How To (Not) Make A Big Deal Out Of Holiday Greetings

Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, or something else?

I have written about this topic twice before, but alas, it’s that time of year once again, and I always get questions.

(Plus, one of my better posts on the topic was a whole three years ago, and many of you weren’t readers back then, so…time for a refresher.)

Let me start out with my disclaimer: though I naturally think that my point of view makes complete sense, it is indeed MY point of view and I have great respect for other opinions, even if they differ. To each his or her own, you know?

December always seems like a strange month. The pace of life tends to get even faster around me as the majority of people prepare for their holidays, whatever they celebrate, and IF they celebrate.

I mostly spend the month of December trying to stay out of the way of everybody else. Even though I’m Jewish, I don’t make lots of Hanukkah preparations: it IS one of the less important holidays on the Jewish calendar, after all. Most of the pomp and circumstance associated with it was created ages ago as a way of competing with our Christian friends. We pull out a few menorahs from my collection to decorate (usually very last-minute) and plan a day on which to make potato latkes. Other than lighting the candles on each of the eight evenings, that’s pretty much it.

I realize that Christmas involves SO much more to those who celebrate it, and I respect that.

Where things get complicated (for some people) is when Christians, Jews, and those of other faiths want to wish each other holiday greetings. Many (but not all) people get their panties all tied up in knots in one of two ways:

1. They are overly worried about what might be offensive to someone else and spend so much time trying to figure out what greeting to say or send that the lovely feeling behind it all can get watered down


2. They are belligerent and uncaring, believing that it doesn’t matter what other people might celebrate and they are going to say or send the greeting of their own holiday and other people’s celebrations can suck it.

Come on, people. Can’t we all just get along?

It’s simple. If you know that someone celebrates Christmas, it’s really nice to say “Merry Christmas” to them, but I doubt you’d get a correction if you said “Happy Holidays”.

If you know that someone is Jewish, it would be really, really nice of you to either say “Happy Holidays” or “Happy Hanukkah”. That said, I don’t go off the deep end if someone says “Merry Christmas” to me, even if they know full well that I don’t celebrate it (that happens), because they mean well.

I mean, how many people do you know that say “Merry Christmas” to be a jerk? I’m guessing none.

I have been seeing a lot on the news lately about some Christians who are up in arms about all of the “Happy Holidays” business going on: some are angry because they think the message of Christmas is getting diluted from all of the political correctness in the world today. Though I don’t believe that December should be whitewashed necessarily and I do believe that folks have the right to celebrate what they want, THIS point of view makes me angry.

First of all, the world is full of all different kinds of people who celebrate (and don’t celebrate) all different kinds of things: that’s a fact. Second of all, I wish that those people who make complaints like that could be in the holiday minority for a week in December to see how that feels. Third of all and most importantly, I wish they would STOP BEING SO OFFENDED about what’s going on out in the world, and refocus on their families. If they are devoutly religious in their home and place of worship, it shouldn’t matter one bit what is going on outside of their circle.

The best thing to do is remember that, not just in the “spirit of the season”, but EVERYDAY, it’s important to consider the feelings of others while remembering, on the flip side, that when people say something from the heart–no matter what it is–the very best response you can give is a smile.

Read more on this topic–including my thoughts on holiday gifts–by clicking here.

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  • Ally Bean

    Agreed. This “controversy” about how to address ppl during December doesn’t make sense to me. Take whatever is said to you in the way that it was intended– as a positive greeting. How difficult is that to do?

  • Heather

    I love love love this post. I wish I knew all the ways to share it with people because it needs to be read. That being said, I’m still changing my ringback tone for you 😛 (hahahha, just kidding!)

    Enjoy the holiday season, my friend!

