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posted Dec 31, 2012 in Etiquette & Manners / Networking / by Terry Pithers / 5 comments

Politically Correct Merry Christmas or… Merry Festivus

Christmas trees or Holiday trees

Occasionally our readers forward us interesting articles they find on the Internet.

The latest one has to do with political correctness:
Apparently the White House referred to Christmas Trees as Holiday Trees for the first time this year which prompted CBS presenter, Ben Stein, to present this piece which applies just as much to Canadians as it  does to Americans ...

An Internet hoax?

The email went on to quote Ben Stein's CBS Sunday morning commentary.

But the trouble was when I (Mr. Logical Perfectionist) went to include it in this blog post I found that Ben Stein had never really said what was in the e-mail and the White House has never referred to Christmas trees as Holiday Trees.

Video of Seinfeld's Hilarious Festivus Celebration

A valid question

But the email did raise an interesting question, should we downplay our religious beliefs or customs when we are dealing with people who may or may not share them?

Here is a comment that came from another loyal reader that deals with this exact point

Hello Joanne & Terry,

We have been joking around the office about “politically correct holiday greetings”.  My partner and I agree that to say something like “Happy Non-Denominational, Trans-cultural, Winter Solstice Acknowledgement” seems silly and leaves the wish totally devoid of meaning as does “Happy Holidays” or “Seasons Greetings”. 

Furthermore I like to think that those of us who are not from a Christian heritage are intelligent enough to realize that we are celebrating the birth of Jesus and are O.K. with it just like I am O.K. with them celebrating Hanukah or Ramadan or whatever.  In fact I think that we, trying to dance around the issue, would insult their intelligence.  So I wish all my clients “Merry Christmas” and make no apologies.  What do you think? 

We agree

Joanne and I agree. As business etiquette experts part of our job is to point out to business people that they need to be culturally sensitive and get to know their clients so they are aware of where clients stand. But they also need to be true to themselves.

The truth

So here is what CBS commentator, Ben Stein actually said about this issue (taken from the snopes.com website that debunks internet myths Click here for the full Snopes myth debunk

I am a Jew,  and every single one of my ancestors was Jewish. And it does not bother me  even a little bit when people call those beautiful lit up, bejeweled  trees, Christmas trees. I don't feel threatened. I don't feel  discriminated against. That's what they are, Christmas  trees.

It doesn't bother me a bit when people say, 'Merry Christmas' to me. I don't think they are slighting me or getting ready to put me in a ghetto. In fact, I kind of like it. It shows that we are all brothers and sisters celebrating this happy time of year. It doesn't bother me at all that there is a manger scene on display at a key intersection near my beach house in Malibu. If people want a creche, it's just as fine with me as is the Menorah a few hundred yards  away.

Don't sweat the small stuff

So next year don't get too hung up on whether you need to wish people Happy Holidays or Merry Christmas. Most people, like Ben Stein, will take your greetings in the spirit they are given. It's more important that we acknowledge and treat each other with love and respect. That will make us and the planet better.

All the best for 2013!  Happy Festivus!

Posted by Terry Pithers - Canadian business etiquette expert and Festivus fan
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Terry Pithers

About Terry Pithers

Canadian speaker, humorist and business etiquette expert. If you are interested in booking (Terry) for a presentation, keynote or workshop contact me or visit my conference page. Based in the Calgary / Edmonton, Alberta in western Canada.

5 comments below

...add yours

Jan 16, 2013 at 2:01pm

Nikki says:

I started wishing people a “Happy Christmahanukwanzahkah” a few years back (hat tip to this Virgin Mobile ad: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=73vcbde8Cb8) as a commentary on the silliness of being politically correct. And also because it was fun to learn how to say.

Jan 17, 2013 at 10:33am

Terry Pithers says:

Haha, thanks Nikki, I loved the video. But the tune is now stuck in my head. (I knew what Christmas and Hanukkah were, but I had to look up Kwanza at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kwanzaa and now I know.)

Jan 18, 2013 at 11:55am

Kristen Harris says:

I have to strongly disagree. When you say “Merry Christmas” you are essentially telling people you wish their Christmas to be a happy one.

As someone who choose years ago to stop celebrating Christian holidays on morale grounds, it is offensive to me when someone will refuse to say anything but “Merry Christmas.”

This is selfish and goes is direct contrast to truly being “O.K. with them celebrating Hanukah or Ramadan or whatever.” By only acknowledging your holiday you are telling them you aren’t going to take the time to bother wishing them a happy time with theirs.

There is nothing wrong with saying “Happy Holidays” if you aren’t sure of the receiver’s beliefs or something more appropriate if you do.

Jan 18, 2013 at 4:27pm

Terry Pithers says:

Thanks Kristen,

This reminds me that when we’re doing a networking course we have discussions about things that shut down conversation. This usually brings up the four topics to avoid with people you’ve just met.

Money, sex, politics and religion.

As a person who was born in Northern Ireland, believe me I know what a minefield religion can be.

Jan 20, 2013 at 6:25pm

Joanne Blake says:

I appreciate your comments Kristen and I agree that if you know people’s customs and religious practices you can be appropriate in how you acknowledge them.  But if you don’t, we need to cut one another some slack.

Over the holidays we invited new neighbors who happen to be Muslim over for drinks and appetizers.  They came over bringing gifts of chocolates beautifully wrapped.  We know that Muslims don’t eat pork and took care in making sure the food was appropriate.  We knew that each of us celebrated the holidays differently and met each other half way.  What was most important was extending friendship to our neighbors and enjoying one another’s company. 
The evening was a huge success and and we plan to do it again.

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