Holiday greetings are a selection of goodwill greetings used around the world to address strangers, family, coworkers or friends during the Christmas and holiday season, which spans an approximate timeframe of late November through January. Holidays generally thought to be included in this season include Christmas, New Year's Day, Hanukkah, Boxing Day or Saint Stephen's Day, Epiphany, Thanksgiving and Kwanzaa. Some greetings are more prevalent than others, depending on the cultural and religious status of any given area.
Typically, a greeting consists of the word "Happy" followed by the holiday, such as "Happy New Year" or "Happy Hanukkah". Exceptions include "Merry Christmas" and "Season's Greetings".
"Happy Holidays" is often used in the United States as a generic cover-all greeting for all of the winter holidays: Thanksgiving, Christmas Day, New Year's Day, Hanukkah, and Kwanzaa.
Merry/Happy Christmas 
The greetings and farewells "Merry Christmas" and "Happy Christmas" are traditionally used in North America, the United Kingdom, Ireland and Australasia, starting a few weeks before Christmas (December 25) each year.
These phrases are often preferred when it is known that the person addressed is a Christian or celebrates Christmas. The nonreligious often use the greeting as well, however in this case its meaning focuses more on the secular aspects of Christmas, rather than the Nativity of Jesus.
- "Merry Christmas", the traditionally used greeting for those from North America and the UK, composed of merry (jolly, happy) and Christmas (Old English: Cristes mæsse, for Christ's Mass).
- "Merry Xmas", with the "X" replacing "Christ" (see Xmas), dating back to the early days of Christianity, with the Greek letter "χ" being the first letter in Christ (Χριστος).
- "Happy Christmas", an equivalent that is also often used in the United Kingdom and Ireland.
As of 2005, "Merry Christmas" remains popular in countries with large Christian populations, including the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Ireland, New Zealand, Australia, South Africa, Mexico, Philippines, and parts of Western Europe not affiliated with the Eastern Orthodox rites.
It also remains popular in the largely non-Christian nations of China and Japan, where Christmas is celebrated primarily due to Western cultural influences. Though it has somewhat decreased in popularity in the United States and Canada over the past decades, polls from 2005 indicate that it remains more popular than "Happy Holidays" or other alternatives.
History of the phrase 
Though Christmas has been celebrated since the 4th century AD, the first known usage of any Christmas greeting dates was in 1565, when it appeared in The Hereford Municipal Manuscript: "And thus I comytt you to God, who send you a mery Christmas." "Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year" (thus incorporating two greetings) was in an informal letter written by an English admiral in 1699. The same phrase is contained in the 16th century secular English carol "We Wish You a Merry Christmas," and the first commercial Christmas card, produced in England in 1843.
Also in 1843, Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol was published, during the mid Victorian revival of the holiday. The word Merry was then beginning to take on its current meaning of "jovial, cheerful, jolly and outgoing". "Merry Christmas" in this new context figured prominently in A Christmas Carol. The cynical Ebenezer Scrooge rudely deflects the friendly greeting: "If I could work my will.. every idiot who goes about with 'Merry Christmas' on his lips should be boiled with his own pudding." After the visit from the Ghosts of Christmas effects his transformation, Scrooge exclaims; "I am as merry as a school-boy. A merry Christmas to everybody!" and heartily exchanges the wish to all he meets. The instant popularity of A Christmas Carol, the Victorian era Christmas traditions it typifies, and the term's new meaning appearing in the book popularized the phrase "Merry Christmas".
The alternative "Happy Christmas" gained usage in the late 19th century, and is still common in the UK and Ireland alongside "Merry Christmas". One reason may be the Methodist Victorian middle-class influence in attempting to separate wholesome celebration of the Christmas season from common lower-class public insobriety and associated asocial behaviour, at a time when merry also meant "tipsy" or "drunk". Queen Elizabeth II is said to prefer "Happy Christmas" for this reason. In the American poet Clement Moore's "A Visit from St. Nicholas" (1823), the final line, originally written as "Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night", has been changed in many later editions to "Merry Christmas to all", perhaps indicating the relative popularity of the phrases in the USA.
Happy Holidays 
In the United States, "Happy Holidays" (along with the similarly generalized "Season's Greetings") has become a common holiday greeting in the public sphere of department stores, public schools and greeting cards. Its use is generally confined to the period between United States Thanksgiving and New Year's Day. American use of the term "Happy Holidays" to replace "Merry Christmas" dates back at least to the 1970s and was a common phrase relating to the Christmas season at least going back to the 1890s. The term may have gained popularity with the Irving Berlin song "Happy Holidays" (released in 1942 and included in the film Holiday Inn).
In the United States, it can have several variations and meanings:
- As "Happy Holiday", an English translation of the Hebrew Hag Sameach greeting on Passover, Sukkot, and Shavuot.
- As "Happy Holiday", a substitution for "Merry Christmas".
- As "Happy Holidays", a collective and inclusive wish for the period encompassing Thanksgiving, Kwanzaa, Hanukkah, the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, the Winter solstice, Christmas Day (The Nativity of the Lord), Boxing Day (St. Stephen's Day), the New Year and Epiphany.
- As "Happy Holidays", a shortened form of the greeting "Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year."
The increasing usage of "Happy Holidays" has been the subject of some controversy in the United States. Advocates claim that "Happy Holidays" is an inclusive greeting that is not intended as an attack on Christianity or other religions, but is rather a response to what they say is the reality of a growing non-Christian population.
Critics of "Happy Holidays" generally claim it is a secular neologism. The greeting may be deemed materialistic, consumerist, atheistic, indifferentist, agnostic, politically correct, and/or anti-Christian. Critics of the phrase have associated it with a larger cultural clash termed the "War on Christmas." However, some Christians, concerned that the 20th century conflation of St. Nicholas Day (December 6), Christmas (December 25), and Epiphany (January 6) has subsumed the meaning of Christmas itself, have taken to using "Happy Holidays" and "Season's Greetings" throughout the season, reserving "Merry Christmas" for December 25.
Season's Greetings 
"Season's Greetings" is a greeting more commonly used as a motto on winter season greeting cards, and in commercial advertisements, than as a spoken phrase. In addition to "Merry Christmas", Victorian Christmas cards bore a variety of salutations, including "Compliments of the Season" and "Christmas Greetings." By the late 19th century, "With the Season's Greetings" or simply "The Season's Greetings" began appearing. By the 1920s it had been shortened to "Season's Greetings," and has been a greeting card fixture ever since. Several White House Christmas cards, including U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower's 1955 card, have featured the phrase.
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