Holidays are a linguistic pain. This is because so much time passes between Good Fridays and All Hallows’ Eves and Victoria Days for you to forget what you said and spelled last time.
The Chicago Manual or Style says, “The names of secular and religious holidays or officially designated days or seasons are capitalized,” and provides a few examples – Christmas Day, Hanukkah, etc.
One problem solved. But that’s only part of the story.
Apostrophes are a problem. Remember, it’s New Year’s Eve, followed by New Year’s Day (see 6).
Other tips (use them at your own peril):
1) In the UK, say, “Happy Christmas.” In North America, say, “Merry Christmas.” Elsewhere, mumble. (Actually, this is a dodgy rule of thumb: the British National Corpus has 78 hits for “Happy Christmas” and 68 for “Merry Christmas” – and the latter may be gaining ground).
2) “Christmass” (sic) is a howler.
3) If in doubt about religion, etc., belt out “Happy Holidays!”
4) If you don’t really like the greetee, say “Season’s Greetings.” It’s the “have a nice day” of the Christmas season.
5) If you are very, very old, speak of “Yuletide.”
6) “Boxing Day” is the day after Christmas. Nobody knows what it is, but because it’s a day off in many countries, nobody complains.
7) “Happy New Year!” is the correct pre-snog (i.e. pre-midnight-kiss) greeting.
But if you slur “Happy New Year’s” and someone nit-picks, just argue that you meant it elliptically (i.e. short for “Happy New Year’s EVE”).
“Happy New Years” is wrong, unless you are wishing for future years as well.
8) You do not have to shake hands when you wish somebody “Happy New Year.” In fact, if they don’t know you well, they might find you weird. Oh, and that mistletoe stuff only happens in movies.
9) Sylvester is a Puddy Tat in English.
10) James Joyce’s “The Dead” never actually mentions that the aunts’ party is on the “Feast of the Epiphany” (January 6). This was news to one of us.
Jason Blake and Monika Kavalir