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The common greeting for the new year is

I wish you a merry Christmas and a happy new year.

Since Christmas has religious roots, it may not be suitable for people who are not religious. Shortening the greeting to

I wish you a happy new year

seems lame. What's a charming alternative?

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closed as off topic by RegDwigнt Dec 5 '11 at 23:43

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I don't like to sound like a grumpy old git, but I've long thought these xmas card messages are a bit misplaced. Rates for suicide, murder, wounding, etc., shoot up over xmas - partly because a lot more booze gets consumed, but partly because when families are crammed together for a few days, things often get fractious rather than happy. –  FumbleFingers Dec 5 '11 at 15:47
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Sounds like the solution is to banish alcohol and abolish all happy "family get togethers". Then the world would be at peace year-round ;) –  Leigh Dec 5 '11 at 16:17
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@FumbleFingers: So you're thinking something more along the lines of a fractious Festivus? –  Blrfl Dec 5 '11 at 18:36
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Christmas Day is a Federal Holiday. That is it's name. I'm adding this as a comment because it's appropriate to call it by it's name, regardless of the religious context. For example, were there a Cult of the Halloween, you wouldn't try to skirt around saying Halloween at the end of October. "Happy Scary Candy Day!" –  Kalamane Dec 5 '11 at 22:46

7 Answers 7

It is common in the US to use "Season's Greetings" or "Happy Holidays" as a more secular sentiment for this time of year (Wikipedia has a pretty good description of these). Also, "Happy New Year" by itself is quite common and not considered lame at all.

Finally, I am not Christian, but I don't find it offensive when well-wishers offer me a "Merry Christmas." I take it in the spirit it is intended. I offer them a "Happy Solstice" or a "Good Yule" in return (or occasionally a "Happy Festivus").

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+1 Though in my experience, no one actually says "season's greetings." You just see it on holiday cards. "Happy holidays" is quite standard. –  onomatomaniak Dec 5 '11 at 15:25
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The way I look at it is that if a Jewish friend offered Happy Channukah to me, and I were offended at that, wouldn't that make me a jerk? Wouldn't it make me a jerk to be offended if he said that IN RETURN to my "Merry Christmas"? Can't we, if you'll pardon the expression, just all get along? –  Chris B. Behrens Dec 5 '11 at 15:55
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Christmas is one of many winter festivals. It has pre-Christian roots but has a Christian name and story. It is the dominant cultural festival in the UK, and is socially important and transcends the religion. But I'm an atheist so I would say that. –  silves89 Dec 5 '11 at 16:06
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I use "Season's Greetings" all year round. –  Chris Cudmore Dec 5 '11 at 19:10
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A well-used Seinfeld reference gets you an easy +1 –  Jackson Dec 5 '11 at 21:32

If you're looking for a greeting message for the new year, what's wrong with "Happy New Year?" I don't see anything lame about it. Anyway…

Happy Holidays, Season's Greetings

If you're reasonably certain the person you are addressing lives in a region where these holidays are widely celebrated, you can say "Happy Holidays" or "Season's Greetings." That doesn't necessarily imply they observe those holidays religiously. It's just a euphonic way to point out a region of time and wishing them well. It would be like saying "have a nice weekend," even if they work on those days.

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Personally, I wish folks a Happy Hogswatch. –  John Lawler Dec 5 '11 at 15:49
    
"Happy Ick" @John ;) –  Leigh Dec 5 '11 at 17:44

This is a social propriety question and not a language question. But in that spirit, here's my answer:

If you're a non-Christian and don't celebrate Christmas, or if the person you're speaking to does not celebrate Christmas, then just say "hello"! Why in the world do people look for a way to bring up a specific religious holiday without mentioning the holiday?

As a Christian, I find it highly offensive when people say, "Happy Holiday Season" or the like. What holiday is it that you are referring to? So why can't you say "Merry Christmas"? Do you hate Christians so much that you can't even bring yourself to SAY THE NAME of our holiday?

I have no problem saying "Happy Hannukah" to Jewish friends. I once sent a Chinese friend an e-card for Tet. I'd be happy to give Ramadan greetings to a Moslem friend if I knew the appropriate greeting. ("Happy Ramadan" seems inappropriate for what is a pretty somber holiday, but I don't know.)

