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holiday greetings 
23rd-Dec-2011 09:57 am [etiquette, holidays]
Sorry if this has been discussed before, but I've just had a quick look through the archives/tags and didn't find any posts relating to this topic.

I have been living in England for 16 years and still can't get over the way nearly all English people seem to presume you celebrate Christmas, wishing you "Happy Christmas" and asking you if you are "ready for Christmas?". This question is nonsensical for me because apart from sending a few cards and sometimes having a meal with friends, I don't celebrate Christmas. When I try to explain this people often seem taken aback, as if it is something very unusual. Because of this, I have mostly stopped explaining this to people and just answer their question with "yes" (because technically I am ready, since there is nothing for me to do!) and let them assume I celebrate Christmas.

Yet my recollection from growing up in the USA (mostly California) is that I was taught it is rude to assume people celebrate Christmas, as for example they might be Jewish. Now I am wondering, is my memory correct? Is it considered rude in the USA to assume people celebrate Christmas? I thought that's why people there wish each other "Happy Holidays" or "Seasons Greetings".
23rd-Dec-2011 10:01 am (UTC)
I always look on "Ready for Christmas?" as the seasonal version of "How are you doing?" They probably don't actually care, so I don't give them a real answer.
23rd-Dec-2011 10:05 am (UTC)
That is a sensible way to approach it. I know people are just trying to be friendly and polite, but it still winds me up.
23rd-Dec-2011 10:14 am (UTC)
I don't think we think of Christmas as referring to a solely Christian festival over here. I think people generally just use it in terms of "Happy Midwinter thingy with too much food and paper hats".
23rd-Dec-2011 10:28 am (UTC)
Pretty much this, there‘s the christian christmas and the gift-giving winter knees-up that everybody else celebrates
23rd-Dec-2011 10:19 am (UTC)
I look at "Are you ready for Christmas?" to mean "The shops will be closed. Have you done stocked your house full of food in preparation?"
23rd-Dec-2011 10:30 am (UTC)
aha... yes! :-D
23rd-Dec-2011 10:20 am (UTC)
It's certainly not considered rude here to assume that people celebrate Christmas, except possibly where there's a big Jewish or other religious community (e.g. London). It would be a bit rude to talk about Christmas to someone who's clearly not Christian (skullcap/turban etc.) but if there's no indication to the contrary it would be assumed that you do Christmas. And it is very unusual not to celebrate Christmas unless you belong to a different religion - even non-religious people here celebrate Christmas.
23rd-Dec-2011 10:38 am (UTC)
And it is very unusual not to celebrate Christmas unless you belong to a different religion - even non-religious people here celebrate Christmas.

I guess I am really in a small minority here.
23rd-Dec-2011 10:32 am (UTC)
I'm having the opposite problem as a Brit now resident in the US, today I had to wish people 'happy holidays' for the first time in my entire life and it felt all kinds of wrong to me, to have this ban on saying merry Christmas for fear of causing offence. And this is from someone with mixed heritage (Jewish and Catholic).

I don't think that you should read too much into the religious aspects of being wished a Merry Christmas, most Brits will not attend any type of religious service related to Christmas at all. No one but the church going minority makes any big deal out of Easter, the absence of Easter cards in the shops will tell you that for the majority it's only about eating copious amounts of chocolate. Despite the assertion that we are a Christian country Britain is extremely secular when it comes to its people. It is just that Christmas is our biggest holiday of the year. We eat too much, drink too much, spend too much money and try to make the best of having to be in the same room as family members we spend the rest of the year keeping at arm's length .

It comes as a welcome respite at the grimmest time of year. I lived most of my life in Cumbria and there are days up there at this time of year where you're lucky to see any daylight at all for weeks on end. The British Christmas retains a lot of it's pagan origins, at least where I'm from, if you look into our traditions, the paper hats we wear, or the propensity for cross-dressing (pantomimes), for example, none of that has to do with religion.

