Merry Christmas Meaning? Or is it Happy Christmas?

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What is the Meaning of Merry Christmas?

We’re accustomed to wishing everyone we pass a “Merry Christmas” during the festive season. In our Christmas cards, over email, to our friends, even the neighbour’s dog. But, have you ever really thought about it?

Why do we say “Merry Christmas”, “Happy Christmas” or “Happy Holidays”? What is the meaning of “Merry Christmas”? Do people still say “Happy Holidays”? And when should we use “Happy Holidays”?

These seasonal greetings phrases are all used to wish someone an enjoyable Christmas holiday. It’s part of the festive traditions we are custom to. Some people say one and some will use all three. But, is there a ‘correct’ festive phrase we should all be using? Let’s find out more.

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What Does Happy Holidays Mean?


We can quickly differentiate “Happy Holidays” from the three terms. “Happy Holidays” is very much a term from the USA and Canada, and a greeting used in November and December over the festive season to celebrate many holidays including Thanksgiving, Kwanzaa, Christmas, Hanukkah, New Years Day.

Essentially, this is the most comprehensive and inclusive seasonal greeting. The term recognises that not everyone celebrates Christmas, and they may be celebrating a different festival over the holiday. Happy Holidays does not exclude the meaning of Christmas, but rather includes everyone who does not celebrate the day.

So, what about “Merry Christmas” and “Happy Christmas”?

Do People Still Say Happy Christmas?

“Happy Christmas” is still a widely used term, especially within the UK and Ireland. Some time ago, “Merry Christmas” took on a negative connotation and became linked to the lower class population. 

The Royal Family also took the term into their preferred vocabulary, and even to this day the Queen will wish the nation “Happy Christmas” on Christmas day during the national broadcast. Of course, society followed suit, and this has become a very popular festive phrase. Nowadays, this is still more so a British English term. 

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Where Did Merry Christmas Originate From?

“Merry Christmas” is actually a term that originates from hundreds of years ago. And, today is a term widely used in both British English and American English. So, where did the term originate from?

“Merry Christmas” was first used commercially in 1843 when the term was used on the world’s first printed Christmas card written as “A Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to You”. This famous Christmas card has now gone on display in London at the Charles Dickens Museum.

However, the phrase actually dates back even further and we know originated in the 1500s. Perhaps in the year 1534. This was recorded by a letter written by John Fisher, a bishop, to Thomas Cromwell, the chief minister of Henry VIII, wishing him a “Merry Christmas”.

This term later became popular from two sources – the commercial Christmas card, and it was also 1843 when Charles Dickens published his book called A Christmas Carol. Within the book, “Merry Christmas” has been repeated a total of 21 times. 

Following this, the famous Christmas Carol “We Wish You a Merry Christmas” was popularised in 1935 by Arthur Warrell when he performed the carol with his group on the 6th of December. 

However, the date and author of this Christmas carols remain a mystery, even to this day. Saying that, it is likely that the carol originated in the 16th century, around the same time of when the term was first recorded. 

What is the Meaning of Merry Christmas?

“Merry” was not always a word related to Christmas and took a good few years for it to become associated.

“Merry Christmas” is a term used to spread joy, goodwill and good cheer to those during the festive season. And even today, centuries later, Merry Christmas is still the most widely used phrase to wish someone season’s greetings. You will find the phrase on everything Christmas related from ornaments, to cards, to wrapping paper. 

Christmas comes from the phrase Christ Mass, the mass of Christ, the birth of Jesus Christ. Even though we know that Christ was not born on the 25th of December, this was the day that was assigned by Pope Julius I in the late 330s AD to celebrate the birth of Jesus.  

Read more about why Christmas is important, and celebrated on the 25th of December here.

So, the general meaning of the term “Merry Christmas” is for people to be joyful and good cheer to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ.

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Different Phrases For Merry Christmas

Of course, there are many other ways to wish someone a wonderful Christmas or festive season all around the world.

Take a look at some of the other more common phrases used:

  • Seasons Greetings
  • Yuletide Greetings
  • Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year
  • Happy New Year
  • Happy Hanukkah
  • Joyous Kwanzaa
  • Joyeux Noël
  • Feliz Navidad
  • Warmest Wishes
  • Enjoy the Holiday Season

Our Final Thoughts on the Meaning of Merry Christmas

And there we have it. The meanings behind the iconic seasonal greeting phrases. Everyone has their favourite seasonal phrase to use, and there is no right or wrong way to wish someone a wonderful Christmas.

No matter which term you prefer to use, they all mean the same thing in today’s world. And really, it is the intent of the term that matters. Wishing our loved ones, and even strangers a joyful festive season. So, on that note, we wish you a Merry Christmas! Or, do we mean a Happy Christmas?!

Related Christmas Tradition Articles:

Merry Christmas Meaning? Or is it Happy Christmas?

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