When It Comes to Season’s Greetings, Intention Matters Most

Guest Post by Steven Petrow

A question popped up recently in my manners columnist inbox that is quite timely with the winter holidays upon us. Especially at this time of year, religion joins politics as the hot topics that can lead to fractured families (if not world wars). This holiday season the National Institute for Civil Discourse is inviting people from all over the country to take part in its initiative to #ReviveCivility and help “Set the Table for Civility.” This column is part of that project.

Q: My parents always taught me that “you wish what you celebrate” (i.e., if you celebrate Christmas you say Merry Christmas; if you celebrate Hanukkah you say Happy Hanukkah, etc.). Their theory was that trying to guess what another person celebrates was presumptuous. I generally say Happy Holidays, but I just don’t see this as cause for any offense if everyone’s intentions are good — and in my opinion the vast majority are.

A: I love Christmas. I wish my friends and colleagues who celebrate Christmas, a robust “Merry Christmas.” I also celebrate diversity and wonder why we can’t just wish one another “Peace on Earth.” But “Happy Holidays” and the evergreen “Season’s Greetings” are fine, too (as long as you don’t forget the apostrophe). But the letter writer makes an extremely good point about “intentions,” which are at the core of this debate — and intrinsic to civility — no matter what time of year.