As my family walked to the door with 6 bags of sugary treats for my little kids, I waved and told my neighbor,
and then shut the door behind us and began our bedtime routine.
For most folks, the official Christmas Season begins after Thanksgiving, but for me, it starts November 1. This means that I begin to play the Christmas Carols, take detours at the local Home Depot to look at the Christmas Decorations and begin my favorite Christmas pastime, which is looking online for all the cool new Christmas Villages that I plan on buying one day for my imaginary display.
I love everything about the season, except the snow and the cold, and for the first time this year, I get to experience it without Ohio's December snowstorms and instead in a pair of shorts and sunglasses in the great state of Florida.
Then something occurred to me.
Why do we say and when did we begin saying "Merry Christmas"?
We say "Happy Halloween," "Happy Thanksgiving," "Happy New Year," "Happy Easter," and "Happy Independence Day," and I have even heard the occasional "Happy Labor Day" by the shirtless guy with a beverage in his hand while grilling up some hot dogs on his day off.
So why don't we say "Happy Christmas"?
How did the word "Merry" get added to this specific holiday?
The Origin of Merry Christmas
To my surprise, the word "Merry" originated hundreds of years ago in England and is first recorded in a letter written in 1534 from an English Catholic Bishop named John Fisher to Thomas Cromwell. Within the letter, this sentence was said:
And this, our Lord God, send you a merry Christmas and a comfortable, to your heart’s desire.
Later in the 16th Century, the song "God Rest You Merry, Gentleman" began to be sung. Notice where the comma is. It is placed after and not before the word "Merry."
I thought the website Why Christmas explained this the best:
In the English language of the time, the phrase 'Rest You Merry' didn't mean simply to be happy; 'rest' meant "to keep, cause to continue to remain," and 'merry' could mean "pleasant, bountiful, prosperous." So you could write the first line as "[May] God keep you and continue to make you successful and prosperous, Gentlemen," but that would be hard to sing!
The original meaning of the song was meant to emphasize the phrase "God Rest You, Merry," but over time, the comma was moved and placed after the word "You." This altered the original meaning and made the word Merry an adjective describing the "Gentlemen."
So the word Merry shifted from a verb to an adjective, which over time allowed it to be used in the phrase "Merry Christmas."
The phrase "Merry Christmas" was first used commercially in the first Christmas Card. The first Christmas card on record was sent in 1843 by Sir Henry Cole and used the phrase "A Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year"
The same year, the famous Charles Dickens published "A Christmas Carol," which remains one of the more popular Christmas stories of all time. Within the book, the phrase "Merry Christmas" was used 21 times.
Since that time, many Christmas Carols, stories, and decorations have used Merry Christmas, and now it is just part of our holiday language.