Home » Resources » How to Rock Inclusive Holiday Greetings to Celebrate the Season
Inclusive holiday greetings always seem to be a head-scratcher during December. The season marks a slew of religious, cultural, and secular holidays. And it’s also a time when emotions can run high.
If you dread signing off your emails this time of year, you are not alone. It can be tricky to choose. Do you say “Merry Christmas,” “Happy Holidays,” or “Season’s Greetings?” Is there a secret holiday handshake? A brand-new, uber-correct greeting that you’re totally unaware of?
The American landscape is changing and becoming more diverse, making it difficult to find a one-size-fits-all greeting for the season. In a 2018 Pew Research Center study, 65 percent of American adults described themselves as Christians when asked about their religion. That figure is down 12 points from over the past decade.
Tens of millions of Americans don’t celebrate Christmas religiously or at all. That number includes those with no affiliation, Buddhists, Jews, Hindus, and Muslims.
A simple holiday greeting can become a nail-biting affair. No one wants to offend anyone or make assumptions about religious practices — especially at work.
While there’s no one magical solution, below are some suggestions you might find helpful to spread winter cheer.
“Happy Holidays”: a Good Rule of Thumb for Inclusive Holiday Greetings
When you aren’t sure what someone celebrates, consider using a broader phrase like “Happy Holidays.”
The blog posits that wishing a “Merry Christmas” to someone who celebrates another holiday can make them feel marginalized and invisible. True, saying “Happy Holidays” to someone who may celebrate Christmas can be potentially disappointing to the recipient. However, according to the article, “One holiday being more popular than the others doesn’t mean you should ignore the other ones.”
“Happy Holidays” is Generally Considered a Safe Bet
When you aren’t sure what your coworker might celebrate…
Or, when you are addressing a broad group of people…
Then, consider “Happy Holidays” as an inclusive seasonal greeting.
“It is an appropriate and inclusive salutation that recognizes that there are many ways that people are observing the season, and you don’t know enough to be specific,” advises a helpful Huffpost article.
And, according to Whoopi Goldberg:
″‘Happy Holidays’ allows everybody to be included … When you’re walking past somebody, you don’t know what their religious beliefs are or whether they have them. If they have religious beliefs and you can’t tell what they are, say ’Happy Holidays.”
Some argue that “Happy Holidays” falls short of the mark. It might feel too vanilla. It might not convey the warmth, sparkle, and excitement you want to share with a coworker.
In that case, why not ask your coworker what they celebrate?
There are so many rich holiday celebrations this time of year. Here are just a smattering of them:
Winter Holidays A-Z
Bodhi Day: A Buddhist celebration of when the Buddha realized enlightenment. December 8.
Christmas: The celebration of Jesus’ birth. December 25. For Eastern Orthodox Christians, January 7.
Diwali: A five-day Hindu celebration of the Festival of Lights. November 14-19. Say: “Happy Diwali,” “Wishing you a Diwali that brings happiness, prosperity, and joy to you and all your family.”
Eid al-Fitr: The Muslim celebration of Ramadan’s end. The Muslim calendar has shifting dates, and this holiday sometimes falls in December. This year, it fell in May. Say: “Eid Mubarak.”
Festivus: a secular holiday that became popular after a Seinfeld episode. Yes, folks do celebrate this playful holiday! December 23. Say, “Happy Festivus.” Slogan: “A Festivus for the rest of us!”
Hanukkah: The eight-day Jewish celebration of the Festival of Lights. December 10–18. Say: “Happy Hanukkah.” Pro tip: “Chag Sameach” is Hebrew for “Happy Holiday” and fits most Jewish holidays (excluding the Sabbath and most fast days).
HumanLight: a Humanist holiday that celebrates compassion, humanity, and hope. December 23.
Kwanzaa: A weeklong secular holiday honoring African-American heritage. From December 26 to January 1. Say, “Joyous Kwanzaa.” Or ask, “Habari gani?” In Swahili, that means, “What’s the news?” The answer is whatever day of Kwanzaa it is (“Umoja,” “Kujichagulia,” etc.).
Lunar New Year: According to the AP Style Guide, “The most important holiday in several East Asian countries, marking the start of the Chinese lunar calendar… Lunar New Year is preferred over Chinese New Year or Spring Festival, the name it is known by in China.” Observed in South Korea as Seollal and Vietnam as Tet. January 25.
Winter Solstice: The shortest day of the year. December 21.
There are a ton of holidays people celebrate. At the same time, many choose to celebrate none. So don’t be afraid to ask, get to know people, and personalize your greeting! It could be a chance to spark a warm connection.
The December Dilemma Factsheet from the Tanenbaum Center for Interreligious Understanding has plenty of helpful info. For instance, you’ll find their full list of holidays and tips on avoiding holiday mishaps.
The ADL’s calendar of observances can help you keep track of diverse holidays. You’ll find important holidays like Human Rights Day, as well as Our Lady of Guadalupe day.
More Good Holiday Vibes
Check out our blog for some more good holiday vibes:
Written by “word nerd” and Interact copywriter Rachel Rosen-Carroll. For fun, Rachel reads style guides and the dictionary. (She prefers The American Heritage Dictionary… We wouldn’t make this up.)
When she isn’t writing feature stories about inspiring community college alums, she’s working on her YA novel, short stories, and poetry, and she has been published by various lit journals. Ask her questions or suggest blog ideas at firstname.lastname@example.org.