Around this time of year these days, a certain kind of person waits on the edge of their seat for the opportunity to complain that they can't say "Merry Christmas" anymore as if someone is going to haul them off to holiday jail, which is still probably the most fun kind of jail. It's got pointy-eared guards and candy cane bars that are not only easy to gnaw through but a downright delight to do so. But 200-ish years ago, it would have been a very different kind of person.
We've imbued Christmas specifically with merriment for somewhat murky reasons since at least Henry VIII's days, but then those historical party poopers, the Victorians, showed up. To them, a "merry" Christmas entailed all manner of drunken debauchery, so it was decided among the more pious and/or stuffy of the era that wishing others a "Happy Christmas" was more Christ-like or at least less thirst-like.
The two greetings competed with each other until 1843 when two key media were published: Charles Dickens's A Christmas Carol and the first commercially produced Christmas card. Both prominently featured the phrase "Merry Christmas," and in fact, the Christmas card depicted a family enjoying exactly the sort of merry activities those stuffy Victorians feared (that is, a bottle of wine).
"Merry Christmas" seemed to win the culture war, but the royal family still pointedly wishes their subjects a "Happy Christmas," which is why you hear the phrase more often in the Queen's realm. Some winter weiners even tried to get "Cheery Christmas" going in 1916:
Stop trying to make "Cheery Christmas" happen, Chicago Tribune. It's not going to happen.
Top image: Cris DiNoto/Unsplash