Write well. Write often. Edit wisely.
No, we’re not going to take advantage of holidays. We’re going to look at the proper capitalization of holidays and holiday terms.
A reader asked about capitalizing holiday names. Her question, edited, and my answer, expanded upon, follow.
None of the top-gun style guides address these [holidays and holiday greetings]. With the holidays approaching, I’d like to know which words to correctly capitalize.
Holidays, both religious and secular, are typically capitalized. As are religious seasons. (Not winter, spring, summer, and fall but seasons such as Advent and Lent.)
Holidays such as Christmas, Thanksgiving (in the US), Halloween, New Year’s Day, and Boxing Day (in the UK) are always capitalized.
When the words day and eve are part of the holiday name, capitalize them as well.
Even when the holiday name is shortened—for example, from New Year’s Eve (or New Year’s Day) to New Year’s—capitalize the shortened name.
Most holidays on which businesses are closed (think national holidays) are capitalized. Most church holidays and holy days are capitalized, whether or not those days are recognized by governments.
Many national holidays correspond to battle victories or celebrations of important national events. Many religious holidays are connected to special events in the history of the religion.
I’ve included a variety of holidays to give you an idea of different categories, yet this list isn’t exhaustive. Check a dictionary for holidays not listed here.
All Saints’ Day
Christmas (also Christmas Day and Christmas Eve)
Coming of Age Day (Japan)
Holocaust Remembrance Day
Holy Thursday, Holy Saturday, Holy Week
Independence Day (US) also the Fourth of July and July Fourth
Labor Day (US)
Labour Day (Canada and other nations)
Martin Luther King Jr. Day (US)
Michaelmas (the feast of Saint Michael the Archangel)
New Year’s (also New Year’s Day and New Year’s Eve)
St George’s Day (no period or full stop with St in BrE)
St. Patrick’s Day (also Saint or St Patrick’s Day)
Thanksgiving (also Thanksgiving Day)
the High Holy Days
Veterans Day (no apostrophe)
Victoria Day (Canada)
Victory Day (Russia)
While holidays and holy days are capitalized, many holiday greetings (except for the words always capitalized) are not.
In running text—not titles or headlines—the following phrases are not capitalized. Exceptions for proper nouns and words that come at the beginning of a sentence.
happy or merry Christmas
happy New Year
A few examples in sentences:
Merry Christmas! (Merry is capitalized because it comes at the beginning of the sentence.)
I wish you a very merry Christmas.
Happy birthday! (Happy is capitalized because it comes at the beginning of the sentence.)
Have a truly happy birthday, Tammy.
He wished you happy holidays and season’s greetings before he left.
We’ll be out of town for the winter holidays.
Note that new year isn’t always capitalized. Reserve the capital letters for the holiday itself, not for the words new year.
I hope the new year is a good one for you.
If you have questions about other holiday greetings, please ask about them. I may add additional holidays and holy days.