There are plenty of joyous holidays that appropriately get celebrated by wishing someone a happy day. The Fourth of July, Hanukkah, Easter, Thanksgiving … each a holiday celebrating jubilation over specific events, be they religious or historic.
But, what about holidays based on serious reverence or an acknowledgement of a struggle? There’s certainly a lot of discussion surrounding the act of wishing someone a “Happy Memorial Day” or “Happy Martin Luther King Jr. Day.” Heck, some people even have “MLKeg parties,” and many people celebrate Memorial Day with a drink (or two or five)!
The purpose of holidays like these is to recognize a darker part of our nation’s history and how it was overcome by a brave population or a leader who made sacrifices for the sake of progress. These are days full of weight and reflection.
And that’s why wishing someone a “Happy Holiday” in these instances, without cheapening (or dishonoring) the meaning behind the day, is up for debate.
When can you say “happy holiday”?
As word experts, we’re ready to chime in. Because to be happy doesn’t necessarily mean “to be giddy over one’s own privilege” (despite the word’s origins being tied to “good luck”).
Sure, there’s joy involved in its official definition, but it’s over circumstances that go beyond just “happy coincidences.”
Being “happy” over Martin Luther King Jr. Day or Memorial Day could be an expression of gratitude—the population acknowledges the past and people are joyous that we are all remembering where we came from and how we’ve come so far. After all, one of the synonyms for happy is successful.
You could even argue that many religious holidays—Hanukkah and Easter included—would also be categorized as “not happy” based on the struggles both are founded upon … yet we continue to say how happy we are about them every year.
So, if you’re unsure about happy, think of it as a way to express gratitude as opposed to tossing it aside for its literal meaning.
And, if you want to avoid it, synonyms are always welcome: “Have a thoughtful Memorial Day” could catch on, we’re into it.