  • Lisa @ Oh Boy Oh Boy Oh Boy

    I have to say I think people over think a lot in our world today. I personally would rather wish someone a Merry Christmas and be wrong about their choice in celebration than not say anything at all. I have on occasion let a Merry Christmas fly that I knew was wrong (because I KNEW that person was Jewish) as soon as it came out but I have personally never had anyone seem offended by that. I fully understand and respect the fact that December doesn’t belong to Christians exclusively but I do wonder about people who send out a Card filled with Christmas trees or other celebration specific icons and then feel the need to use Happy Holiday or something like that. It just seems weird to me that people who clearly celebrate Christmas in the commercial sense of the word don’t want to use the title Christmas. I have some very vocal atheist relatives and this season I’ve been biting my tongue because I really want to ask them about their “Christmas” celebrations? But for the rest of my faith celebrating friends I say Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Happy Kwanzaa or Merry Festivus. 🙂

    • Melisa

      Interesting point about cards with Christmas icons on it that say Happy Holidays. I totally agree with you on that point. If you’re going to go with a more neutral greeting, seems like the pics should match. If you’re going to use Christmas pics, just say Merry Christmas!

  • Michelle

    I agree – mostly. I do find it entertaining when people say buy a Christmas ornament from a store with Christmas trees (only) up just before Christmas and wish the clerk a Merry Christmas and still get a “happy holidays” in return. Then again, I hate that ANY holiday is pushed so hard on everyone that we have to celebrate it months in advance.

    Oh and last night? I asked Connie if her kids were coming to cook Christmas dinner. Ummm yeah. So how did I miss that she celebrates Hannukah? Oops. So no, I wasn’t trying to be a jerk. Ahem.

    PS I *still* love my friend’s card that I told you about yesterday.

  • Shannon

    I have some relatives who boycotted Target when they found out that cashiers there were instructed to say “happy holidays.” REALLY?! These are entry-level, minimum-wage earning cashiers at a big-box store, do you really think their goal is a “war on Christmas” agenda? I’m pretty sure their only goal at the holiday season is basic survival.

    I’ve also noticed that cashiers at the grocery store, Target, etc. say “Have a great holiday,” for many different occasions, such as the 4th of July or Memorial Day. Is this because they’re anti-American? No, it’s because they’re just thinking of some polite parting shot after they hand you the receipt.

  • DaddysFishBowl

    MERRY CHRISTMAS!!! Oh wait, that was very jerkish of me. J/P, I totally agree with you and think that you wrote it very well. People should focus on THEM and not others, as long as you are practicing what you believe in, why does it matter what others are doing.

  • Grandma W

    I don’t think it is hurtful to say “Happy Holidays” then you are covering all the bases, and not insulting anyone. I don’t get upset if someone says Merry Christmas to me it is not that big of a deal.
    I would be happy if they just smiled and say “have a nice day”.

  • Shannon

    Absolutely agree. My husband is Jewish, I am agnostic, and my extended family is Christian. Yes, it’s complicated. We celebrate Hanukkah in our home, but we go to Grandma & Grandpa’s for Christmas. My children “identify” themselves as Jewish and are constantly getting pity from friends. You don’t have a Christmas tree? Gasp! Last year, a friend very guiltily told me that she didn’t send me a card because her cards said “Merry Christmas” and she thought we’d be offended. Huh? I personally don’t care what anyone says to me or writes in a card. It’s all the same to me: season’s greetings.

    • Melisa

      That is one of the weirdest things I’ve ever heard/read, that a friend wouldn’t send a card to you because she thought you’d be offended at “Merry Christmas”. Bizarre! I have even crossed out what the card says and written in my own greeting to be funny…seems better than not sending at all! Oy vey.

  • Julie

    Yes. Shout this stuff from the rooftops.

    I’m agnostic, my husband is atheist, and our card-sending circle is filled with people of all faiths and non-faiths. Therefore our card is always the good old universal Happy Holidays, We’re Glad You’re In Our Lives kind.

    I just don’t understand this nonsense. There are 2 BILLION Christians in the world, seems like the marketing department is doing just fine. I have a few relatives who really get hostile about it, opening a 2 page letter with “Jesus is the reason for the season”. Are you kidding me? Jesus would look at our modern day Christmas and throw up all over the place. Let’s be honest…the reason for the season is togetherness, light, hope, and most importantly commerce. Which is why I’m comfortable celebrating and decorating and stuffing my face in a completely secular way.

    Great post, and happy everything!

  • Tara R.

    I always have to wonder about those who get so worked up if they perceive you’ve offered the ‘wrong’ season greetings. Doesn’t seem to be very keeping with any of the reasons for the season, that transcend all denominations – Love, Faith and Hope. If any one wishes me Happy Anything, it makes my day.