The Writer’s Toolbox – Grammatical Greetings

During the holiday season, we hear a lot about ensuring that our greetings are inclusive or inoffensive. But there’s not much press given to spelling, grammar, and usage errors, is there? I know, I know. It’s the thought that counts. But if misspellings and mistakes turn you into a grammatical Grinch, read on.

Seasonal salutations

“Merry Christmas” is easy—unless You’re in second grade and think that “Mary Christmas” is more topical (it was one of my favorite cards last year). It’s the other greetings that are frequently misspelled on advertisements and signs and in (gulp!) Christmas cards from family and friends. To avoid seasonal slip-ups this year, make sure you follow these steps:

First, resist the urge to add apostrophes when they’re unnecessary. Advertisers would do well to remember that apostrophes are used for possessive, not plural; so It’s “Happy holidays,” not “Happy holiday’s.” On the other hand, “Season’s greetings” requires an apostrophe since it is not plural–you’re wishing the greetings of (belonging to) the season.

The apostrophe problem crops up in greeting cards, too. I need to ensure that my cards are from the Freys (plural), not the Frey’s (possessive). But it would be fine to tell everyone that the holidays are being hosted at the Freys’ house this year—other than the fact that they’re not. Surname end in an “s”? Still form the plural the normal way (“the Joneses” or “the Jones family”), never with an apostrophe.

Second, don’t overcapitalize. The names of special days or holidays are capitalized?New Year’s Eve, Kwanzaa?but other parts of the greeting should not be unless they begin the greeting or sentence. So while “Merry Christmas” is acceptable, “We wish you a Merry Christmas” is not (the “m” should be lowercased). And “Season’s greetings” doesn’t warrant a capital “g.”

Finally, ask yourself what exactly You’re trying to say. January 1 is a good example. It’s easy to see why It’s “New Year’s Day” and “New Year’s resolutions”—both refer to entities belonging to the New Year. But what about the traditional greeting? Since “Happy New Year” offers wishes that the new year—the whole year—be happy, It’s preferred. “Happy New Year’s” is a shorter form of “Happy New Year’s Day,” which is a rather short-lived greeting. No one wants a great January 1 and a lousy January 2 (with all the New Year’s Eve partying, It’s usually It’s the other way around!).

The case of Hanukkah

One of the most confusing holiday spelling conundrums involves the word “Hanukkah.” Although the feast came early this year, so You’re probably not going to be puzzling over whether to wish someone a “Happy Hanukkah” or “Happy Chanukah,” language lovers will enjoy this excellent piece on the spelling controversy. As the author (the copy editor for a Jewish publication) notes, each spelling variant comes with its own history and set of supporters. But there’s no overall consensus, so go with the spelling suggested by your style guide or favorite dictionary—or your rabbi. Just be consistent.


Finally, in your seasonal posting and correspondence, ensure that you’re not taking a holiday from normally acceptable spelling. Otherwise you could end up with some seriously cringe-worthy stuff; for example, It’s “wrapping” presents, not “raping.”

Whatever you’re celebrating this season, may it be happy. Just spell it right, and I will be.