The flowchart for dealing with greetings this holiday season

holiday greeting flowchart

Click on the chart to see it at full size.

This chart, created by Dave Lieberman, captures my thinking — and really, the right thinking, if you think about it or even think at all  — about greetings during this holiday seasons, whether it’s Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Happy Kwanzaa, Happy Holidays, Have a Great Festivus, or whatever:

If you can’t see past the words of the wish to its good intent, it’s not the holiday well-wisher who’s broken, it’s you.

With the incredibly rare pathological exception (Tory MP Brian Pallister, I’m looking right at you), most people who extend holiday greetings have kind and noble intentions, and if you see a crusade in “Merry Christmas” or blasphemy in “Happy Holidays”, here’s a suggestion: take a deep breath and think about it for a moment.

If that doesn’t work, take another deep breath.

And if that still doesn’t work, go punch yourself in the face a half-dozen times, because you need it.

Thanks to Dave Lieberman for the creation, and Mark Cidade for the find!

103 replies on “The flowchart for dealing with greetings this holiday season”

Thank You. Now if I could only find the right GREETING –so I usually default to Happy Holidays, which works for most of the world’s cultures and religions, though not for all. sigh…

Actually, most of them really don’t give a rat’s ass about the person they’re allegedly well-wishing. They are mouthing a platitude. The fact that they don’t know my religion or lack of religion means that they aren’t thinking about me at all. That’s okay, of course- there’s no reason why they should- but in that case, there’s no reason to mouth the platitude, other than wanting to preen themselves on how “nice” a person they are.

And that means they’re not being nice, not at all.

Now watch- looking for “you’re just a horrible person” responses to show up in 3….2….1….

And they’re too dumb to realize they’re validating my point.

Stealing! I have a whole rant on how the catholic church stole the solstices and that their descendants are now mirthlessly ranting “keep the christ in christmas” without a clue that their christ was an add on in the first place. Now I will use your graphic instead of accusing people of chanting “mineminemine” like facist toddlers every time some one says happy holidays.

Ivy – I don’t think you’re a horrible person. I don’t think you’re all that smart, either.

You don’t have to have intimate knowledge of someone to wish that they’re having a good time in general. Simply repeating a generic wish of general wellbeing and happiness does not a platitude constitute.

unless you are a mind reader, you can’t know for certain whether that person i seriously wishing you well or not.
So you can chose to believe it’s insincere, which justifies your feeling self important and miserable, or you can chose to believe they mean it, which brings a little more light and joy into your life
Your choice- but I’m not sure why anyone would deliberately choose to make themselves miserable.
People don’t have to know everything about you to wish you well.

Ivy Freeborn, while I don’t think you’re a horrible person I do strongly disagree with pretty everything you said. When I tell someone “Have a nice day”, deep down do I really care if they have a nice day or not? No, not really. I’m probably never going to see that person again in my life. Does this mean I should just never do it? No, of course not. It makes me feel better when someone takes the time to tell me to have a good day, so I hope to give that little mental boost to others when I say it. It’s the same thing with holiday greetings. I have no idea what other people’s religion is, I just want to share that warm feeling of being excited for the holiday season.

Ivy and Lisa, Merry Christmas to both of you, and may you both be covered with much kindness and happiness through the holiday season because you both seem to need as much as you can get!

I personally don’t care which greeting you give. You took the time to speak to me. More people need to smile, make eye contact and greet each other. You don’t know me therefore it only makes sense that you don’t know my beliefs. I won’t know yours either; not from lack of caring, merely because you are a stranger. What does it matter that I don’t know the meaning of your rites and rituals? The fact is very simple, I took the time to speak to you … I gave you just a tiny piece of my day. Quit putting so much time and energy into the reasons behind everything, calling people dumb and worrying about which greeting is correct. Speak from your heart, if they don’t agree it doesn’t matter. They are people you won’t be keeping in your life anyways.

Hmmm… So you think by being polite, and actually wishing the person you are greeting has a happy holiday, you are not a nice person…. That’s a new concept…. Happy holidays all:) I truly wish you ALL a happy happy holiday season:):):)

And those that lack such qualities, possess something far more important: the cardinal social virtue of hypocrisy: the one absolute (and so underrated) necessity for humans to have any hope of living together in groups of any size.