All most people mean when they ask if you're ready for Christmas is if you've got all your shopping done and are ready for the onslaught of over indulgence and stress. If you were to say that you dont celebrate it and dont give any reason, like being Jewish or a JW, then you'll likely just be judged as someone who is a bit of a prude.
23rd-Dec-2011 11:41 am (UTC)
There's no "ban" on saying Merry Christmas. Go ahead and say it if it feels better to you. I'm Jewish and have people wishing me Merry Christmas all the time. I take it in the friendly spirit in which it's taken. It all seems to me a tempest in a teapot.
23rd-Dec-2011 10:36 am (UTC)
I don't celebrate Christmas either but I don't really mind so much the "Merry Christmas" thing - the vast majority do celebrate it, after all, and I find more "fake" the American "Happy Holidays" thing as it's pretending to be secular but, let's face it, isn't because only Christians and Jews have a festival in that time period.
23rd-Dec-2011 10:59 am (UTC)
As an American (living in the UK), I've always preferred "Happy holidays" because it covers Thanksgiving and New Year's as well. Also, Pagans are also celebrating the winter solstice in that time, so it's not just Christians and Jews. But with the religious stuff in mind, "happy holidays" isn't secular anyway, since it does mean "happy holy days".
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23rd-Dec-2011 10:37 am (UTC)
i think you misremember the US a bit too. People here say Merry Christmas as much as they say happy holidays (at least they do everywhere I've lived outside of NYC) and the people still refer to "Christmas decorations" and "Christmas shopping" regardless of who they are talking to. it might not be quite as homogenous as the UK but Merry Christmas is still alive and kicking.
23rd-Dec-2011 10:40 am (UTC)
well that's what I was wondering!
23rd-Dec-2011 10:42 am (UTC)
I think of it as one of those choose your battles situations. It's not considered rude in the UK (at least where I live) to assume people celebrate Christmas because the mass majority do. Even most of my Sikh and Muslim friends and acquaintances engage in festivities, exchange cards and presents but not in a religious sense obviously.
23rd-Dec-2011 10:44 am (UTC)
Unlike the US, where the "Holiday Season" begins with Halloween and lasts pretty much until New Year's Day, we don't celebrate everything. We do understand that other faiths have mid winter festivals, such as Divali or Hannukah and all the others, and most people know that people of these other faiths are generally happy to exchange greetings for both their own festivals and others.

The generic "Happy Holidays" greeting in the US is as sugary as the bowls of candy on many workplace desks and is mostly meaningless. What does "Season's Greetings" mean?

There are a much higher proportion of Jews in the US, but the UK has a larger number of other faiths. If that's the way the US wants to do it, that's OK, but we look at it oddly.
23rd-Dec-2011 11:10 am (UTC)
and most people know that people of these other faiths are generally happy to exchange greetings for both their own festivals and others.

I was just realising that I think this is a big part of why I don't find "Merry Christmas" offensive - I usually take in a box of Indian sweets and wish everyone a "Happy Diwali" or "Happy Indian New Year" if I don't remember until the day after Diwali and so, while I obviously get a lot more "Merry Christmas"s said to me than other people get "Happy Diwali" get said to them, it feels ok.
23rd-Dec-2011 10:53 am (UTC)
We don't take religion too seriously in this country. A very large minority, maybe a majority of Brits are agnostic or non-believers who consider celebrating Christmas to be a holdover from religion which we happen to enjoy. Not really different from dedicating days of the week to various pagan gods. So Christmas is a catch-all term for the days of celebration around the end of December.

