GREENSBORO, N.C. – Why is it we say Merry Christmas instead of Happy Christmas? It's a good question from 9-year-old Gage.
Happy vs. Merry. Don't they kinda mean the same thing? According to the dictionary, happy means fortunate and convenient while merry means characterized by festivity and rejoicing. So, close... but here's the real difference.
“When we wish someone a Happy Birthday or Happy New Year, we're wishing them good luck or good fortune, “ explains High Point University English Professor Matthew Schneider. “When you wished someone a Merry Christmas, you were wishing them a pleasant time or a festive time during the Christmas holiday.”
But why? Aren't the other holidays a pleasant and festive time too?
“I think we do have Charles Dickens to thank for Merry Christmas or referring to Christmas as merry. It occurs 2 dozen times in A Christmas Carol.”
And the book changed the culture in England, not just the words said.
“The whole country saw a marketable uptick in charitable contributions in the first quarter after Dickens published the story, A Christmas Carol.”
But in the 1920's, merry was almost ousted as the traditional greeting in England and Australia.
“Merry started to have a meaning of partying and overindulging and being too festive and so people wanted to distance themselves from those excessive kinds of celebrations.”
The divide is over the ocean. In England and Australia, you'll often hear Happy Christmas, but in the US and Canada, Merry is the star of the show.