The intent will vary from person to person, still there is a proselytizing meme within. Thank you isn’t a bad response though it may affirm the speaker’s righteousness. I think I will try “Namaste.” this year… it is a kind mysterious rebuke and at its heart a celebration of life. What do you all think?

Ivy, I agree if you’re interacting with close friends. If you interacting with a stranger at a store or in some other form, please enlighten us how one should know your religion just by looking at you.

THANK YOU! Salutations like “Happy Holidays” and “Season’s Greetings” are NOT new… they were very popular in Victorian times, in fact, and are were not about trying to be PC! Happy Thanksgiving and a GOOD YULE to all!!!

Hey Ivy, I don’t think you are a horrible person, but maybe a little dumb yourself, or maybe just a little bit self absorbed.

Do I have to know a person’s religion religion, or lack of, to express my best wishes to them. For example, if I go into a shop to do my Christmas shopping, and the member of staff in the shop is very helpful to me despite being rushed off his/her feet. I feel very grateful and think ‘gosh, this poor person is so busy, I hope they get to have some well earned time off, spend some quality time with friends and family, and eat, drink and be merry for a week or two at the very of a long year?

Ivy, I’m sure you’re not a “horrible person.” But your comment is a horrible comment. Here’s one example: Pre-emptive baiting such as

> Now watch- looking for “you’re just a horrible person” responses to show up in 3….2….1….

Sets a combative tone that sucks all possibility of reasonable discussion out of the discourse. You make it clear that any disagreement renders us as “dumb” in your mind, so we know in advance to expect abuse if we engage with you.

My observation is that this kind of rhetorical tactic does a disservice to the idea you are trying to share. It’s like breaking the “fourth wall” in theatre, it distracts your audience from your message and changes the subject to you and them, instead of your ideas and theirs.

I think you’d be better served just making your point and then waiting to see what response you get. How do you know you won’t get agreement? How do you know you won’t find a thoughtful point that might actually teach you something new?

I can’t read your mind, so I won’t say it’s closed. But your argument brooks no discussion, which dampens any potential for learning by anyone engaging with it, including yourself. Which makes it kind of pointless.

And a pointless argument is no better than a mouthed platitude.

Like the chart and the message! I don’t do this sort of thing often, but as a health care worker with constant exposure to suffering people, I must say I am happy to read all the positive comments! Hopefully the 2 sad souls who find it objectionable will find some joy in something over the holiday seasons! All of us who are alive and well enough to comment here have SOMETHING to be thankful for.

I am saying “Merry Christmas” I am not religious and not against anyone that is. I am Canadian!! If whoever I say it to is offended, GREAT. Go back to wherever you came from!!

Reminds me of when I worked in retail and would wish people a generic “Happy Holidays!” The only people who ever took offense were the types who responded tersely, “No, It’s Merry Christmas.”

No one else ever took offense and it was a fairly religiously diverse area.

Actually, a note to Ivy (and everyone) – I once had a really interesting conversation with someone about why they insisted on saying “Merry Christmas” to people rather than “Happy Holidays.” I tried to explain to him that he ran the risk of offending people by just assuming they all celebrated Christmas, but he said that wasn’t the point. And then out of frustration I said “well, what if a Jewish person wished you ‘Happy Hannukkah’ but you didn’t celebrate it? What would you think?”

“Actually,” he said, “I’d prefer they wished me ‘Happy Hannukkah’ instead of saying ‘Merry Christmas’.”

THAT surprised me. “Wait, you’d rather they tell you to have a good holiday even if it’s a holiday you don’t celebrate? Why is that?’

And it actually was a really interesting reason he had. He figured that for someone who’s Jewish, Hannukkah actually MEANS something, and Christmas doesn’t mean anything to them. So, in his opinion, someone who’s telling him “Merry Christmas” but doesn’t celebrate Christmas is just being superficially polite; but if they actually said “Happy Hannukkah”, or “Happy Eid” or “Happy Diwali” or whatever holiday they celebrated, it actually would MEAN something to them, and so their greeting would be much more sincere.