That said, I'll usually wish Jewish friends a Happy Hannukah because it seems polite. If I don't. They'll not take offence, and usually say Happy Hannukah back.
23rd-Dec-2011 10:55 am (UTC)
I live in the US and I've never once been wished "happy holidays." I don't really care even though I'm an atheist. Unless I'm wearing a shirt that says "don't wish me merry Christmas because I'm an atheist," I assume there are far worse things people could say to me.
23rd-Dec-2011 10:56 am (UTC)
I live in the US and I say Merry Christmas, there is no religious meaning behind it to me whatsoever. I am not religious, but Christmas is Christmas to me, and I hate the saying Happy Holidays. I think people just overreact too much about the whole saying Merry Christmas thing, because I know many people here say it without being religious.
23rd-Dec-2011 11:06 am (UTC)
Yeah since I have come into contact with people from the US I have noticed that they say holidays more. I like that too. But I was on the phone yesterday to a call centre in India and they wished me Happy Christmas too so its not unique to us.
23rd-Dec-2011 11:09 am (UTC)
I imagine people in Indian call centres are told to say that!
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23rd-Dec-2011 04:02 pm (UTC)
This is a great way to look at it, I think. In the US, some people, particularly in the South, will get downright mean and nasty if told anything BUT "Merry Christmas." It's a thing of offense to them because they see it as an attack on their religion, and it's "taking Christ out of Christmas!" My own mother is on a personal crusade to respond "Merry CHRISTMAS" to anyone who tells her "Happy Holidays." (To me, Happy Holidays also encompasses Thanksgiving, etc., but that's a personal view.)

I don't get that feeling at all from British friends and family, though. The vast majority of them are agnostics, atheists, or at least non-practicing Christians. When they say it, it's a friendly greeting for the winter season and not much more. I'd be very surprised if anyone were actually trying to push religion upon you or anything by telling you Happy Christmas. Really, I think it's cultural. It's what most people have grown up hearing, so regardless of religion, it's what they say. That's why I say Merry Christmas myself, despite being non-religious. In my own life, it's separate from that. Maybe it's just because of where I was brought up, but Merry Christmas is definitely said more than anything else.

Also, Mirkwood: What a difference! My head is absolutely spinning with all the nasty things an American fundamentalist might say upon being handed a sexual health flyer. I can't imagine them being that tolerant or civil.
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23rd-Dec-2011 11:35 am (UTC)
I'm Jewish. If someone wishes me a Happy (or Merry) Christmas, I say, "Thank you. You too!" It's just a greeting. The person who said it probably doesn't know or care if I celebrate Christmas and was certainly doing it just to be kind and friendly. I don't wish them a happy Hanukkah unless I know they're Jewish. I will say happy holidays because I'm making assumptions, too -- I usually assume people who celebrate Christmas also celebrate New Years and that's two holidays. I do not expect that the recipient of the greeting really cares how I put it, either, because the intent is just to be friendly. I don't see any usefulness at all in being bothered when someone says something they intend to be nice to you. Take it in the spirit in which it was given.
23rd-Dec-2011 12:14 pm (UTC)
Oh, people pull that in the US too. It really really annoys me, but I try to remind myself they're mostly being nice. And then you have the ones who get over the top about being offended by hearing "Happy Holidays" because it's Christ's holiday or whatever. Those are the ones who I have to remind that Jesus wasn't even born this time of year and that Christmas was actually a modified holiday and stuff. I mean, I'm fine with the people who wish me this unknowingly, since I assume they mean it in a gesture of goodwill and all. It's irritating for stuff with all the rest though. Sigh.
23rd-Dec-2011 12:52 pm (UTC)
I don't consider Christmas to be a particularly religious holiday anyway, although it has its roots in various ceremonies that pre-date Christianity and were more to do with the solstice - the celebrations just got hijacked. I'm an atheist so I just view it as a time to reflect on life and be with friends and family and have a week's break from work in the middle of a cold, dark and miserable part of the year. When I was single I'd go visit my parents on Christmas Day to get a good meal, and would then spend most of the rest of the week alone, reading books or doing other projects that I'd not had time for.

If people want to get offended that's entirely up to them, it's still (just about) a free country. I prefer to save my 'getting offended' moments for more deserving incidents.

23rd-Dec-2011 01:52 pm (UTC)
For the record, hijacked by Constantine the Great to coincide with the feastday of the Unconquered Sun, who also set Sunday as the Christian day of worship.

At that point he hadn't yet been baptized.
23rd-Dec-2011 01:02 pm (UTC)
I'm a Christian and I do celebrate Christmas from that point of view. But if I wish someone a Happy Christmas I frequently neither know nor care whether they are celebrating Christ's birth, just enjoying a couple of days off from work, or anything in between! I hope that they will have a pleasant few days with family and/or friends, and return to work relaxed and refreshed when it is over.
23rd-Dec-2011 01:24 pm (UTC)
I think because most people DO celebrate it in some way, even if it's just a holiday from work. I've met very few people who didn't celebrate it in one way or another. Even my atheist friends enjoy a secular Christmas.

