    And from a public school perspective, having one Holiday concert, party, celebration to cover everything made sense when my kids were in school, both fiscally and for teaching time lost. I think it is a good time to include lessons and acknowledgement of all the holidays being celebrated. Just my 2 cents.

  2. edith reitmeier2 years ago

    The stores that refused to say MERRY CHRISTMAS for fear of offending non christians realize that the ones they are kowtowing to do not celebrate christmas and do not spend money in their stores.

  3. Ryan Goodyear2 years ago

    I feel Christians should spend Christmas with each other and NOT on a single gift. I’m telling my family and friends not to exchange cheap made products produced in China by slaves with my children. If Christmas is so offensive so is our money.
    Christmas has become about wasting money on garbage that makes huge corporations even richer while we struggle to pay our bills with our poverty level wages. This year I’m celebrating Christmas without consumerism but with love and family.
    No offense

  4. Edwin Hendrix3 years ago

    The companies that refuse to say MERRY CHRISTMAS should close their stories for the Christmas season.They have no problem saying other holiday celebrations.

  5. Becky Price3 years ago

    Merry Christmas

  6. dorene3 years ago

    I have always and will always say and wish everyone a very Merry Christmas. Jesus is the reason for the season.

  7. Cynthia Requenez3 years ago

    Merry Christmas Y’all!

  8. Hans Herman3 years ago

    Yes it is Have a Merry Christmas and a happy holiday

  9. Jeff Goldwasser3 years ago

    For a majority religion, you Christians sure are insecure. Listen, my friends, there is no threat to Christmas. It is ubiquitous. You cannot walk into a department store or a doctors office without hearing Christmas songs. You cannot walk through a commercial center of any American city without being blinded by tinsel. You cannot walk through the halls of any public school (!) without seeing Christmas decorations. War on Christmas? Please.

    1. Craig Davenport3 years ago

      Actually Jeff, while ubiquitous, Christianity, and – by extension – Christmas are certainly under attack. Back in 2012, even the chief of the BBC admitted that Christianity is treated with far more insensitivity that other religions.…

      True, there are still lots of stores decorated and radio stations playing various degrees of quality Christmas music, but there are many schools today who still celebrate Halloween (I don’t know how they forget it’s a pagan religious holiday) and far fewer who celebrate Christmas in lieu of ‘winter festivals.’

      To be honest, I’m fine with that myself, but I don’t want others counseling me on what I should say when even my former Jewish boss and my my wife’s very good Muslim childhood friends celebrate Christmas (secular) FAR more than my family. We get Merry Christmas wishes from them every year!

      And Merry Christmas to you too, Jeff AND what ever you celebrate!

  10. julie mcneil3 years ago

    Both are correct. It is Christmas and there other holidays occurring at the same time. I like to think it is wonderful to celebrate more than one holiday at a time!

  11. James Vaughan4 years ago

    Since you rejected every comment I attempted to post here (and I attempted to post at least six, all of which respected your comment policy) and posted only ONE (“Merry Christmas to one and all!”), it would appear that you are indeed attempting to promote a certain point of view, all the while posing as an objective research group.

  12. K.Flyer4 years ago

    Christmas is a time when most Christians around the world celebrate the birth of Christ their saviour. (some celebrate in January)
    Therefore the term Christmas should be used
    If someone feels offended at it, well thats their own insecure problem.
    All religions and faiths have their own time of major celebration, should they all be told to use the term “Happy Holiday” if in public, I think not. Because for each it is not a “Holiday” it is a time of celebration and contemplation of their beliefs and faith so why can people not allow it to be just that, including Christmas.

    1. J.Hyres4 years ago

      Spot on!

    2. Michelle3 years ago

      Has it really never occurred to you that when a person wishes you happy holidays, they might actually be including BOTH of the major end of the year holidays that most Christians observe – Christmas AND the New Year?! And are you really so petty that you choose to be offended rather than accept someone’s good will?!