It was just a fascinating alternate take on that. I did mange to get him to understand that the majority of people wouldn’t quite get that that’s what he was doing, and so that’s why some people would probably still be offended, but it was a good reminder to ME that a lot of times the people who do wish you “Merry Christmas” or whatever are wishing you a good holiday out of a sincere good place.

I do acknowledge that the people who say “Merry Christmas” out of some kind of holier-than-thou sense are indeed out there, but they’re easy enough to spot. And also fun to mess with – a couple years back I was playing an online game with someone I’d been randomly matched with, and after one of her moves, my opponent suddenly typed “Jesus is the reason for the season!” into the game’s chat window. I simply finished my turn, then typed back: “Happy Hannukkah. Your move.”

(I’m not Jewish, but I think I can be forgiven that pretense.)

OMG Ivy. I worked at Sears and I said Merry Christmas to the people I wanted to wish it to. The friendly customers who responded to my hello. The ones who smiled. The ones who didn’t come to the counter with a superior attitude. I believe that people are a little kinder at Christmas. I do mean it when I say Merry Christmas. I sincerely wish each and everyone of you a Merry Christmas. It feels good to be kind.

I don’t think there is anything wrong with saying happy holidays to someone, if you’re not sure of what their religion is. I think the problem started with businesses worried about their profits,and telling employees they were not allowed to say Merry Christmas. It is to my understanding, that is how it all started. The Christians being insulted when shopping at a store dressed for Christmas but the employees were not allowed to say Merry Christmas. For me, I’m not sure what I believe in. I was raised Roman Catholic, but at this time in my life, I am agnostic.
I say happy holidays, Merry Christmas and happy Hanukkah to everyone!

Wow! Your blatant anger that you’re so willing to post online is astonishing. Can you really not see that by having the audacity to assume that other people sharing your belief systems is the core what’s wrong in the world today…. But what’s worse is that you then take it a step further and become defiant with them because they didn’t see through to your “good intent.”

Wow folks. I am amazed that people have the time to worry over a greeting of any kind. If you like the greeting wonderful, if you don’t ignore it. If you really have serious issues with this time of year use self check out or shop on line. If this is the top of you list of pet peeves man do you have a blessed life. I am a very old woman. The older you get the more you will appreciate being acknowledged I promise you that.

And below (in the comments) you have multiple examples of people that should just go punch themselves in the face a half a dozen times…..

I have a couple of cards sent to my folks in the early 1950’s. They are both
“Happy Holidays.” This b.s. about challenging this in favor of Merry Christmas is just…..b.s. And when people load that on me, I just respond, “B.S.”

I like what Dawn said and Pam said. My comment is that I just want everyone to be nice to each other. Does not matter the comment or the intent or the words. It is just nicer and easier to be nice. I am 71 and I have been around a bit too. I used to be good with arguing but my point now is why. Just be nice. Have a nice season, a nice month, whatever. For years I played it safe and said Happy Holidays on my cards. At first because it was a cool new thing to say. Then because it was safe. This year I just wrote my cards to be printed. I said “Wishes for a Happy Christmas Season with Health and Love. From my Grandfather’s farm in Alaska to the ends of the earth and back and to all of the memories in between. The photo I took for the card this year happened to be a picture of my Grandfathers farm where I grew up. Be nice guys. Life is short and hard sometimes.

I prefer to see all people as part of the human race….I will not waste any energy or thought on ego based notions about what constitutes an acceptable greeting. I will continue to share love with people I come in contact with. Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, Blessed Yule or whatever words come to mind will be said with good feelings and good intent. How others choose to receive it or process it is a reflection of what’s in their heart, not mine……Keep it simple and share love…

Neyahhh… Screw all that crap! Merry Christmas. I don’t care who invented it. Santa likes it and so do I. If you think I say Merry Christmas out of selfishness of some kind then let me help you out. Screw you too. :-/ …. 🙂 Seriously, Merry Christmas.

That is all fine and well and I guess I agree with the intentions of this “look for the intention” thing. But I guess I have always had a problem with the once-a-year-and-everyone-turns-on-the-obligatory-Seasonal-greetings thing.
That whole scene makes it a forced and temporary action, which diminishes the quality of the Intention.
I just think that that makes it sad and disingenuous.

