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A plea from a holiday well-wisher

“MERRY CHRISTMAS!” THERE. I’ve said it. Those two words that have somehow, in some way, become taboo over the holidays. The well-wishing that has become associated with hushed voices and political incorrectness: I’ve wished you, all of my readers, a denominational greeting. And I do this, instead of saying “Happy holidays,” because it’s how I choose to wish you well.

Here’s the thing: I celebrate Christmas. I’m not exactly what you’d call a practising Christian, but it’s my family’s tradition, and it’s what I grew up with. A lot of what I celebrate are the traditions that aren’t really tied to religion—decorating a huge tree, sipping on hot chocolate, and spending time with my friends and family. In my opinion, Christmas is being with people in my life who are important and cherishing that time together. Writing that sounds cheesy, but that’s what Christmas is to me.

My wishing someone a “Merry Christmas” has nothing to do with imposing a religion on them. It’s about sharing a feeling—one I want to pass on to the people around me.

I have friends who celebrate Hanukkah; I also have those who don’t celebrate anything at this time of year. I think if any one of them replied with “Happy Hanukkah” or “Joyous Kwanzaa” to my “Merry Christmas,” I might be a little surprised, but I wouldn’t be offended.

I feel much more taken aback when people respond to my greeting with, “Don’t you mean, ‘Happy holidays’?” Ever had anyone sneeze, and after you said, “Bless you,” they told you they didn’t believe in God? No? Me neither. But getting told your thoughtful gesture isn’t appropriate is what this feels like.

People seem to misunderstand that this greeting does not mean that I want you to change religions, or even that I want you to consider celebrating Christmas. But I celebrate Christmas, and I want to share that with people. I refuse to censor the way I show I care about other people.

I feel like we’re moving away from a culture that reaches out to one another. At this time of the year, we’re all feeling generous and happy. I watch the TV show Community, and in their last holiday special, they put it perfectly: The magic of the winter holidays is the idea that somehow the coldest, darkest nights of the year are also the warmest and brightest. And it’s true!

Everyone seems to be in a better mood this time of year. We’re far more likely to wish each other well, just because we have  reason to. But when we’re told we need to curtail how we say it—when all we’re really saying is, “I wish you well”—it tarnishes the well wishes.

What comes next? We refuse to acknowledge any holidays happen for risk of upsetting someone? Where’s the cheer in that? Where’s the special holiday feeling?

“Happy holidays” means very little to me, except for the greeting that I get from customer service agents after I’ve bought presents for other people. If that’s how you choose to express yourself, go for it. But don’t get upset if I wish you a Merry Christmas. It’s a season of joy—and I’ll pass mine on however I want to!

—Charlotte Bailey