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A Word, Please: It’s almost time to write ‘Happy Holidays’ ... or is it ‘holidays’?

Because Turkey Day is like
Because Turkey Day is like a nickname, it’s a proper noun, June Casagrande says, and should be capitalized.
(Rita Maas / Getty Images)

Here come the holidays. Or as some might put it, the Holidays. Or, less commonly, the holiday’s. Either way, it’s a great time to make embarrassing errors in social media posts, emails, cards, business correspondence and marketing copy. Here are some terms you’ll want to write right this time of year.

Happy holidays. Just because they both start with an H doesn’t mean both Hs should be capitalized. And no apostrophe, please.

Turkey Day. Think of this as a nickname. Like real names, nicknames are proper nouns. Each word in proper noun starts with a capital letter, which is why the D in Day is uppercase.

Season’s greetings. This one’s not as easy. When we say “season’s greetings,” we mean it as a catch-all nod to multiple holidays, including Christmas, Hanukkah and New Year’s. But just because you’re talking about plural holidays doesn’t mean you’re talking about plural seasons. For purposes of this greeting, they’re all one season. So when you hear “season’s,” the final S isn’t there to indicate a plural. It’s there to indicate a possessive: the greetings of the season. Always put an apostrophe before the S and, of course, remember to lowercase the G in greetings.

Christmas Day. Technically, you could think of the “day” as a not-proper noun, justifying a lowercase D. But that’s not how most editors would see it. Even more so than Turkey Day, Christmas Day is a proper name in its own right, requiring a capital D.

Christmas Eve. Use a capital E. This is a proper noun.

’Tis. When you type an apostrophe at the beginning of a word, spell-checker often assumes you meant to type a single quotation mark. The software changes the mark to one that curves like the letter C. That’s not an apostrophe. That’s a single quotation mark. To fix this once without tinkering with the settings in your computer, type the apostrophe twice then delete the first one.

Merry. This isn’t a proper noun. You often see it capitalized because it’s the beginning of a sentence. But anywhere else, the M is lowercase: We wish you a merry Christmas.

New Year, New Year’s, New Year’s Eve, New Year’s Day. Stick with capital letters in most cases: Happy New Year! Happy New Year’s. On New Year’s Eve. On New Year’s Day. If you’re just talking about the year itself and not the holiday, you probably want to use all lowercase: I hope business picks up in the new year. Associated Press supports lowercase “new year” at times. But “happy New Year” is probably best.

Hanukkah. Anytime you have a word adopted from a language that uses a different alphabet, English spellings can be subject to debate. For example, don’t get me started on Qadaffi, which starts with the same Arabic letter represented as a Q in al-Qaeda though many English language news outlets spell it with a G: Gadaffi. A Hebrew word like Hanukkah draws the same confusion for translators: How do you represent letters that don’t exist in your own alphabet? Do you go with Hanukkah, Chanukah or Hanukah — all of which are correct? I don’t know. But in cases like this, style guides like the Associated Press Stylebook pick one for consistency’s sake — to ensure Page 1 of a newspaper doesn’t have one spelling while Page 3 has a different one. AP says to go with Hanukkah, which is also the preferred spelling listed in Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary. So unless you have strong feelings about Hebrew transliteration, that’s as good a spelling as any.

Black Friday, Cyber Monday. Black Friday is in Merriam-Webster’s dictionary, capital B, as a proper noun. Cyber Monday, a newer term for an unofficial shopping holiday, is not in Merriam-Webster’s. But if you want my two cents, go with the capital C: Cyber. It’s used like Black Friday, so why not capitalize it like Black Friday?

The writer is the author of “The Joy of Syntax: All the Grammar you Know You Should Know.” She can be reached at JuneTCN@aol.com.

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