When did “Happy Christmas” Become “Merry Christmas”

Here’s the Origin of ‘Merry Christmas’ and Why We Say It Today

Have you ever thought about the history of this phrase?

Ever wondered where the phrase “Merry Christmas” comes from?

With December 25 inching up on us fast, you’ve probably been sending “Merry Christmas” wishes to everyone in your life, including friends and family. You’ve possibly even sprinkled it in an Instagram caption or two and on the face of your Christmas cards this year. After all, in a country where “Happy Easter” and “Happy Birthday” are the norm, that “merry” part of “Merry Christmas” is pretty unique. No one is entirely certain where the “merry” originated, but there are several interesting theories.

Origin of Merry Christmas

Wait. Does anyone say “Happy Christmas”?

Yes! For starters, it’s important to note that “Happy Christmas” hasn’t faded completely—it’s still widely used in England. This is believed to be because “happy” took on a higher class connotation than “merry,” which was associated with the rowdiness of the lower classes. The royal family adopted “Happy Christmas” as their preferred greeting, and others took note. (In fact, each year, Queen Elizabeth continues to wish her citizens a “Happy Christmas,” rather than a merry one.)

But “Merry Christmas” has been used since at least 1534. A dated letter from bishop John Fisher to Henry VIII’s chief minister Thomas Cromwell reveals as much. The English carol, “We Wish You a Merry Christmas,” which was introduced in the 1500s, also uses the popular phrase.

mother and daughter decorating christmas tree

So when did “Happy Christmas” become “Merry Christmas” in the U.S.?

Historians believe it might boil down to a simple grammatical lesson. “Happy” is a word that describes an inner emotional condition, while “merry” is more of a behavior descriptor—something active and maybe even raucous. Consider, for example, the free-spirited act of “merry-making” versus the state of simply “being happy.”

As both words evolved and changed meanings over time, people slowly stopped using “merry” as its own individual word during the 18th and 19th centuries. It stuck around in common phrases like “the more, the merrier,” as well as in things like Christmas songs and stories, largely due to the influence of Charles Dickens. The Victorian Christmas went on to define many of today’s Christmas traditions.

It’s no wonder that now when we hear “Merry Christmas” we hear something sentimental. Even the word “merry” on its own now makes us think of December 25.


about the author

Hi! I'm Uri; I'm a 36-year-old business developer.
I have a passion for new tech; I'm an enthusiastic person who loves gadgets and cool little things that makes life better.

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