Is it Rude to Wish “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Hanukkah”?

With so many different cultural and religious holidays happening at the same time, it can be tough to know who celebrates what. Modern Manners Guy has an easy way to spread holiday cheer without offending anyone's beliefs.

Richie Frieman,
December 23, 2013

Before I begin, let me first point out that I am Jewish. So on December 25th Santa will not be arriving with presents at the Modern Manners Guy house. After all, I don’t celebrate Christmas and I don’t have a Christmas tree. However, the fact that I don’t celebrate Christmas in the established way doesn't keep me from being a huge fan of Christmas. That's right, I’m on the bandwagon, I love Christmas!

The movies, the songs, the decorations, that certain feeling in the air, Christmas is the King Kong of holidays.  I mean, A Christmas Story, Scrooged, Elf, Bruce Springsteen’s live version of “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town” – how can you not dig this time of year? 

But all that spirited appreciation doesn’t change my religious beliefs. So when someone wishes me a “Merry Christmas” should I be annoyed since I’m not Christian and don't really celebrate the holiday. Same thing goes for people who wish Happy Hanukkah to a card-carrying Christian. What is the proper boundary?

Is it Rude to Assume?

I am lucky enough to be surrounded by people of many cultures on a daily basis. I brought this subject up to colleagues and friends of varying religious beliefs (Jewish, Buddhist, Atheist, Islamic, to name a few). I wanted to see if they were offended when others wished them a “Merry Christmas.” They all said it didn’t really bother them. But several of them did wonder, “Why would people assume I celebrate their holiday?” When you wish someone a happy/merry whatever, you are in effect projecting your beliefs onto them.

I have a simple solution: Be careful about what you say during the holiday season.

The Happy Holidays Solution

Being a manners guru, I understand that people are sensitive and many things can offend. So, I go out of my way to consciously make an effort to not assume that any one person celebrates any one holiday. The most proper and safest thing to say to people during this time of year is “Happy Holidays” or even "Happy New Year."  That’s the best way to express joy to the world without upsetting anyone's religious beliefs. As well, “Happy Holidays” covers all holidays, including Christmas, New Years, Kwanzaa, Hanukkah, you name it.

The only time this can get dicey is when it comes to children. I’ve been in the line at the grocery store when the cashier asked my kids if they’re ready for Christmas or if they told Santa what they wanted yet. And it has happened on more than one occasion. I always speak up for my kids and say, “We don’t celebrate Christmas but we’re very excited for the holidays.” So when it comes to dealing with kids, and you’re not sure if they celebrate any particular holiday, stick to Happy Holidays. It’s safe, easy to use, and doesn’t create confusion.

So regardless of your celebration style or religious orientation, if someone wishes you a Merry Christmas on December 23rd, 24th, and 25th please do not be offended. That is not the time for a philosophical debate. Christmas is awesome! When this happens to you, nod, wave, smile and say “Thank you” or add "Happy New Year to you and your family!"  Heck, even take it a step further, and say “Merry Christmas” right back. What’s the harm?  But if you can’t stomach the feeling, well "Bah, humbug!" to you.

What do you think about this topic? Post your response in the comment section below or on the Modern Manners Guy Twitter feed @MannersQDT.

And if you have any recent graduates on your holiday wish list, or perhaps someone who is looking to start a new career, check out my new book, Reply All…And Other Ways to Tank Your Career.

Green gifts image courtesy of Shutterstock.

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