  13. Dan Nietzsche4 years ago

    I ask Pew Research Center to conduct a survey among Americans whether they prefer
    Happy Hanukkah or Happy Holidays!

  14. Cody4 years ago

    I just say Happy Holidays because a “holiday” to me means no work, kicking up feet, relaxing, having fun. I don’t even think about whether or not they are celebrating Christmas or not — I just and wishing them happy times away from work.

    Why do people chose to be offended at *everything*?

    “Yooou didn’t say Christmas so I’m going to berate you.”
    “Yoooou said Christmas so that means you are putting down my religion!”

    It is ok, people. It will be ok.

  15. SARNO684 years ago

    Christmas: TO BOATS 48……

    Christmas, as we celebrate it today, is mixed with both Christian and pagan elements. For instance, in paganism, the 21st of December is the birthday or renewal of the �Sun God,� as well as the Winter Solstice. Pagans were well aware of the sun cycles and seasons, as it was the governing factor of their religion by and large. The 21st of December was important to pagans because it marked the point in the year where the days would begin to get longer, in terms of the duration of time that the sun would be out. This pagan holiday, called �Saturnalia� was celebrated with an extreme amount of generosity and general merriment among everyone. Gifts were exchanged with neighbors and evergreen trees were decorated and danced around in celebration of nature and the perpetuation of life. All was made possible, according to paganism, by the Sun, and his return (on December 21st of each year), marked the promise of a new year. Later, when the Roman church attempts to unite pagans with Christianity, the attempt proves futile. Since they cannot stamp out the holiday entirely, the Roman church changes the date of the celebration and assigns new Christian meaning to it, designating it the birth of Jesus Christ rather than the birth or return of the Sun god. This was done in by the Roman church with hopes to make the transition from paganism to Christianity smooth. There is significant evidence that Jesus was not born in December at all, as the Bible specifically states that Mary and Joseph traveled to Bethlehem during tax season which would have been during a warmer part of the year, namely, late summer, early fall.

    In order to account for the pagan rituals that were still practiced on the new �Christian� holiday, the Roman church assigned Christian meaning to the pagan rituals of gift giving and generosity. The gift exchange became associated with the three wise-men that presented Jesus with gifts after his birth. Clearly, giving offerings to Jesus the son of God is much different than giving gifts to each other; however, this allowed the church to accept the gift exchange that continued, even after they banned the pagan holiday. In fact, the two holidays became so intertwined, that the word Christmas actually derives from the words �Christ� (Christian) and �mass� (meaning a pagan ritual or rite).

    1. Paul3 years ago

      Oh my….what does the average citizen care or know about the origins? It is the modern
      definition that is all important. ( We find that words are fluent and change meanings as well, with no regard to their historical origins. ) Christmas in the 2,000’s means the birth of Christ, pure and simple. The gifts are NOW based on the gifts Christ received pure and simple. To not acknowledge that is to deny the majority of our cultural -present day traditional heritage.

  16. James Vaughan4 years ago

    Merry Christmas to one and all!

  17. Chris D.4 years ago

    Honestly whether you believe in Jesus or Santa…. Merry Christmas! Why would this great holiday which brings everyone from all walks of life together offend anyone. Guys this is the United States of America! Key word: UNITED. We all stand for one another’s beliefs and must respect all people from all cultures and backgrounds. Its in our constitution and its what separates us from the rest of the world! I remember being in elementary school and celebrating all customs and traditions during this time of the year. We drew Christmas Trees and Minoras, sang Christmas songs and spun driedels. It was fantastic! I want my kids to have the same experience and learn about all cultural traditions during this time of togetherness and joy. Trying vale Christmas from the majority is not my idea of fairness or equality. Lets please stop trying to please people that keep trying to divide us and remember what this time of the year is really about. MERRY CHRISTMAS, HAPPY RAMADAN, & HAPPY CHANUKAH!

