’Tis the season where try
as they might, not even polarizing politicians nor pundits can get the public
to bite that there is indeed a controversy between wishing someone a “Merry
Christmas” vs. “Happy Holidays.”
That fact bears out in
two recent nationwide polls in which “Merry Christmas” is the overwhelming fan
favorite, and among Imperial Valley residents, who despite having their preferred
greeting, say either is all right by them.
“I use ‘Merry Christmas’
(but) ‘Happy Holidays’ doesn’t make me mad. I think it is the good wishes
either way. I agree with keeping ‘Christ in Christmas,’ but I cannot imagine
Christ being upset because someone says, ‘Happy Holidays.’ That wasn’t/isn’t
His purpose,” said El Centro resident Alexa Horne, a retired kindergarten
teacher to generations of McCabe School students and now a member of the McCabe
Union School District board.
“All you’ve got to be is
charming and you can say anything you want,” lifelong Holtville resident Paul
Nilson joked recently.
The flight nurse for
REACH air-ambulance service also prefers to say, “Merry Christmas,” but Nilson
said he sees that as more of a product of habit than a religious point being
made. “People get the sentiment. They don’t take it as rude.”
In a nationwide telephone
and online poll of American adults, some 67 percent of respondents preferred
seeing stores show signs saying, “Merry Christmas” rather than “Happy
Holidays,” which was preferred by 22 percent. Another 11 percent had no
preference, according to the nonpartisan, non-religious Rasmussen Reports in
polling 1,000 people on Dec. 10-11.
In a second poll, 77.6
percent of respondents preferred the greeting “Merry Christmas” over the 15.9
percent who preferred “Happy Holidays.” “Season’s Greetings” was a distant
third, with 3 percent preferring that salutation, according to the results of a
Saint Leo University Polling Institute survey. The poll of 1,000 Americans by
the private Roman Catholic college in Florida was conducted Nov. 13-18.
The idea that this was
somehow a controversy likely began around 2005 with the publishing of the
provocative title, “The War on Christmas: How the Liberal Plot to Ban the
Sacred Christian Holiday is Worse Than You Thought,” according to published
reports. Since then, the issue is often inflamed each year with new kinds of
fuel, from “Christmas”-less cups at Starbucks to President Trump continuing to
proclaim his predecessor’s predilection for a secular seasonal greeting.
The latter is one of the
first times El Centro resident Brianna Castro began to see the phrases being
played for division.
“Last year, I kept seeing
Trump saying Obama would not acknowledge Christmas, but I never saw it as a big
deal. It’s all about being inclusive,” said Castro, who said she does prefer
Other Holidays Noted
“I say ‘Happy Holidays’
because I want to include all of the holidays that (occur) this time of year,
not just Christmas,” said Castro, who is a certified crisis counselor at
crisistextline.org, a support group leader for people with mental illness and a
longtime volunteer at the Imperial Valley LGBT Resource Center in El Centro.
“Other people celebrate
Kwanzaa, Hanukkah, different things this time of year,” she said. “I would
rather be inclusive of everyone, rather than just saying ‘Merry Christmas.’”
“In today’s society, I
say, ‘Happy Holidays.’ To be honest, I changed,” said Murray Anderson, who
while born and raised in Holtville, just returned to the city of his youth
about a year and a half ago.
Anderson, who is the
varsity girls’ basketball coach at Holtville High School and a coordinator for
Accentcare Home Health in El Centro, said he didn’t change for any other reason
than to be polite and considerate of what faiths might be practiced in the
privacy of his players’ homes.
“I’m around the high
school kids, my basketball team. I don’t know what they celebrate in their
houses, so I just say, ‘Have a great holiday,’” Anderson said. “When we were
little, it was just ‘Merry Christmas’ to everybody.”
The former newspaper
sports editor said he admits that the world has gone politically correct, but
there’s no controversy in his decision to switch over.
“For me, it’s about
trying to make the kids feel more comfortable,” Anderson said, who has coached
the Lady Vikings for six seasons.
Matter of Faith
El Centro resident Sam
Rice revealed he can see the arguments for both sides, coming from a retail
service background from which the whole “Happy Holidays” movement is based, but
also being devout in his own Christian faith.
“I say, ‘Merry
Christmas’; I’m a Christian,” Rice said. “I do say ‘Happy Holidays’ before
Thanksgiving because it encompasses the whole holiday season. After
Thanksgiving, everything is purely ‘Merry Christmas.’”
“Personally, I think the
use of ‘Merry Christmas’ or ‘Happy Holidays,’ both are used in the spirit of
the season … it’s about joy,” added Rice, the manager of Connection Café coffee
shop located inside the grounds of First Christian Church on South Waterman
Avenue in El Centro.
“It’s not a big deal
either way. ‘Happy Holidays’ still means happy holy days, broken down. But I do
prefer Christmas,” Rice said.
Not all of those
interviewed simply go with the flow, though. Holtville resident Willy Adams
does take some offense “to people trying to change” his preferred greeting of
“Merry Christmas” to anything else.
“It’s not really a
religious thing, it’s just that Christmas has always been Christmas,” said Adams,
who has lived in the country outside Holtville for the past 13 years.
Slightly modifying his
reasoning, the senior maintenance person at the University of California Desert
Research and Extension Center took a more defiant posture in explaining his
“People nowadays don’t
want to offend anyone. I don’t care if I offend anyone or not. It is a
religious holiday, a Christian holiday,” Adams said. “I live here in Holtville,
and everybody that I know, they say ‘Merry Christmas.’”
Comments in Calexico
In a real-world setting,
where it’s not simply a matter of posing the question of preference to one
person or another, some clear conclusions can emerge.
“All the customers who
come into Hope Café (in Calexico) say, ‘Merry Christmas.’ I maybe get one out
of 10 customers who tell me ‘Happy Holidays,’” Calexico resident Benjamin Perez
He did not say whether he
had a personal preference.
Cyrce Mellor, an
upper-division science teacher at Calexico Mission School, a religious academy
affiliated with the Seventh-day Adventist Church, said she is partial to the
more faith-based greeting.
“I would say ‘Merry
Christmas,’ because we are Christians,” Mellor, of Calexico, said while at Hope
Café. “We are believers and happy to welcome Christmas every year reminding us
of Jesus’ birth.”
Stopping in for a cup of
coffee, Mexicali resident Alejandro Quise noted he prefers to cover his bases
this time of year.
“I prefer to say, ‘Happy Holidays,’ not really for religious purposes but because it is a symbol for all the festivities in December,” Quise said.
Staff reporter Jayson Barniske contributed to this story.