I often hear people say that "Happy Holidays" is "more inclusive". This is simply absurd. The whole point of saying "Happy Holidays" is to refuse to acknowledge Christmas. That is, the whole point is to EXCLUDE a specific group.

Suppose that a store put out an ad on Martin Luther King Day that said "Mid-January Holiday Sale" and which pictured only white people. When asked, they explained that they didn't want to refer to it as Martin Luther King Day or to include pictures of black people because they were afraid that that might offend Nazis and Klansmen. Would you say that that store was being "inclusive", and praise them for their tolerance in avoiding such offense? Or would you say that they were pandering to racists and bigots?

Likewise, I think most non-Christians understand that Christians celebrate this holiday called "Christmas", and while they do not celebrate it themselves, they don't begrudge others having their own holidays. To say that someone else should not be "allowed" to have a holiday that you do not celebrate, or to go out of your way to pretend this holiday doesn't exist, is simply rude and intolerant.

If you want to wish someone a merry Christmas, say "Merry Christmas". If you don't want to acknowledge Christmas, than just say "Hi, Bob!" or "Wow, cold weather we're having, isn't it?" But bringing up someone else's holiday and then making a pointed effort to not acknowledge it is just insulting.

</rant>

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There are multiple reasons that people say "Happy Holidays". One of those reasons is to be as non-offensive as possible (a lighter version of your "refuse to acknowledge Christmas"). However, there are plenty of other reasons. To assume that you know the reason that the person greeting you is saying "Happy Holidays" is to be presumptuous. To take offense at it is to have a very thin skin, the very thing that many defenders of "Merry Christmas" say about those who get offended by that phrase. Personally, I find either phrase perfectly adequate. –  Ben Hocking Dec 5 '11 at 17:25
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This entire rant is based on the faulty assumption that you either "acknowledge" Christmas or you are refusing to acknowledge Christmas. Christmas is not the center of everyone's life. Similarly, Canadians are not "refusing to acknowledge Independence Day" in the beginning of July, nor are they "EXCLUDING" Americans. The point of saying "Happy Holidays" is to wish someone happiness during a time of many holidays without making religious assumptions, no more and no less. –  Yamikuronue Dec 5 '11 at 17:59
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@BenHocking: While it's not offensive in the least for someone to respond with "happy holidays" (i.e., holy days), in the US you would have to be living under a rock to be unaware that secularists have been trying to de-Christianize Christmas for a long time. Jay's answer is a reasonable response to this nonsense. –  Daniel Dec 5 '11 at 18:04
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There are some factual items in this answer, and advice for usage, but it is marred by opinionating and social judgment. Can you remove the ranting part and leave in the factual, language part? –  Mitch Dec 5 '11 at 18:36
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There are two logically combined reasons for referring to 'Holidays' rather than 'Christmas'. 1) It is hard to tell by looking at someone what holidays they celebrate or care about, and 2) there are a number of non-trivial subpopulations that celebrate non-Christmas holidays at the same time as Christmas. Re your rant, presumably some people are wishing you well for New Years, too, without having to say the extra long greeting, not trying to exclude Christmas but to include New Years? –  Mitch Dec 5 '11 at 18:48

Happy non-denomination winter solstice period.

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Awesome suggestion! –  Lisa Dec 8 '11 at 7:04
    
Except that I feel all excluded because Christmas for me happens just after the summer solstice. How about "Happy non-demoninational winter or summer solstice period"? Just rolls off the tongue. –  Lisa Dec 8 '11 at 7:06

My personal favorite is:

Happy Christmahanukwanzakkus

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+1 for 'political correctness'! :) (whatever that may be...) –  Count Zero Dec 5 '11 at 18:43

Happy festivus and a Seinfeld new year!

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Did you get your Festivus pole? –  Kalamane Dec 5 '11 at 22:47
    
feats of strength,anyone? –  Muad'Dib Dec 5 '11 at 22:58

Well, the origin of the holiday is the pagan holiday "Yule", also known as "Dude, it's the winter solstice, let's get drunk."[citation needed]; so you could say "A joyous Yule to you.".

Of course, it might be seen as insensitive by some, but a very good option seems to be the phrase "Merry Christmas, and a happy New Year.". This is a fairly good phrase to use if you want to:

  1. Make it clear that you believe in Jesus Christ

  2. Inform the listener that you wish them good cheer throughout the dark month of December.

  3. You wish them good cheer through their New Year celebration.

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