I don't think it's rude to say Merry Christmas, it's just a friendly, seasonal greeting. I wouldn't be offended if someone wished me a happy-other festival, I'd just smile and say 'thanks, you too!'

If I said to someone 'are you all ready for Christmas' and they told me they didn't really celebrate I'd shrug and go on my way! I think most people would do the same.

I do think it is a bigger issue in the US, one of my American friends was quite surprised that we were having a Christmas party at our local toddler group and not a winter party or similar.
23rd-Dec-2011 01:39 pm (UTC)
I'm an atheist, who has friends who are everything you can imagine. I wish everyone Merry Christmas, and indeed Happy Easter when that comes around. I also accept wishes at the relevant times for Hanukkah, Eid, Diwali and Solstice. The more the merrier, I say!

Here's a bus ticket I got the other day. One or two American friends were surprised that "Merry Christmas" would be printed on something like that, but it's not at all unusual.

23rd-Dec-2011 01:40 pm (UTC)
I'm in the states and I know they mean well, but I'm so tired of having Christmas rammed down my throat I could barf.
23rd-Dec-2011 01:46 pm (UTC)
I actually legitimately prefer to say "happy holidays", but I admit that part of it is due to living in the South (US) and almost being expected to be Christian and wish people a Merry Christmas. I'm an atheist, but I celebrate Christmas because it's a fun holiday that I can spend with my friends and family. Not everyone celebrates Christmas, and not everyone likes it. I think "happy holidays" is a nice catch-all for whatever seasonal holiday one might celebrate - but do I get offended if someone wishes me well with whatever holiday they celebrate? Of course not.
23rd-Dec-2011 03:44 pm (UTC)
Hey you, I didn't know you were here! *is Blair* I was like hey, I know that icon, haha. Happy holidays! ;D
23rd-Dec-2011 01:47 pm (UTC)
I think instead of thinking of Christmas as something with religious ties, think of it as as "Giftfoodpartymas" instead -- so when someone wishes you a "Happy" Christmas, they're actually saying "Have a good over eating day with gifts and LOTS of alcohol!" instead of "Happy celebrating Jesus' birthday!*"

I think what you're saying is fine and keep your response short.

*Yes, I know that it was based around a Pagan celebration, etc.

Sidenote: I absolutely LOATHE Christmas with every fiber of my being and for once in my life I'm happy I'm unemployed so I can avoid the usual hoard of holiday lovers and gift braggers that appear at work the next week.
23rd-Dec-2011 04:01 pm (UTC)
I was wished 'Eid Mubarak' from time to time last month, and happily returned the greeting even though I'm not Muslim. I wouldn't want to force Christmas activities on anyone who wasn't interested (and even though I'm sort of Christian, I prefer not to have them forced on me, too) - but a general wish of goodwill for the festival seems harmless enough.
23rd-Dec-2011 04:25 pm (UTC)
So if you know the person is well-meaning, then just respond like you would to any other nonsensical polite inquiry. When someone asks "And how was your day?" they don't actually care, they just want to start the conversation.

We have the opposite problem in the United States - people who do celebrate Christmas getting their panties in a wad over other people wishing them "Happy Holidays" or even just "Have a nice day!" during this season. Supposedly there's some "War on Christmas" going on. I don't wish people anything holiday-specific this time of year unless I am damn certain they celebrate something, but I've gotten shouted at several times for not "recognizing the season" clearly. I'm not exactly sure how yelling at someone helps recognize the season of peace and goodwill, but whatever.
23rd-Dec-2011 10:16 pm (UTC)
I agree, I wouldn't dream of offering anyone any very holiday-specific greetings unless I was pretty sure they celebrated the holiday in question, whereas English people seem to happily wish everyone who is not obviously non-Christian "Happy Christmas". What I have gathered from the responses to this post is that the idea of being a UK resident and not celebrating Christmas whether in a religious or secular manner is so unusual as to be completely negligible!
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