Season’s greetings. You are sending the greetings of the season (just one season), so it’s ’s. Don’t worry – after you’ve written something ten or twenty times, your mind starts doubting how to spell your own name, let alone remember the rules of the possessive apostrophe. And when organisations from government departments to educational institutions can’t get this simple phrase correct, you can’t blame the ordinary individual for feeling confused.
A couple of instances where apostrophes have gone missing
You can avoid the whole apostrophe issue by simply using Merry Christmas and a happy new year. Season’s greetings arose in North America from a desire to be polite, and include non-Christians who had other celebrations at this time of year – mainly Jewish people celebrating Hanukkah (and possibly, although maybe not intentionally, pagans or Wiccans celebrating the solstice). Happy holidays is another American phrase intended to be inclusive and inoffensive, although for those outside America it is just confusing. While America’s favourite dictionary (Merriam-Webster) defines the holidays as ‘the time from November until the beginning of January’(which seems to be a long-winded way of saying December), it does note that this is a US usage. If you are not in America, the holidays is any time you are taking an intentional rest break from work or your usual routine, and is not tied to any particular time of year. Americans call these vacactions; they have a summer vacation instead of summer holidays, for example.
Of course, in Australia and the rest of the southern hemisphere, the summer holidays coincide with the time Americans call the holidays, even though the term the summer holidays just sounds plain wrong to Americans. This illustrates just how stubborn language can be in adapting to new conditions. Summer holidays are inconceivable if you don’t know that the seasons are reversed in the southern hemisphere, just as the terms sunrise and sunset have lingered long after we learned that the sun does neither: the earth turns instead.
In Australia, we celebrate Christmas as part of our summer holidays.
Have a merry Christmas and a happy new year – and a decent holiday, whether it is summer or winter.
And if you’re dreaming of a white Christmas . . . may all your apostrophes be right . . .
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Photos: red background with holly by Toni Cuenca on Unsplash; Merry Christmas © lazyllama /stock.adobe.com (apostrophe errors deliberately not attributed)