The only reason Christians started to be so vocal about saying “Merry Christmas” was because the secular society was pushing for a generic greeting of Happy Holidays. Pressuring stores not to call Christmas Trees just what they are. Instead referring to them as Holiday Trees. And etc. etc. I was never personally bothered by a person saying Happy Holidays. It’s not a new greeting. But once again it now has a negative to it because the political twist the secular society has put on it. I’m grateful when anyone wishs me a Happy greeting. And because the holiday I am celebrating is Christmas my response will always be Merry Christmas. It’s not meant to insult. I ‘ve never in my 56 yrs have had anyone reprimand me for saying it. I wish you all and blessed Thanksgiving and a Merry Christmas. May you enjoy to the fullest.

To me, it’s about respect for the OTHER person. I am Jewish. I have lived with the Christmas holiday around me all of my life. I respect my friends that celebrate. This holiday is very “in your face” for those who do not celebrate. And the season comes earlier every year. And now I am being called stupid and being told what is the “RIGHT” response when I am wished a Merry Christmas? No. I am entitled to feel disrespected when some one tells me Merry Christmas. I am lucky that my life long friends seek out Chanukah cards. I do not wish everyone I see a Happy Chanukah. It’s not appropriate. A Happy Holiday greeting is inclusive and respectful. I wish everyone to enjoy this season of the year as they see fit without imposing their beliefs.

I am very thankful for all the Jewish Doctors that do a Mitzvah (good deed) during Christmas Day and all Christian holidays. I am sure most patients do not realize, and really, in their physical and mental states thay should not have to) but Jewish doctors take over from many Christian colleagues on major Christian holidays. It is called a “Mitzvah, or good deed”. Thank you Jewish Doctors for your willingness to look after the worlds most vulnerable so that others can partake in their own religious belief systems. I would hope that the same is true on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, that other religions take over for you.

Ivy – as many on this thread are taking you to task foryour post, I will provide the validation you were yearning for and expecting – you are a horrible person.

It seems people are becoming hyper-sensitized to the right Holiday Greeting in part to the media telling us we should be outraged at the slightest developments and putting people on edge. So many things appear to be taken out of context nowadays and I wish people would think things through before reacting how they see things reported in the news. Life needs more happiness and less aggravation.

I’m an atheist and have always wished people a merry Christmas. Defied my corporate orders to say “happy holidays” instead of “merry Christmas” to my retail clients and never once was challenged by a customer in 40 years in the jewelry business. Actually was complimented for my choice many times per season.

I like the sentiment expressed in the song, “What a Wondfrful World.” ” I see friends greeting friends saying How do you do…….They’re really saying I love you.” It doesn’t matter to me what words anyone uses if they are really saying I care about you and wish you well.

I LOVE Ivy and I LOVE Karen. No, you cannot know I’m Jewish just by looking at me. That’s why, unless you DO know I’m Jewish or happen to notice the star around my neck, you should wish me a nice or happy holiday. Do NOT assume I celebrate as you do, because there are 7,000,000,000 people in this world . . . maybe SOME of us don’t believe as you do. His name notwithstanding, I guarantee you that Dave Leiberman, the creator of this meme, is a Christian.

This is a non-issue. I’ve asked a lot of people and none have ever known of someone to be offended by being wished Merry Christmas or anything else. Where are all these supposed people that dont just say “thank you”? I haven’t met anyone that has come across them. I dont celebrate and I always respond with a heartfelt thank you. The only problem has been the occasional person that is offended I didn’t say Merry Christmas in return.

All holidays are made up. Whether they were made up in 1966 or 410 or -2500, they all have equal merit.

People are welcome to wish me Happy or Merry or Joyous whatever, and I will appreciate it. Or they can flip me “The Bird”, because in my world it means “Thanks and Good Luck”, whether they intend it or not.

Isn’t it nice when a complete stranger takes a few seconds out of their day to address you & wish you Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays or whatever instead of walking by as if you do not exist?
I think so!
Happy Holidays everyone & stay safe!

