Why I Say Happy Holidays
(It may not be what you think)
“Getting there,” I said with a smile.
“Me too,” she continued. We chatted easily as she totaled my billed BILL and carefully
placed my purchases into plastic bags. (I had forgotten my cloth ones – again.)
As I wrangled my bags of goodies and turned to leave, she closed our conversation with a hearty “Merry Christmas!”
“Merry Christmas to you!” I shouted back.
And I meant it.
I love the holiday season because people are generally more cheerful, and, despite the bustle, human kindness pulses beneath the humming of our holiday doings.
I could tell that her Christmas wish was sincere.
It was quite the opposite one day at the grocery store, though, and it got me to thinking about greetings that we use when interacting with our fellow humans. To me, it doesn’t matter what you say; it’s how you say it to me.
I happen to be Catholic and celebrate Christmas, but I also have friends who celebrate Hanukkah. You might remember that last year our family decided to explore a new holiday we affectionately named Gauntnekkah (Hey, where’s that dreidel?!). After all, Jesus was Jewish. And, I learned a lot about my own faith as a result of our family’s attempt to understand Hanukkah.
While checking out, a helpful bagger conscientiously placed our groceries in the recyclable bags I had finally remembered to bring along. He was a jolly fellow, chatty and friendly. My husband and I were enjoying a grocery shopping date (where we buy Starbucks and amble through the store spending too much on unnecessary items). As Dave took care of the bill, I dug for dollars to put in the Salvation Army buckets on our way out.
As we walked away, my holiday cheer was rattled when our bagger wished us Merry Christmas.
I know what you’re thinking: Why would that dampen my seasonal glow?
Because he hadn’t said it with the same intention as the kindly clerk from the first story.
He didn’t wish me Merry Christmas with merriment or a cup of good cheer. He sounded more like a defiant reindeer trying to take down Rudolf in a Christmas Eve standoff.
His intention was more about making a point than wishing me well. I distinctly felt that it had been suggested he use “happy holidays” rather than “Merry Christmas” in his last staff meeting. I can’t be sure, but I do know he spit out the greeting with a biting edge and a hint of defiance.
I have learned that people care more about our intentions than our words.
Sometimes, people like me enjoy saying “Happy Holidays”. It’s not because I am politically correct or I am trying to kill Christmas. I like to write, I like hyperboles, and I LOVE alliteration. There is just something pleasing about consecutive words beginning with the same sounds. It feels natural to me.
But I always say it with heartfelt conviction that you be well. It comes from the heart, often said with a smile.
The added bonus is my greeting includes all people celebrating in any tradition this holiday season.
Keep in mind, the intention of our words means something all year long. People can tell when we are inauthentic.
A few years ago, when I was still working, our educational team went to Fish! Philosophy School in Seattle. It’s put on by the marketing geniuses behind Pike’s Place Fish Market, who believe that having fun and doing work you love creates an authentic environment of prosperity. Communication is real; there are no pretenses.
During one exercise, we were instructed to visit with a stranger and then tell the group about our new acquaintance.
That part was easy.
Next, we were to give our partner an authentic compliment in front of the group. My partner complimented my socks – with almost-imperceptible sarcasm.
Right then, the instructor halted the exercise and gently asked my partner if he meant the compliment. My partner, who was funny and often sarcastic (which I liked), admitted his compliment was more funny than genuine.
As the receiver, I could definitely tell he wasn’t being sincere.
That’s why I believe that as we come to the heart of the holidays, we are wise to remember our intentions.
Why do you bother to say Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, or happy holidays?
Whatever you wish for me, wish it kindly.
That’s the true meaning of Christmas.
The Busy Buddha
Edited by: Sara Neyer
The gladness of Christmas
which is hope;
The spirit of Christmas
which is peace;
The heart of Christmas
which is love.
Ada V. Hendricks
Some of us need a little something to warm our hearts before we wish kindness on others.
What does the greeting mean to you?
How do you react when people use other greetings or no holiday greeting at all?