  18. Barry Hollander4 years ago

    I have never, in my life, ever said “Happy Holidays” to anyone. It’s meaningless, pseudo-sensitive, politically correct drivel. Say something with meaning, or don’t say anything at all.

    1. Alison4 years ago

      And it was commonly used — along with “Season’s Greetings” as long ago as on Victorian-era greeting cards. Apparently being “politically correct” is old-school behavior.

    2. J.Hyres4 years ago

      Right on!

    3. J.Hyres4 years ago

      I totally agree with your opinion! Enough of this PC BS!

  19. Roslyn Ross4 years ago

    Only in America! The rest of the world, including countries where Christianity is a minor religion, have no problem with Merry Christmas. Why does the US? It isn’t a holiday, it is Christmas. Well, Americans get far less holidays than anyone else and other nations use Christmas as a long seasonal holiday, but the season is Christmas.

    Ramadan was ages ago, Deepavali and Hannuka are long gone by December, it is Christmas! Everyone calls it Christmas. Except in the US. Why this paranoia? It is Christmas in Hindu India; Christmas in Moslem Indonesia; Christmas for everyone but Americans. Bizarre.

    And the irony is that the US is the most religious of all developed nations and the religion is Christianity. Although Christmas is now as much secular as anything else and it is the one universal celebration because of that.

    Merry Christmas does no harm. Happy Holidays is ridiculous and found only in America.

    1. Karen Wickersham4 years ago

      Christmas doesn’t offend anyone…it’s the self-righteous, “righteously angry” low–information nuts that insist people say “Merry Christmas” because it represents THEIR personal beliefs (and is a great way for them to bully others) that is offensive to rational people.

      Many of us who used to say “Merry Christmas” (whether or not we were “Christian” enough for the fundies), now prefer “Happy Holidays” because we don’t want to be seen as self-righteous
      a$&!?-holes. Thank you Bill O’ and Caribou Barbie for stirring up controversy where there really is none. Rational Americans didn’t start this fight. “Happy Holidays” and “Season’s Greetings” have been around since the first Christmas card…it really can’t be accurately considered a sign of “modern political correctness”.

      “Happy Holidays” covers Christmas, other religious holidays and New Years, so is quite accurate. It’s also a kind greeting. Who could have a problem with that? Oh yeah, those who insist that everyone else believe and communicate the way they do. I like to refer to them as the Modern American Taliban, or Neo-Birchers.

  20. Dave Seventytwo4 years ago

    As Hillary would say, “what difference does it make.”

  21. IamJBart4 years ago

    No one bothered to get my views in this poll. If they had, I would say that I prefer “Merry Christmas” to “Happy Holidays”. Just what is the holiday we are celebrating at this time of year anyway, Kwanzaa? Do we buy each other Thanksgiving presents? No, it’s Christmas. Besides, holiday means holy-day, so when a store clerk says “Happy Holidays” to me, I simply respond, “Yes, Christmas is a Happy Holy-Day, isn’t it?”

  22. Boats484 years ago

    Christmas is a “Christian” holiday. Merry Christmas is the appropriate greeting. It was never intended to be all inclusive. The fact that the holiday is celebrated on the pagan winter solstice was the early churches method of gaining converts. It worked! If you’re offended or shamed by the greeting, too bad! Convert to Christianity, you will not be offended further.

  23. Pensieve4 years ago

    I am very religiously Christian. I send out religious Christmas card, have a manger scene in front of the house and so forth. That said, I can understand perfectly why store employees are instructed to say “Happy Holidays” unless a customer cues them otherwise. For one thing, the employee himself may not be Christian and may object to using the greeting. For another, many customers may not be Christian.

    Does the birth of Christ and all that it means hinge on what the checkout person at Target says?

  24. John Clement4 years ago

    when someone says “happy holidays” I always ask, “which one, Arbor day? Patriots Day?”

