Seán Moncrieff: Wishing someone a ‘Happy Christmas’ is not offensive

The season of good will and peace is a time of division and nervousness in the US

One thing the Americans do at this time of the year that we tend not to do is have a row about Christmas. Specifically: saying "Happy Christmas". In the United States, or at least in shops and other public spaces, it's all "Happy Holidays"; which in turn leads to an annual row about the War on Christmas.

Donald Trump pledged to win the War on Christmas when he was running for office; and after he was elected, claimed he had done so. The Trump Store, a website that sells all manner of Trump-emblazoned goods, makes no mention of this epic conflict. Makes no mention of Christmas either. But it does have a "Holiday Gift Guide".

I believe you can wish anyone a 'Happy Christmas' – Jew, Muslim, Hindu, Christian or atheist – without worrying about them taking offence

At the risk of sounding a bit Bill O’Reilly, I’ve never quite understood why the simple act of saying “Happy Christmas” to someone in the US might be so fraught. Because, you know, it is Christmas.

Money is one reason. Advertising campaigns started saying “Happy Holidays” in the 1940s, mindful that this time of the year also includes the Jewish festival of Hanukkah, and the new year, and that many religions – Muslims, Jehovah’s Witnesses and even some Christians – don’t celebrate it at all. Rather than a “Libtard effort at inclusivity”, it was simple marketing.


The idea of a war on Christmas is even older than that, with rabid anti-Semite Henry Ford claiming in the 1920s that "international Jews" were making it difficult to buy Christmas cards. But the notion really took off during the 1990s, when the aforementioned O'Reilly and other right-wing shock jocks weaved a doomsday scenario where the eradication of Christian Christmas would lead to abortion on demand, euthanasia and the transformation of the US into socialist caliphate.

For the large clump of American Christians who take their religion extremely seriously, this was a terrifying message: not just a war on Christmas, but Christianity itself. The season of good will and peace has become a time of division and nervousness about how to greet people in the office.

It’s also supposed to be a time to appreciate your blessings: and in this part of the world, one of them is that Christmas remains a more inclusive festival, straddling the religious and the secular. Some will concentrate on going to church, others will concentrate on the tin of Roses. More importantly, I believe you can wish anyone a “Happy Christmas” – Jew, Muslim, Hindu, Christian or atheist – without worrying about them taking offence; without worrying that they might think you mean to offend them.

I would lean towards spending the day in my pyjamas, while Herself is a hard-core Christmasist

If you are a Christian, you might find this idea depressing. It is true that the story of the birth of Christ is, for many people, not what this time of the year is about. Yet what remains are those ideas about good will to everyone, about being kind. Curiously, the secularisation of Christmas has given it the room to retain some of the key Christian messages. It’s a win for everyone.

Not that there aren’t divisions, particularly in relation to how the day itself should be spent. Each family will have their own traditions, but more broadly there is a schism between the traditionalists and those who take a more laissez-faire approach. Some will give the kids chocolate for breakfast and pizza for dinner because – let’s face it – they’re not going to eat turkey.

Our house suffers from such a division. I would lean towards spending the day in my pyjamas, while Herself is a hard-core Christmasist. Due to various children being scattered around the world, this year will be a quiet one: just the two of us and Daughter Number Four.

But this gives Herself the chance she's been waiting for. Freed from the need of having to cater for dietary requirements or vegan alternatives, she's going full-bore Old School, whether I like it or not. Turkey, ham, loathsome Brussels sprouts. Jumpers. Chris Rea and Feliz Navidad. I'm quite looking forward to it. Happy Christmas.