Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Merry or Happy? Potato - Pototo

Did you ever wonder why Americans say "Merry Christmas" and the British say "Happy Christmas"? 

One theory goes back to King George V, who used “Happy Christmas”  in his annual Christmas broadcasts. His first instance of using this came in 1932, when King George read his Christmas message, part of which was written by Rudyard Kipling:

“I speak now from my home and from my heart to you all. To men and women so cut off by the snows, the desert or the sea, that only voices out of the air can reach them; to those cut off from fuller life by blindness, sickness, or infirmity; and to those who are celebrating this day with their children and grand-children. To all—to each—I wish a happy Christmas. God Bless You!”

Even today, Queen Elizabeth II in her annual Christmas TV broadcast has continued the usage with “I wish you a peaceful and very happy Christmas.”

Looking at the words, 'happy' came from the word 'hap', meaning luck or chance and implies good-fortune. However, 'merry' goes back to 'the more the merrier' or 'merry making'. Naturally the Anglican Church in the 1800's thought of 'merry' as loud, raucous, perhaps drunken behavior. Then 'happy' was more sensible, loving, even dear.

'Merry Christmas' can be traced back a letter from Bishop John Fisher to a chief minister in Henry VIII's court, in which he said

And thus our Lord send yow a mery Christenmas, and a comfortable, to yowr heart desyer.” Unfortunately the Bishop came to an unfortunate end when he was executed on June 22, 1535 for refusing to accept Henry VIII as head of the Church of England.

An interesting take on the whole Merry vs Happy question came from the linguist Arika Okrent who pointed out that 'happy' is used a lot - “happy birthday,” “happy New Year’s Day,” “happy Thanksgiving,” “happy Easter,” and “happy St. Patrick’s Day”.  Apparently she shared the attitude of the 19th century Anglican clerics in that she suggested that 'happy' may be a better choice than 'merry' which she thought of as rowdy, raucous, and unruly. 

Then Dickens in his classic 1843 'A Christmas Carol' weighed in with these lines:

“A merry Christmas, Bob!” said Scrooge, with an earnestness that could not be mistaken, as he clapped him on the back. “A merrier Christmas, Bob, my good fellow, than I have given you, for many a year! I’ll raise your salary, and endeavour to assist your struggling family, and we will discuss your affairs this very afternoon, over a Christmas bowl of smoking bishop, Bob! Make up the fires, and buy another coal-scuttle before you dot another I, Bob Cratchit!”

So either way, 'Merry Christmas' and 'Happy Christmas' convey the same glad tidings. 

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