This is my December dilemma: how to respond when people wish me a “Merry Christmas.” I am not Christian, and like many other Americans, I do not celebrate Christmas. I could be snarky and reply with “Happy Hanukah,” knowing that they probably do not celebrate that festival like I do (and Jesus did). Or, I could wish them “Happy Holidays,” hoping they get the point that other Americans celebrate different holidays in December. Or, I could take the path of least resistance, recognize the greeting as well-meant and just reply “Merry Christmas” in return.
I wish that I could reassure Christians who resent people wishing each other “Happy Holidays” that no one is trying to diminish Christmas. Trust me, we all know that Christmas is celebrated in December (though Jesus was not born then, and the current December date was chosen to overlay the pagan winter solstice celebration). I understand the importance of Christmas to my Christian friends and neighbors, and I would never want to lessen their joy or take away from its religious significance.
Including others in your holiday greetings in no way minimizes or opposes Christianity. What it does is recognize that Jews, Hindus, Baha’i, Agnostics, Sikhs, Muslims, Pagans, Atheists and others who also live here, may have our own winter holidays, and enjoy being a part of the general December happiness.
So, if someone is wearing a red and green sweater festooned with bells and reindeer, or they are members of your church, by all means, wish them a “Merry Christmas.” But if you are not sure, consider a more inclusive “Happy Holidays.” It goes a long way toward making everyone feel welcome at the table.