Friday, December 23, 2016

Holiday Words

I have no problem with Happy Holidays instead of Merry Christmas. In fact, I think it is a very polite and appropriate greeting during this time of year. I also think it rather hypocritical for people who claim to be Christians, to get all worked up over how people wish you well during a particular time of year. Be grateful, thank them, and return the greeting. It’s akin to men putting the toilet seat down. Just do it. It really isn’t a big deal. It takes you 5 seconds, no effort, and your wife will brag about you to all her friends. (Sorry, this is a rant for another day.)

Season’s Greetings is another holiday term some people use. Usually in greeting cards. Rarely in speech. Have you ever heard someone leave the office party with a hearty “Season’s Greetings, ya'll!” No. You have not.

The one thing I do like about the Merry Christmas greeting, however, is the word merry. I like that word. Every other holiday is preceded by the word happy. Happy New Year, Happy Valentine’s Day, Happy Thanksgiving, Happy Hogmanay. Happy, happy, happy. But then there is Merry Christmas. Merry is just so nice and smiley.  There is a cheerful and light-hearted feeling behind the word merry that happy just doesn’t have. You can be happy anytime of the year, but you can only be merry around the winter months. It even looks like a very convivial sort of word the way the letters all follow each other and finish off with that devil-may-care “y” at the end.

Jolly is another really good holiday word. Usually used in describing Santa, jolly is what I would deem an autological word -- a word that is what it describes. Outside of Christmas (and maybe a few times in Shakespeare) you never hear the word “jolly,” do you? Too bad. It’s fun. It’s one of those words, though, that if you try to use during any other time of the year, you will always sound a little pretentious. Or British. 

Other holidays are equally resplendent with fabulous vocabularies. Hanukkah has some fun words that are only heard during that holiday, too. Dreidel. Latkes. Shamash. Even if you don’t know what those words mean, just the saying of them makes you want to find out. Each of the seven principles of Kwanzaa are great to say out loud. Especially, Umoja (Unity) and Kuumba (Creativity).  Both Islam and Hinduism have holidays with fantastic vocabularies (Eid al-Adha and Diwali, respectively). But since those dates move from year to year, they aren’t always strictly winter holidays. 

I think my New Year’s resolution (or one of them anyway) for 2017 is to use more merry and jolly words in my daily life. Even at the risk of sounding like I went to Eton or Harrow, I’m going to make it my mission in 2017 to be creative and daring in how I speak. I’ll try to honor the intention of good words by enunciating them properly. (Mr. Cooke and Dr. White will look down approvingly on me for this.) I’m going to use fun and unusual words for more than just the holidays. I think I’ll even make a concerted effort to put the “g” back on words ending in “ing.” I’m not a Cockney, after all. The down side to this resolution for all my Millennial friends and students will be that if I hear you saying words like bitten, kitten, or written without pronouncing the ‘t” sound, I will correct you. You’re not a Cockney, either. 

Not that we needed the lesson, but 2016 has reminded all of us of the power that words can have when used improperly or carelessly. Words wielded by the wrong mouths can topple governments and influence elections. They can cause pain and fear. They can threaten and intimidate.  Thankfully, words can also inspire and heal. They can motivate and enlighten. Lined up in the right way, they can make children laugh, can serve as a tonic for a lover’s tears, or can trigger an apology in the face of an argument.  Using words, a person can also wish a total stranger a Happy Holiday – and mean it -- no matter what religion either of them practice or belief system they hold dear. 

I wish you all a Merry Holiday and a very Jolly New Year. Here's to using your words - old ones, new ones, right ones.

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