OMG can people just get over themselves..we have said Merry Christmas for years..I t does not hurt anyone…If you do not celebrate Christmas so what? do not ..let people enjoy their holiday AS THEY CHOOSE…This is Canada and we have always said Merry Christmas…IF YOU MOVE HERE AND DO NOT LIKE IT THEN STAY HOME

Unfortunately, I have heard people hiss “It’s Merry CHRTISTMAS” when wished a heartfelt Happy Holidays. I honestly have never heard anyone challenge Merry Christmas – so I don’t buy that argument that there is a War on Christmas. I agree with the poster that criticized the commercial interests that tell their employees not to utter the word Christmas, while cashing in on it hand over fist. Does anyone know if retailers have truly issued that declaration? (First hand, not from Fox “News”?) I work in healthcare and patients sometimes ask if we’ve been told not to wish people Merry Christmas. Of course, we have not. Most Happy Holidays types are just trying to be inclusive. Why does everything NICE have to be politicized one way or the other?

Not sure how I feel about agoraphobia being used there, since that can actually impair the ability to speak to a stranger regardless of intended greetings or time of year, but a good chart otherwise. ^^ Happy Holidays!

I love it. If I wish someone a Merry Christmas and they respond with a Happy Hannukah, I will simply respond, “And the same to you, sir,” and be honored that someone chose to share a bit of their own faith, their own culture and that small part of their personal self with me.

The good news is that I really believe that most people feel this way. If we do meet the rare soul who becomes offended that some parts of the world are predominantly one faith or another, so they encounter greetings expressed in the symbols of a faith different from his or her own, rather than responding to their offense with our own, we can happily say that we share our own excitement for the spirit of the season in our way, but truly love it when people are also enthusiastic about their own different ways, so we welcome expressions of joy and faith no matter how they are expressed.

I personally love that God is big enough to express Himself in so many ways, because God really is big enough to hold it all.

There is an alternative to what this post recommends.

As a member of a religious affiliation that is a minority affiliation (i.e., I am not a Christian), it is irritating when someone assumes something about me that I am not. Wishing a random person a Merry Christmas assumes that everyone is part of the dominant tradition when that’s not really true.

People who do so aren’t being mean even though it is a bit inconsiderate. Since there is no reason to be mean in response, I usually say “Thanks – I don’t actually celebrate Christmas but I appreciate the sentiment. Hope you have a Merry Christmas yourself.” That conveys the message that the wisher shouldn’t simply assume things about strangers while at the same time being, I think, friendly and positive-spirited.

And I think that is the point of the chart and article. I think a person that wishes you good tidings of any part of the year is just being friendly and not inconsiderate at all.

The entire debate can be solved with a snippet from “Winnie the Pooh” when Pooh discovers it is Eeyore’s birthday:

“Many happy returns of the day, Eeyore!”
“And many happy returns to you, Pooh.”
“But it isn’t my birthday.”
“No, it’s mine.”
“But you said many happy returns…”
“Well, why not? You don’t always want to be miserable on my birthday do you?”

If I wish you to have a Merry Christmas, that is my hope that you have a wonderful December 25th, whatever you’re doing. If you return with Happy Hannukah, Blessed Yule, or anything but “Buzz off”, I will be happy. It is not supposed to be about enforcing culture, but sharing it. If you don’t celebrate my holiday, I hope you still have a happy day that day.

actually the Muslim calendar is lunar and has no leap days. Therefore Ramadan moves around the secular calendar as the years go by. My friends appreciate hearing Eid Mubarak even when the date might be at the “wrong time.”

I see it in this way. Saying Merry Christmas means something , the logic that people don’t mean it or that other salutations are more meaningful is biased and very narrow minded . For example , I found this post on face book and the person who posted it talked about how easy it is to just respect each others rights but then he follows it up with some nasty assed comments about a particular person who belongs to a certain group and I am left wondering if he posted it because he truly believed it , wanted it or was he just aiming to target people. If you believe in something don’t act all self righteous and follow it with hatred. They said that” respecting each others faith is easy to do people ” , like see watch me!!! I can do it . Yet his hate tells a whole other story. So I believe that whatever you say in Canada about Merry Christmas it is with just that. No disrespect , just have a great Christmas.

When I worked in retail I often just said “Enjoy your Holiday!” Its simple and doesn’t presume what or any religion the receiver is.

