merry christmasThe winter holidays may largely be over, but we’re still seeing a lot of questions about proper holiday etiquette.

It’s the most wonderful time of the year. At least, that’s what most of the holiday songs on the radio like to tell us. It’s a time when most like to come together with family, exchange gifts, and enjoy each other’s company. However, with the holidays come many controversies between people of different religions. Some people celebrate Christmas, some celebrate Kwanzaa, and some celebrate Hanukkah. Some don’t celebrate anything at all. Because of this, many can feel left out during the holidays. It can be hard to not feel bombarded with holiday ads, even if you do celebrate the holidays. Even more so when it seems that everywhere you go, everyone is wishing you a Merry Christmas. If you don’t celebrate Christmas, it can feel a bit isolating. Here are some tips on how to handle it.

Take it as a Polite Gesture

First of all, it’s important to remember that the person wishing you a Merry Christmas is probably not trying to force their religion onto you. They are simply wishing you well while adding a little festive cheer in the mix. The majority of people celebrate Christmas, so it’s natural to assume that you celebrate it. Should it be assumed? Maybe not, but that doesn’t mean that people won’t do it. If you take a closer look at the facts, you will see why:

  • An estimated 53% of Americans identify as Christian.
  • Out of the 47% who are not Christian, eight out of ten still celebrate Christmas – which has arguably become a highly secular holiday on its own.
  • When you crunch all of the numbers, you find out that only 9% of Americans do not celebrate Christmas at all.

Since approximately nine out of ten people you encounter on the street celebrate Christmas, it’s easy to see why it’s a common greeting. Still, what does this mean for those of you who come from a Jewish, Muslim or any other faith perspective who choose not to celebrate Christmas in the same way as several Americans? It can be difficult to figure out how to respond when you hear the greeting coming your way. You may be so caught off guard that by the time you have processed it, the person has walked away and you are feeling bad for not responding at all. This is why it can be helpful to remember right away that it is only a polite gesture and nothing else. Hopefully, this fact can prevent you from feeling offended.

Say “Thank You”

Just because someone wishes you a Merry Christmas doesn’t mean you have to say it back. It would probably feel quite unnatural for you to say it back, so that probably isn’t the right move. A simple “thank you” will certainly suffice. It acknowledges the gesture while offering a friendly response. In helps prevent the situation from becoming awkward.

Say “Happy Holidays”

Another simple way to prevent this from becoming an issue is by saying “Happy Holidays” in return. This is a very general term, which means that almost anyone can relate to it. People will likely appreciate the gesture, and you can both go along on your way.

Take an Opportunity to Educate

If you have the time and energy, you could consider educating the person. While this probably isn’t necessary, it can be helpful if you feel the need to do something more. Take a moment to share information about the holiday you celebrate. It can give you a chance to share more about your religion, which can be an educational opportunity for someone. Again, this may not be the proper time and place, but it is your choice whether or not you should take this opportunity.

What Not to Do

Now that you have a few ideas of what to do, here is what not to do. Don’t yell, demean, or insult the person. While hopefully this isn’t something you would consider, it certainly wouldn’t be the first time someone has been rude to someone for wishing them a Merry Christmas. There is no need to escalate the situation, and any of these things can cause a huge scene. It would be better to say nothing in return than to cause something unnecessarily.

While someone wishing you a Merry Christmas can be awkward if you don’t celebrate the holiday, it doesn’t have to ruin your day. Hopefully, you have already learned how to navigate through this potentially awkward situation. If you haven’t, then this should give you an idea of how to handle it should it happen to you in the future.

42 comments

  1. Miranda Allison Young says:

    I just say thank you and you too. That is all that is necessary and polite.

  2. Randy says:

    I always respond in kind. If someone wishes me Merry Christmas, I wish them a Merry Christmas. The same with Ramadan, Hannukah, Winter Solstice, IO Saturnalia, or any other greeting. I may not share their faith, but I will always honor it.

    1. Vincent Venetti says:

      I say the exact same thing. I appreciate that they were nice to me

  3. mary says:

    I always say merry Christmas, and if somebody who is Jewish comes by they tell me happy Hanukah and I tell them happy Hanukah, I don’t know why people would think that merry Christmas is not a blessing or that they should not accept kindly a blessing of any kind. if somebody says they will pray for you, you usually say thank you. even if you don’t believe in it, you should always say thank you at least. all the things that could be said to a person I would think that that would be the least worst thing a person could say to anybody. People are going to have to stop being petty and so overly sensitive, esp. if it is not warranted.

    1. Steve says:

      Mary, thank you for your rational comment. I could not agree more. I can’t imagine anyone says “Merry Christmas” in order to be purposely offensive or irritating. Even if so, responding with kindness would deflate the mal-intent.

