N.B.: What follows is a re-posting of an article from the archives, slightly edited:
Many people are outraged that some cashiers dare to wish them “Happy holidays” instead of a “Merry Christmas.” This baffles me.
First, wishing customers “Happy holidays” would seem to make more sense, especially since most people – even Catholics – view Christmas simply as one day (drive through a Catholic neighborhood on the Memorial of Saint Stephen and you’ll see what I mean). By wishing you “Happy holidays” the cashier is wishing you more blessed days than you are asking.
Second, it seems we have forgotten what the word “holiday” means and from where it comes. The word “holiday” comes from “holy day.” As a consequence of the way the English language has developed, both in terms of pronunciation and spelling, “holy day” condensed to “holiday”. Ergo, when somebody wishes you “Happy holidays” they are really telling you “Happy holy days”, which might even be more fitting given the numerous feast days we celebrate between now and Christmas, and even through the Octave of Christmas and the twelve days culminating with the celebration of the Solemnity of the Epiphany.
While we’re on the topic, it might well be recalled that “Good Friday” was once “God’s Friday” and “Good-bye” was once “God be with ye.”
Even if this explanation doesn’t suit your fancy – true as it is – wishing the cashier a disgruntled “Merry Christmas” is hardly acceptable, given its all but automatic lack of charity. Don’t get flustered with the cashier; he or she may only be doing what he or she is told. It might also be possible the cashier knows full well what the words “Happy holidays” mean when he or she says them in knowing fashion.