Merry Christmas vs Other Holiday Greetings

Every year, sometime after Thanksgiving, we start to give and receive a different kind of salutation.  Not just the usual, “Hi.  How are you”? , “Goodbye, see you later” or “Have a nice day”.  It’s something more special.  It sounds happier, more generous in spirit, more thoughtful and more sincere than the other greetings we use throughout the year.

So, I would think that a special greeting would be received in the same spirit in which it was intended.  But I have noticed growing controversy about which greeting should be used this time of year.  Should it be “Merry Christmas”, “Happy Holidays”, “Seasons Greetings”, “Happy Hanukkah”, “Happy Kwanza”, or something else?

In some cases, depending on which you use, despite your best intentions, the recipient of the greeting may be offended or hurt that you did not use the greeting that matches their specific culture, their religious beliefs, or lack of religious beliefs.  So, what are we to say that won’t ruffle anyone’s feathers?  Should we ignore the time of year, and just say the same thing we say all year round?  Does the “right” greeting depend upon whether the person offering the greeting is doing so in a personal interaction or in a business interaction?

In my personal life, if I knew absolutely that a person was of a specific faith or belief system, I would perhaps try to match up my greeting to fit that person.  However, I am not an expert or student of all religions and cultures of the world, so if I make an inappropriate choice of greeting, I expect that people who know me on a personal level, would probably forgive my ignorance.

But, what about in my professional role as a Realtor?  How do I greet the public during this time of year? What do I put on my advertising and promotional materials for the month of December?  This may seem like a silly question, but the answer could have serious consequences to my license and my business.  Realtors must comply with fair housing and anti-discrimination laws.

If I wished you a Happy Hanukkah in my December postcard mail out, how would you perceive that greeting if you were not Jewish?  Would you think that I was assuming that you were?  Or that I preferred only Jewish people for clients? Could that be interpreted as discrimination on the basis of religion?   If you were Christian, would you be insulted that I did not wish you a Merry Christmas instead?  Would you feel like an outsider, unacknowledged, or disenfranchised?  I would imagine that anyone might feel this way if the greeting were made specific to a religion or culture to which they were not a part.  Isn’t the intent of a special greeting to make the recipient feel good?

As both a Realtor and a human being (are those separate things?), my intention is to include everyone in my wish for a higher state of happiness, peace and goodwill toward mankind.  My “special greeting” at this time of year is not just for people who are “just like me”.  So, taking my personal beliefs out of the picture, here are some things I considered when making my selection of which greeting my business communications will use during this time of year:

1.  Merry Christmas:  Christmas is widely celebrated as both a religious and secular celebration.  For Christians, Christmas celebrates the birth of Jesus.  The secular component of Christmas includes a long history of symbols and traditions from many cultures & countries around the world.  (Check out this link for look at Christmas from a historical and cultural perspective- it may surprise you.    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christmas ).  While perhaps the majority of Americans identify themselves as Christians, many do not.  If someone is not Christian, how would they interpret a “Merry Christmas” greeting?  In the religious context, or the secular context?  Do they celebrate Christmas in either context, or would they just feel that the greeting did not apply to them?  Since there is the potential for misunderstanding and exclusion with this greeting, I have chosen not to use “Merry Christmas” in my business communications.

2.  Happy Hanukkah, Happy Kwanza, etc:  From what I can glean from internet searches and personal experience, these holidays/celebrations are religious and culture or heritage-based, without a secular component celebrated by a broader segment of the United States.  Since I am looking for a greeting that speaks to the broadest range of individuals possible, I have also chosen not to use these greetings for business.

3. Seasons Greetings:  While all-inclusive (in that everyone in the same geographic area pretty much experiences the same seasons at the same time), this greeting just seems a little lame.  Isn’t the season at this time of year just called “winter”?  Although winter is considered the “holiday season” because it contains several holidays, it is also the season I associate with bone-chilling cold, more hours of darkness in a day, stark landscapes, slipping on ice, driving difficulties, etc..   “Seasons Greetings” just does not even come close to conveying the imagery in a wish for the comfort & warmth of a family gathering, happiness, peace, goodwill, etc.   So, “Seasons Greetings” is also not my choice.

4. Happy Holidays:   Well, although it is a bit watered-down and generic, this one pretty much encompasses everyone that celebrates either a secular, religious, or cultural/heritage-based holiday at this time of year.  It also imparts a wish for happiness and who doesn’t want to be happy?  So, “Happy Holidays” is the greeting that I have chosen for business communications in December.  It is what I would consider the broadest, most inclusive greeting, with the added bonus of being concise and able to fit it on a postcard!

If you don’t celebrate any holidays in December, maybe none of the above may suit you, but you still have my very best wishes for a happy & healthy life, full of peace, prosperity, joy and goodwill!

I hope no one will take offense when I say:

Happy Holidays, everyone!  Na-nu, Na-nu!  Live long and prosper!  And may “the Force” be with you! (Okay, maybe those last few were just for sci-fi fans).

2 thoughts on “Merry Christmas vs Other Holiday Greetings

  1. Linda Andrews

    If someone is going to take the time to wish me a happy anything, I will take it in the spirit is given and be thankful they think to include me in their celebrations. I say Merry Christmas and will return any Happy Hanukkah or Kwanzaa or other well wishes thrown my way.
    Never give up; never surreder!

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