    2. David A Griffith says:

      Mary, I appreciate your thought on all of the different greetings and staying calm. I get angry in my head, but do not respond audibly. You have made me think about my anger and realize that they are being courteous and kind, not confrontational.

      I live in Hawaii and Happy Holidays is most often heard because of so many cultures I believe. I go to the in-laws in Kansas and say Happy Holidays to everyone. The only response I ever received back was Merry Christmas. It was a good lesson for me and regional differences concerning religion.

      Thank you again for your wonderful perspective.

    3. TruthBeTold says:

      I agree! When someone says a kind word to a stranger, why would it ever be offensive?! Merry Christmas is from their heart, for something they hold dear and are willing to share a bit, whether or not it is your holiday. It is a gesture to a relative stranger, good will being proffered. I saw someone’s entry that they get angry in their head….holy cow, pretty absurd, move to an atheist community if kindness and good will from strangers is so offensive to someone. Careful, Nice Weather statement might end them over a cliff…New Year’s Day is also a Catholic, so likely also Christian, holy day. Are you offended by that, as well? Seems the same people who are so PC have absolutely no problem getting these paid holidays off. Let’s see you work for no extra pay/reward/comp day, etc., if it is that offensive that the mere gesture of kindness ends one’s brain into the boiling temp range.

      1. Vicky says:

        Slow down on the snark, TruthBeTold. I can relate to getting angry inside one’s head over something as simple as being wished “Merry Christmas.” Imagine having a deep spiritual awakening about the lie behind what we call Christmas. Now imagine being inundated with Christmas greetings, Christmas music, Christmas cheer – and you can see right through it. You might get a bit angry on the inside. Not at the people, but at the charade. It’s not as absurd as you claim. What quenches the anger (and the snark) is understanding and compassion for our fellow man.

      2. kittyasmith says:

        hmmmm, it appears you just got a bit angry in the head, there. David admitted he learned something here and is willing to see the difference. This is calls for support and celebration.

    4. re says:

      I respond or say first Merry Christmas and Jesus reason for Christmas and also say back what the other may say to me , I will not bless or repeat a Islamic greeting or kwanza . I will say happy Hanukah . the kawansa was made up by some socialistc professor. so nope . it is a fake or copy of the Jewish Hanukah.

      1. cldegraaff says:

        And if I wished you a blessed solstice….? It is the holy day that the catholic church seized as it’s own and is much older than your Jesus or mass of christ. Personally, I just smile and wish people blessed holidays or happy holidays since it covers the multitude of traditions.

  4. Don Hayes says:

    I say Merry Christmas unless I know Happy Hanukah is appropriate. Whatever people have to say to me is fine. I haven’t enough life time left to be upset about their choice. No one was upset by my behavior this past season.

  5. Barbara says:

    Christmas is a nice time to get together with people. Enjoy it. Christmas traditions are man made so don’t feel condemned for taking the opportunity to share love. As a Christian we are to worship and celebrate our Lord’s life and our Salvation 24/7 and not on one day a year. So don’t confuse the two. In our hearts we must know the difference. It is a time, however, for one to consider who is the true God. The Lord Jesus Christ or Satan and the world. Choose Christ and His eternal Godly life and not Satan and eternal damnation. The choice of life or death is yours. Don’t allow worldly man-made frivolities to rob you of it by their own religions.

    1. David A Griffith says:

      Barbara-

      You start so well with open love and then start preaching Christianity and your God is the only way. That is not true to many who belong to ULC, including me. I respect your choice as I wish you would respect mine. May the Gods of all religions watch over you, pray for you, and help you to achieve peace in your heart and love for all. Most importantly a place next to your God and Saviour.

  6. Charles Schormann says:

    I simply smile and wish them, “Happy Halloween.”

  7. Barry D R says:

    Out of respect for all, which seems to be sorely lacking these days, just say happy holidays knowing in your own mind what is happy for you. A rather simple concept that if you’re not at war with the world can be very satisfying.

    1. kittyasmith says:

      Best reply of all!

  8. amberlf says:

    To me its important to recognize all the various holidays being celebrated from the American Thanksgiving at the end of November to the holy days picked up the first part of January that may or may not be connected to Christianity alone. Happy Holidays has been my standby since the 1990’s… long before this whole “war on Christmas” nonsense kicked up. I am having a hard time why recognizing and respecting others has become such an issue…

  9. Joanne says:

    Thank you works just fine. I’m always delighted that someone took a moment to wish me well no matter the form. I’m not on board with the “opportunity to educate” piece. No one appreciates a lecture in response to simple good wishes, and it makes the lecturer seem incredibly self-centered. I’ve been on the receiving end and couldn’t wait to just walk away.