  25. Bob A4 years ago

    With a cheery “Happy Holidays”, one is being far more inclusive of various thoughts of people they address than narrowing a greeting to just one segment of society. It would seem that “Happy Holidays” is inclusive as opposed to being exclusive. The people who insist on being greeted with “Merry Christmas” want to impose their thinking on all of us due to their claim to have exclusive knowledge of their thinking to apply to all of us — and then require all of us to meet their standard over other standards?

    1. Steve4 years ago

      I don’t think anyone is insisting on being greeted with a Merry Christmas, but you must admit it is a bit puzzling to be greeted with a Happy Holidays from someone wearing a Santa hat. Hmmm… why not just come out and say it.

      As far is being more inclusive by Happy Holidaying someone, I think that misses a huge point. …If I wish someone a Merry Christmas, and that person is not Christian, and am wishing that person a blessing from the center of my beliefs. It is not ignoring what that person is, but affirming what I am and believe. And the person should receive it in the spirit that it is given. I am wishing you a blessing according to my faith, and with the best of intentions.

      If a Muslim were to wish me a Happy Ramadan, or a Jew were to bless me with a Happy Hanukah, I would be thankful, and would thank them with a full heart.

      That is what living in a multi-cultural society is about: being open with your faith, standing out but respecting the man next to you, not dulling it down in the hopes of being inclusive.

    2. Del4 years ago

      I’m not afraid to say Merry Christmas. I don’t think anyone should be offended. However, the holiday has been so commercialized and monetized that it’s original intent has been completely lost. I don’t see the slogans of ‘Happy Holidays’ as some conspiracy against Christianity. I don’t think people should feel insulted or that other’s ‘views are being forced on them.’ I see all of this as a natural result of of crass commercialism and divisive politics. Regardless of our various faiths, we are a generally a shallow people.

    3. cj4 years ago

      Why are you being exclusive and imposing “Happy Holidays” on those who prefer “Merry Christmas”?

      I am always amused by individuals who claim they are being inclusive, but are so brainwashed by silly political correctness they do not realize how exclusive they are. YOU are imposing on others.

      1. Allie K2 years ago

        I am Jewish, and though I am not offended when someone wishes me “Merry Christmas,” I really appreciate being wished a “Happy Holiday.” I feel that the well-wisher is not making any assumptions and is appreciating that other people celebrate differently this time of year.

        I have a lot of respect for anyone who is making the holiday season special for themselves and their communities. To me, “Happy Holidays” makes me feel considered rather than excluded. It’s a kindness.

  26. MG4 years ago

    As a non-believer, I choose to view “Merry Christmas” as just as generic and all inclusive as “Happy Holidays” these days. Christmas is now just a word that happens to contain a religious symbol’s title. Christmas celebrations are mostly secular. Think about the use of “Merry” in the greeting. There was nothing merry or jolly in the story of the mythical first Christmas. If people meant to convey a religious meaning, wouldn’t they say “Holy” or “Blessed”? Oh, and the same with Christmas carols. I embrace the joyous sounds and the sweet lullabies with the same enthusiasm as I do Beach Boys’ “Barbara Ann,” Guns and Roses’ “Sweet Child of Mine” and The Beatles’ “Michelle.” They’re ALL about [fictional] people I don’t know, nor care to worship.

    1. Puzzlin4 years ago

      That’s a good way to put it. Many miss the elephant in the room thereby limit our freedom to imagine what we can never really imagine. The mystery which permeates everything we are or do is never certain and we’re all speculators. The only difference is for those foolish enough to proclaim things they can know nothing of, are there to constantly remind us why ultimately it is a mystery after all. Those who refuse to admit to their overwhelming incompetence in the face of this vast Universe (which we have just only begun to realize in any meaningful way) are incapable fools. Fools who race ahead to the “perfect answer” show us what we always are suspecting. Mostly that we know very little about this Universe. For those desperate enough through, as there has been through the ages will concoct an answer out of thin air, call it revelation, and worship it mindlessly. What a wholesale waste. History is littered with this crap.

      So, enjoy. Understand and revel in the mystery as it truly reveals and unfolds events before us to experience, Find some meaning in what your doing and dream big dreams.

