This is a photo I took while visiting in Chicago.

Recently, I was asked about my thoughts in saying Merry Christmas versus Happy Holidays. It seems that the line has been drawn as to which phrase is “politically correct” not only in the secular world but the church too. The argument from a Christian is to keep Christ in the word Christmas while the non-believing world prefers the phrase Happy Holidays. A firestorm of debate has formed over the issue. Columnist Paul Brandeis Raushenbush from The Huffington Post argued,

Every year at the beginning of December some Americans engage in a ridiculous rhetorical ritual that recycles righteous arguments about whether people should say to one another Happy Holidays or Merry Christmas. This question is one skirmish in the broader cultural and political battle that come under the heavily ladened frame of the ‘war on Christmas.’[1]

Ridiculous? I don’t think so. Because there are those who want to remove all of the biblical elements of Christianity contained within the true message of Christmas. Although I do not agree with the ecumenical approach stated in Raushenbush’s article, he is, however, right in saying that the debate has placed a “heavily ladened” burden on Christmas. The debate has swept into the church causing believers to argue over political correctness instead of theological concerns. Some might think it is wrong for a Christian to say “Happy Holidays” during the Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year calendar days, and only “Merry Christmas” will do. Ironically, Christians will stand their ground to leave the word “Christ” in Christmas, but they will not equally stand on keeping the word “Holy” in Holiday. Perhaps some history can help us come to a logical conclusion on the matter. Kenneth Mathews stated,

It may be surprising to our ears to think of holy day and holiday in the same way. But the origin of the word holiday was holy plus day. Originally holiday had the idea of a sacred religious feast or the meaning of a day of recreation. The idea of a day spent free from work came to dominate and is the general meaning we think of today.[2]

Are you surprised? Did you know that the word holiday that some believers stand against this time of year originated from the words holy day? Let’s dig deeper—when reading Leviticus 23 you will find a summary of the holy days/holidays set aside to honor God in worship. The days are identified as “feasts of the Lord” (cf. vv. 2, 4, 37) and “holy convocations” (vv. 2, 4, 37)—days solely committed to commune with God and worship Him. Five feasts are listed, each introduced by the same phrase that identifies the source of the instructions: “And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying” (cf. vv. 1, 9, 23, 26, 33). So when the non-believer insists on saying, “Happy Holidays” I can reply and say, “Yes! This day and each day is a Holy Day unto the Lord, and He is greatly to be praised!”

On the other hand, the origin of the word Christmas according to one source dates back to the twelfth century. He maintains,

The term appears as early as a.d. 1123 in Old English as ‘Cristes maesse’ (and variations) and ‘Christmas’ by 1568, meaning Mass of Christ…Although there are various theories on the selection of December 25, the most widely accepted is that this date had already been a major pagan festival, that of Sol Invictus, the ‘birth’ of the ‘Unconquerable Sun,’ marking the winter solstice (the sun’s triumph over darkness). With the triumph of Christianity, Christmas replaced the pagan festival, Christians having applied ‘Sun of Righteousness’ (Mal. 4:2) to Christ.[3]

What is interesting is—it was not until the early part of the 4th Century that Christians in Rome began to celebrate the birth of Christ. To give a timeframe—during Constantine’s reign this holiday was Christianized, with Christ rather than the sun proclaimed as the true light of the world. Up until this time, Christians celebrated the appearance of Christ and the death of Christ, but not necessarily the birthday of Christ. However, this new practice spread rapidly, as Christians began to observe the new festival by the end of the century. The new festival of Christmas, however, caused theologians to take a stand and defend the doctrine of the incarnation. With the new emphasis on Christ’s birthday, instead of His appearing as Emmanuel (cf. Matthew 1:23), many began to question the humanity and deity of Christ. One commentator pointed out that,

In the fourth century the controversy over the nature of Christ, whether He was truly God or a created being, led to an increased emphasis on the doctrine of the incarnation, the affirmation that “the Word became flesh” (John 1:14). It is likely that the urgency to proclaim the incarnation was an important factor in the spread of the celebration of Christmas.[4]

History shows that Christians have not always celebrated what we know as Christmas. Mark Water stated, “Some Puritans refused to have a holiday on Christmas Day.”[5] In fact, according to Daniel G. Reid he contends,

The celebration of Christmas has sometimes been opposed as pagan by religious leaders. New England Puritans considered Christmas “popish” idolatry, and the Massachusetts General Court in 1659 passed an act against its celebration, though the law was repealed in 1681. At least since the mid-nineteenth century the celebration has gained in popularity so that today it extends well beyond Christianity itself. German Christmas customs, such as the Christmas tree, were brought to America by nineteenth-century immigrants and are now firmly established in North American culture.[6]

Do I celebrate Christmas? Yes! I love this time of year, and I like using Merry Christmas as opposed to Happy Holidays. Also, I know that things have changed within our culture since Constantine and the Puritans. I guess what I am getting at is this—as believers in Christ, let’s not get wrapped up and all out of sorts in legalistic issues that stem from the “politically correct” crowd. Instead of arguing over placing Christ within a word used once a year in December, let’s do as my friend Joey Edwards said, “Let’s work on placing Christ in our lives each day.”


Missional Until He Comes,
Dr. David L. Sampson
Psalms 96:3



[1] Raushenbush, Paul Brandeis. Happy Holidays vs. Merry Christmas: The Last Thing That Ever Needs To Be Said About It: accessed December 2, 2014

[2] Kenneth A. Mathews, Leviticus: Holy God, Holy People, Preaching the Word (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2009), 189.

[3] Paul J. Achtemeier, Harper & Row and Society of Biblical Literature, Harper’s Bible Dictionary (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1985), 163.

[4] Fred A. Grissom, “Christmas,” ed. Chad Brand et al., Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary (Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers, 2003), 288.

[5] Mark Water, The Christian Book of Records (Alresford, Hants, UK: John Hunt Pub., 2002), 160.

[6] Daniel G. Reid et al., Dictionary of Christianity in America (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1990).


One Response to Merry Christmas vs Happy Holidays

  1. Larry Shawback says:

    So proud to see what the Lord has done in the lives of your family David. I am so proud to say I know you and your my friend and brother in Christ

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