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How should "Merry Christmas" and "Happy New Year" be capitalized?

Here are some examples taken from some of the top results on Google:

I’d like to be among the first to wish you a very Merry Christmas.

Share the spirit of peace and joy on this occasion of Merry Christmas with your acquaintances and loved ones.

Just wanted to wish you all a Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, or a Happy whatever you are celebrating at this time of year.

And here is what Wiktionary says:

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Is this capitalization correct? If so, does this mean that "Merry Christmas" and "Happy New Year" are proper nouns?

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"Christmas" and "New Year" are proper nouns; the "Merry" and "Happy" are modifiers capitalized due to association. –  user730 Dec 15 '10 at 12:03
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The adverb "Very" is modifying the capitalized adjective "Merry", so I'd capitalize "Very" here. –  user730 Dec 15 '10 at 12:20
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Capitalizing Every Damn Word has even spread to Hungarian, which traditionally doesn't capitalize much at all. So it ought to be Kellemes karácsonyi ünnepeket, since the -i makes Karácsony (Christmas) into an adjective, and there's no reason to capitalize ünnep (holiday). Naturally, if the greeting is in the middle of a sentence, the first K should be lowercase as well. But nowadays, all the Hungarian websites, cards, and stores have the phrase in full Title Caps, and it bugs the heck out of me. (And my mother - I come by my pedantry honestly.) –  Marthaª Dec 15 '10 at 19:09
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2 Answers

up vote 13 down vote accepted

As others have mentioned, Christmas and New Year are proper nouns, and thus are capitalized. Generally the phrases "Merry Christmas" and "Happy New Year" are used in greetings, as headings, or in some other isolated way, and thus "Happy" and "Merry" are the first word of the sentence, and thus those words are capitalized.

Happy New Year!

is a sentence by itself, and thus Happy should be capitalized. It would not be necessary to capitalize "birthday" if you were saying "Happy birthday" instead of "Happy New Year".

I wish you a merry Christmas and happy New Year.

is how I'd capitalize the words if they weren't being used on their own, but rather in a longer sentence.

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Christmas and New Year are proper nouns.

I know that Merry Christmas and other such greetings are usually capitalised, but the reason why is unclear.

They are not proper nouns, but they are phrases and as such the first letter of the first word is often capitalised, but this is not set in stone. I get the impression that their are cultural differences, that people state-side are more likely not to capitalise Merry and Happy, but I can't confirm this.

You could also perhaps consider them quotes that have lost the quotation marks:

We wish you a 'Merry Christmas'

However, there is a school of thought that goes against this; they consider merry Christmas perfectly acceptable, though to me is looks rather odd.

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protected by RegDwigнt Oct 22 '13 at 9:48

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