      And Merry Christmas, have a wonderful holiday. I don’t believe any scant evidence Jesus ever existed but who am I to get in the way of anyone’s fantasy. Some fantasy is ok, I guess. I say Merry X-mas to be nice, that’s it. The cards I send are not religious, but more like Peace On Earth types, something I do believe in, but not because of religion.

      I find the root for morality in the golden rule which all religions high-jacked. But it’s from US for US. It’s why it existed before religion and will survive long after religion loses it’s influence in our lives. Reason will inevitably advance us to where we need to go. Religion is early development on the path to critical intelligence which finds it’s interest in evident reality, which as it is turning out, has a big story to tell. Bigger than we can imagine.

      Again, thanks, I need the different points of view to keep a balance. We rise above the din sometimes, just a little.

      1. LifeandLiberty4 years ago

        Its nice that some people are experts at writing pure jibberish as Puzzlin is. Respecting how any individual chooses celebrate or worship our Creator or greet each other at this time of year is mostly what made and makes this country the greatest country to be born in and live in. If the documented proof through the writings of known historical individuals is not proof in and of its self that Jesus is who they say he was in their opinion than can we not also claim that anyone who lived before photography and or audio recordings also never existed?

  27. Chet4 years ago

    It is still Merry Christmas to me and millions more.

    1. Aaron4 years ago


      The issue here is not what wording is best.

      The issue is how people are so debased and bent and bitter that they cannot even receive a wish for well-being and a good holiday without turning it into some sort of pernicious assault on their individuality or ethnicity or whatever.

      One commentor above:
      “The people who insist on being greeted with “Merry Christmas” want to impose their thinking on all of us due to their claim to have exclusive knowledge of their thinking to apply to all of us” Hmmmmm. OK then.

      For those of you who don’t live in a world where every person different from you is a hateful dangerous, aggressive racist blah blah blah who must be shamed and silenced, I wish for you a sweet, peaceful, and joyous Christmas.

      Those of you who feel that I just attacked you culture or your little vanity or whatever are welcome to have a BAD Christmas. I don’t care. If you are so bent that you can’t accept my good will, then it doesn’t really matter HOW you are greeted, does it?

      Incidentally, I am Jewish 😀 Cheers everyone

      1. GC3 years ago

        Look up holiday in the dictionary it says holiday is a non work day which is for most of us is Monday through Friday so when Christmas falls on a Saturday or Sunday saying Happy Holiday does not work, Merry Christmas always works, look on a calendar it says Christmas Day. Merry Christmas to all.

    2. Pensieve4 years ago

      Absolutely! If you give a checkout person a clue, and he himself has no religious objections to it, he’d probably love to say, “Merry Christmas” back.

      Is it really so terrible, though, if stores figure they can’t assume “Merry Christmas” is an appropriate greeting for everyone who comes into their shop?

      1. Aaron4 years ago

        Yes, I feel that it is really that terrible. It is terrible that in a would-be free society people continue to insist that they should be legally protected from hearing or seeing anything that doesn’t fit their own individual worldview.

        I am perplexed that there even needs to be a discussion about this. We all have the right to free speech, and each of us may disseminate our holiday greetings in the time and manner of our choosing, no matter who gets butthurt about it.

        This whole “my culture isn’t being respected, waaaaah” has gotten REALLY tired. I dislike that nonsense coming from my own community (Orth Jew), and I dislike it from every other, too.

  28. zangomike4 years ago

    Jesus was born in the fall, September, 6 months after john the baptist. Dec 25 was the pagans winter solstice. Check with Catholic history and you will find this to be true. Thou shalt have no strange gods before me. Thank you.

    1. Bill King4 years ago

      This is true. The shepherds don’t “tend their flocks” in Palestine in December any more than they do anywhere else in the winter. The Christmas myth was created to replace the Roman Saturnalia that Europeans had celebrated for more than a thousand years.