Where Does Merry Christmas Come From?
While there are indications ‘Merry Christmas’ was used as far back as the 1500s, the phrase was not popular until 1843, when two things happened. One, Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol was published. The novella (that’s right, a novella before it was a play) was incredibly popular and the celebratory salutation was used throughout. The Victorian public took the phrase to a new level of popular usage.Two, the very first commercial Christmas card was circulated. The message of ‘Merry Christmas and Happy New Year’ goes far in explaining the use of merry, as any marketing editor will tell you, Happy Christmas and Happy New Year doesn’t have the snap of a successful holiday expression.
Who Uses ‘Happy’ Christmas?
With the influences of commercial cards and a ridiculously popular story transforming usage, why is ‘Happy’ Christmas still used? Apparently the Queen of England is the cause. Her annual Christmas message uses the phrase, and all official royal announcements do as well. She apparently prefers the content condition of happy to the boisterous behavior of merry. So Britain and numerous Commonwealth countries, notably Australia, use ‘Happy Christmas’ to this day.
Watch Your Commas
One use of merry that inspired Dickens was in the carol God Rest Ye, Merry Gentlemen. Except the comma is in the wrong place! The correct writing is God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen, meaning God keep you in prosperity and health, rather than God make you take a nap. And there is something to be said for the call to ‘merry-making’ in the phrase as opposed to the admonition merely to be ‘happy’.
Merry Christmas For All
The secularity of many modern Christmas traditions coupled with the widespread popularity of the holiday has made Christmas a time of joy and celebration for anyone who wishes to have it, Christian, non-Christian, and atheist alike. Perhaps that alone warrants the special case use of ‘merry’ in Merry Christmas, which is as special a holiday as holidays can get.