  10. Susan Dawson says:

    I smile and say thank you. I have no problem saying it back. It doesn’t hurt me tobwish them well in their belief.

  11. Michelle P Neff says:

    Speak in kind.

  12. Stefan Lenz says:

    “Thank you, Merry Christmas to you”. It is just polite.

  13. Vicky says:

    This is a great article on a little covered topic. I do not think it is being petty, overly sensitive or PC to discuss how to respond to someone who wishes you “Merry Christmas”. Some people view the Christmas holiday in a negative light, or have negative feelings or experiences connected to it. Thus when someone wishes them “Merry Christmas,” it may seem rude, confrontational, or bring up unwanted emotions – which can result in an awkward silence or a negative response. We must cultivate understanding and compassion for our fellow man. If you celebrate the holiday, be aware that others may not share your view and enthusiasm. If you do not celebrate the holiday, be aware that people may make assumptions about you, but not in an attempt to hurt or belittle you. We can all benefit from this knowledge and adjust our attitude and language – in the spirit of the ‘holidays’.

  14. Ed says:

    Thanks, you too! Whether I celebrate Christmas is not relevant. If they are wishing me a merry one, I think it is safe to assume that they do celebrate it, and saying Thanks, you too!”is just politely hoping that they have a nice one. It doesn’t indicate anything about what, if anything, I celebrate and doesn’t need to.

  15. The Rev. William C, Millhouse says:

    I am a Pagan Priest and as such celebrate the Winter Solstice or as some call it: “Yule”. I Usually say Blessed Holidays so as to not offend. I accept all greetings as log as they are positive in nature.

  16. Thomas Hennessey says:

    I usually wish people happy holidays or in kind. If they wish me a merry Christmas (and I do celebrate Christmas in my own way with friends and family), I wish them in turn a merry Christmas. I have also wished people a Happy Hanukkah if they are Jewish. It doesn’t take anything away from me to wish people a happy holiday season.
    On another note, in 2016, Hanukkah starts on the night of Christmas Eve as the first day of Hanukkah is Christmas day. So in that light, I would just wish everyone happy holidays.

    1. mary says:

      i don’t because if i believe in Christmas, I’ll be damned if i am going to let pc take that away from me. it is Christmas and it should not be diminished.

      1. Steve says:

        What does it mean to “believe in Christmas?”

      2. Joanne says:

        May I ask how wishing someone a happy holiday diminishes Christmas for you? Not argumentative; just curious. Why is it not okay to wish someone a happy day regardless of what they call it or when they celebrate it? Personally, I’m not seeing any of this as political (as in “pc”) but just common courtesy. That’s just me. You seem to be very upset about all this, so I’m curious to hear what the other side of the argument is.

        1. mary says:

          that is easy, it is how you feel in your heart, if you want to feel sincere or like a phony. it is also a matter of if your intent. a sincere positive greeting can set a good mood. it also is like if you wish somebody who is not from this country a happy thanksgiving even if they don’t have that holiday where they come from, or if you go to like a Chinese new year party, it is not your party but to feel happy while you are there and to feel included wouldn’t you like people to tell you happy new year or what ever phrases they use when they celebrate. it is the meaning behind things that are said people not necessarily the words. there is not always a reason to always be so overly sensitive. we in societies of this world have be come so overly sensitive we can’t enjoy live because we are always worried about being offended or offending others and esp when no offense may have been made.

          1. Joanne says:

            You didn’t actually answer my question. Are you saying then that wishing someone a happy holiday that you don’t celebrate is okay as long as it’s sincere?

          2. mary says:

            Joanne, for me the problem with happy holiday is that it is too generic. we have many holidays. it just does not address the specific holiday. with me I used to say merry Christmas and have a happy holiday but only used in conjunction with because even the new year is a holiday that run into the Christmas season. but it is Christmas to me I say Christmas, if it is happy yule to me I say that, or I would combine them. you need to say what is sincere to you, but don’t stop and criticize somebody else from saying what they want. think of it this way. if this society wants to be tolerant and they want to be integrated. then it is only fair that everybody does not get represented, that includes Christians. I mean tolerance is a two way street, and intergradation needs to go be inclusive, and so far all the minority groups seem to be pushing around the traditional groups, that is not any more right then what the so called minority groups say that the Christians have been doing for centuries.

  17. Sharon Rose says:

    If someone says “Merry Christmas” I say, “Thanks and the same to you”. If it possible I say Holiday Blessings to cover all of them.

  18. James Pace says:

    If someone says “Merry Christmas” that should tell you that they celebrate Christmas so a good response would be to wish them a Merry Christmas as you would like them to have a good holiday that they celebrate. It’s just good manners….

