I see that if we greet people during a day, we use 'good' such as

good morning/afternoon/evening/night.

And for annual occasion, we usually use 'happy' such as

Happy Birthday/New Year/Mother's Day/Easter/Halloween.

However, when it comes to Christmas, we say 'Merry Christmas' instead of 'Happy Christmas'. Why? Is there any specific rules for greeting?

  • 4
    Bear in mind that "Happy Christmas" has quite a bit of usage in Britain. Commented May 19, 2016 at 3:05

2 Answers 2


The folks at Mental Floss recently pondered the same question and found that the answer goes back to the connotation of the two words. "Happy" is an emotional condition, while "merry" is a behavior.

Furthermore, happy, which came from the word "hap," meaning luck or chance implies good-fortune. Meanwhile, "merry" implies a more active showing of happiness—which you might think of as merry-making.

While both words have evolved and changed meaning over time (yes—people did once say "Happy Christmas"), people 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 carols and stories, largely due to the influence of Charles Dickens. The Victorian Christmas went on to define many of today's holiday customs.

  • 1
    +1 for the research. But I must say, this is one reason out of many. This is a topic that's worth starting a new thread on, or as a new forum topic. It's vast, and people have many opinions.
    – Varun Nair
    Commented May 19, 2016 at 7:33
  • 3
    Do you have a link for "Mental Floss"? If not, could you tell us who they are? And happy Christmas is still used,mostly in British English. Commented May 19, 2016 at 8:00
  • Thank you for the answer. I agree with the comment, it would be better if you could provide the link of Mental Floss. I see that my question is vast and may have many answers Commented May 23, 2016 at 7:14

Each saying has a technically different meaning, both are used.

In the United States and most other parts of the world, Merry Christmas is most commonly used. For historical reasons, Happy Christmas is used in Great Britain and Ireland.

In English, there are no specific rules for how you convey that you wish someone a good, happy, or merry time. Generally though, with less important events it is best to use 'Good' ( e.g. Good night ), but for more important events like a holiday or birthday it is best to use happy ( e.g. Happy birthday, happy holidays ). Happy and good are used almost exclusively in greetings, and most people only use merry as a greeting in 'Merry Christmas'.

If you are interested in the history, here is a short article about it: http://grammarist.com/spelling/merry-christmas-vs-happy-christmas.

  • While Queen Elizabeth II's choice is historical, it doesn't seem like that's something that needs to be hidden behind vague language like that. Just say who it was that decided to change things up. Commented May 20, 2016 at 1:39

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