Happy Veteran’s Day is appropriate and well deserved to honor all of our Veterans past and present, and much more important than the trite phrase, Have A Good Day, when most who say this could care less and have been instructed to say it.

Christmas happens every year in this country. I do not care what you believe in. Christmas will be here and I hope you enjoy it. You do not have to be Christian to enjoy a paid day off.

The question of retailers and when and why they switched to Happy Holidays…answer…25 years ago I was working retail. It started with the companies that were owned by Jewish owned companies. Gee I wonder why they wanted to be more inclusive? Hmmm Gradually over the years all the retail establishments followed suit. NOT to condemn Christmas but to include Jewish, kwanza, pagan et et. We were allowed to wish someone Merry Christmas only if they said it first. I do not know if that has changed in the 20 years but YES they did say we were not to wish people merry Christmas but to say happy holidays. But it was NOT to placate Muslims or other immigrants but as a recognition to the FACT that our country IS a melting pot of various beliefs and nationalities. No one made a huge fuss or protested the use of merry Christmas and it was not started as a war on religion.

If your offended by a holiday greeting of any kind, just hold your breath and count to ten. If you’re still offended, hold your breath and count to ten thousand.

Basically I wait to find what people are pissed off by during the Holidays, and then I repeat it ad nauseum, you know, in the spirit of giving.

Political correctness of any stripe is not only sickening but condescending. I’ll extend and accept what ever wish I find appropriate or none at all and care not what others may think. If any one is offended by Christmas, the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ then by all means don’t celebrate it.

I’ve never gotten the “Merry” part of Merry Christmas because that has to do with Santa and not Christ. Blessed Christmas would seem to be the appropriate Christian greeting.

“Merry” seems to go with “Drink Coke” Santa and “Spend a lot of money buying food and stuff”

When in Rome !
When in Israel !
Be kind and good in your greetings !
If $omeone gets offended ,
Be kind and good in your response .

Andrew Peter Laskaris, yours is the absolutely perfect response and what I think Christmas is truly about. I plan on repeating it as often as needed. Thank you

But we’re not in Rome or Israel, we’re in a melting pot of religions! Taking offense to any particular holiday greeting is not a good use of one’s energy, I agree, but outside of a Christmas or Hannukah party (any specific celebration), I believe that “Happy Holidays” is the most considerate and respectful greeting in our country. If people find that too PC it could be because they’ve never genuinely put themselves in the others’ shoes, never imagined what it would be like to hear over and over again a greeting for a holiday that is not at all theirs. I celebrate Christmas. I think I would get tired of hearing “Happy Solstice” or “Happy Hannukah” day after day after day, year after year, but “Happy Holidays” is different. “Happy Holidays” says “I wish you well no matter what you do (or don’t) celebrate.” It seems caring and loving, truly in the spirit of all traditions and religious observances!

Remember January 28th so that you can wish Happy New Year to Chinese friends and restaurant workers. It will make their day.

I really wish the author of this chart hadn’t gone the extra mile to say “then there’s something broken with you”. That was a bridge too far.

Yes, you shouldn’t fly into apoplectic rage if you’re non Xtian and someone wishes you a “Merry Xmas”

But — it’s a whiff of Xtian Privilege (oy did I just type that?) to expect non-Xtians to do the work of “oh just understand what I mean not what I say”. Well, all I know is what you _said_ and you _said_ was wishing me a holiday greeting on the _assumption_ that I am of a certain faith (or any faith at all). Either Xmas is a Xtian holiday, or it isn’t (it is). You cannot have it both ways.

So….not ONE of you complainers has ever greeted anyone with “hi…how are you”……without “Really” caring how the person IS? EVERYONE has wanted genuinely to know the health status of the person they’ve asked? EVERY time?? Unlikely. The holiday greeting is the same thing….yep it’s a platitude, a conversational crutch, something to say when meeting up with people….so that people might actually connect and manage to care about each other. Get over it.

This kind of sums it up perfectly. It is the intent, not the words that matter. I have never understood why the war on Christmas people don’t understand that.

Sharing this on FB because it needs to be shared far and wide. Also, happy holidays.

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