    1. Jennifer Kemper says:

      It’s just good manners, I agree. As a Wiccan, I say :happy holidays” or if wished a merry Christmas, I say “and to you as well.) It’s not hard. Good wishes should be accepted with grace and understanding. It’s not a time to proselytize or make fun of others. We all need to learn to get along despite our differences.
      I do have a pet peeve and that is being subjected to Christmas music on the radio and everywhere I go. It is annoying and doesn’t make me want to shop more.

      1. mary says:

        Jennifer it is not good manners, what is good manners is to not get and take everything people say as offensive. it is the person who takes thinks as offensives fault if they take offense at something. they are the ones with the problem not everybody else and everybody else can not be held responsible for the mental problems of everybody else. in fact i am tired of people trying to put the blame on everybody else for their mental issues. that is just wrong.

      2. Joanne says:

        Jennifer, I have to say I share your Christmas music issue despite having been raised Christian. It starts right after Halloween here, and doesn’t stop till after New Year’s Day. There just aren’t enough good Christmas songs to warrant that extended play! Before anyone jumps on me for that, let me also say that there aren’t that many good country songs to warrant that much repetition, and the same can be said for some other genres of which I’m not overly fond. I get tired of being forced to hear the same songs daily for months. The occasional generic pop song would be welcome by mid-November!

        I also completely agree that there’s no time less appropriate for proselytizing or getting into philosophical arguments with strangers than when all of us, almost universally, are celebrating something if not the same thing. I have to know someone very well to be willing to spend time in discourse about such weighty topics, and the guy behind me in the checkout line doesn’t qualify for that category. Just wish me a good day and leave it at that, and I’m fine with it. My beliefs (or lack thereof) are personal. I’d like to see more simple human pleasure in sharing our humanity and less stress on what we call it.

  19. Layéni says:

    I respond “Peace, Blessings and Joyous Celebrations!” and I share Chef made sweets.

  20. carol says:

    It’s the Season for Cheer and Good Will for others. Be kind and Polite! Choose your favorite phrase and Wish Good Intentions for those u speak too. Don’t be defensive or insulted. It’s the time for Peace and Happiness.

  21. Fay Fleming says:

    Hi Fay here, I am new to the ULC family, but am very intrigued with this conversation. I am in the north western part of rural New South Wales, Australia. I am a pagan with a very strong spiritual belief, I also believe in Faeries. I am a Reiki Master, and love to teach children in particular how to honer and protect our beautiful blue and green planet. This last Christmas I was in a shopping center,that had a Santa for children to have photos taken with. Being my slightly eccentric self, I went over and sat on the big chair with Santa and wished him a Blessed Litha/ Summer Solstice and sprinkled him with faerie dust. He thanked me and wished me a merry Christmas. As I went to leave the young girls working as Santa helpers asked if they too could have faerie dust on them again I wished them a Blessed Litha and in return received a very warm merry Christmas. Why is it so hard to respect each other? I personal don’t find it hard. People need to remember a kind word or a smile is so easy to give and can make such a difference in another persons life. You never know if that kind gesture could save someones life. Happy New Year to one and all. With Love and Light I send you all the Brightest of Blessings, Rev Fay

  22. Mary Tynes says:

    I was jogging once in Houston’s Memorial Park when the first President Bush and his secret service joined me. I didn’t want to invade his private time so I didn’t start a conversation, but we jogged together about 2 miles. I wondered what the proper greeting would be in that scenario, formal or informal? As we jogged, others jogging toward us greeted him with very formal “Good morning Mr. President” to an informal “Good to see ya, George!” and everything in between. He responded to everyone in exactly the same tone, same level of formality, same volume with which they had addressed him. He mirrored each person with amazing precision. Every person who spoke to him that day left the park feeling they had made the right choice in how they had addressed him, and had a great story, a positive story, to tell about him. No wonder he got elected. My point is, I’m not spending any time figuring out how I can be offended when someone wishes me well. I just want to return their greeting in such a way that they walk away having had a moment of warm, uplifting connection with me.

  23. James Slack says:

    Wishing some one a cheerful greeting in the belief of their choosing is a warm and thoughtful offering. It should be considered a gesture of good will and caring just as a simple hello, how are you or have a nice day. Would one strike out at a person that greets you with a light hearted “How’s it goin”? I’ts a simple gesture wishing you the best of their beliefs and customs. Happy Holidays is just a cop out, If you do not believe in any of the festivities surrounding this time of year, a small “Greetings My Friend” will GITERDONE! If you do not wish to consider them a friend well then go on and strike out at them Ebeneezer. You should not be fearful of offending some one with your belief. That’s a form of bullying and oppression. I would like for you to believe in the same God and customs as me but I can’t make you believe. I can only live my life as a Stewart of my God and hope that you see by my example my God. It is not my place to judge, I am not God, It is my job to love you and accept who you are. WORD!
    .

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