Merry & Happy

Do you wish someone a ‘Merry Christmas’ or a ‘Happy Christmas’?

This is a question I was asked recently, and my reply was that I use both – in Christmas cards I usually use merry, but in speech I use happy. How about you?

Would you ever with someone a Merry New Year? This doesn’t sounds quite right to me.

Do other languages make a distinction between merriment* and happiness**?

* participation in amusing and enjoyable activities; fun; exuberant enjoyment

** the state of pleasurable content of mind, which results from success or the attainment of what is considered good

Definitions from the OED.

This entry was posted in English, Language.

11 Responses to Merry & Happy

  1. LAttilaD says:

    Surely they do. Hungarian, for example, says
    kellemes = affable, agreeable, bland, boon, comely, comfortable, delectable, engaging, genial, glad, liquid, nice, palatable, pleasant, pleasing, pleasurable, snug, soft, suave, sweet,
    boldog = beaming, beatific, blessed, blissful, felicitate, felicitous, glad, happy
    Synonyms from
    Put „Christmas” in accusative and wish „kellemes karácsonyt” or „boldog karácsonyt” as you like. Also békés (peaceful) is used.

  2. bulbul says:

    In Slovak, we do make the distinction and wish people both with ‘happy’ coming first. Thus: Šťastné a veselé!

  3. Olof says:

    In Swedish we either wish someone a ”happy” or a ”good” . It depends on which holiday it is, it’s Good Christmas but Happy Easter. Someone asked me what the English borrowing Halloween would be, but I didn’t know and replied that both would work.

  4. Yenlit says:

    In English (UK) the usual written formula is ‘Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year’ but you can use either ‘Merry Christmas’ or ‘Happy Christmas’ when wishing somebody just that but never ‘Merry New Year’.
    I’d say that the word ‘merry’ as in the merriment sense has become twee, quaint and a bit antiquated now and is only used in set phrases ‘Merry Christmas’, ‘Robin Hood and his Merry Men’ etc. The other sense of ‘merry’ is to be slightly drunk, tipsy.
    Even though Hallowe’en is now a quasi-holiday recently imported (umh… re-imported?) from America in the UK with increasing enthusiasm with each passing year, I think it’s right to say ‘Happy Hallowe’en’?

  5. TJ says:

    In Arabic, the typical Christian greetings or wishing for Christmas has nothing to do with merriment, or happiness in fact.
    It goes like [عيد ميلاد مجيد] (?eed meelád majeed) – Glorious Birth Feast (i.e. Christmas).

  6. TJ says:

    and Merry Christmas to all Omniglotters 🙂

  7. renato says:

    In Portuguese we use Feliz Natal (more popular) and Bom Natal (more formal) but there isn’t a big difference between them

  8. Petréa Mitchell says:

    In US English, “Happy Christmas” sounds wrong, even though we wish each other plenty of happy other holidays. For some reason, “Merry” won’t let “Christmas” go.

    The only other common non-happy phrase I can think of is “Season’s Greetings”, which is short for “Please enjoy this card or advertisement in the context of Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, or whatever else it is you feel like celebrating around this time of year.” An alternate, less-formal equivalent is “Happy Holidays”.

  9. Petréa Mitchell says:


    In the US, at least, “Happy Halloween” is correct.

  10. Lou says:

    In German, it’s “Frohe Weihnachten” oder “Fröhliche Weihnachten” (which would both translate as Merry or Happy Christmas. Maybe “Fröhliche Weihnachten” tends more towards “Merry Christmas” and “Frohe Weihnachten” towards “Happy Christmas” but as “fröhlich” is derived from “froh”, it doesn’t really make a big difference, and both can be used interchangably in writing and in speech.). At midnight on New Year’s Eve however, we wish each other either a good or a happy new year (“Gutes neues Jahr”/”Frohes neues Jahr”). The “happy” version is becoming more and more dominant in speech and is a bit more colloquial whereas the “good” version mostly appears on Christmas cards or in more formal situations. But you can basically use both no matter who you’re talking (or writing) to.

  11. Alain says:

    Fr.: -Joyeux Noël et Bonne année = Joyous Noel and Good Year.
    Bon An would be completely awkward, where Bonjour and Bonne journée are both O.k.

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