Should Retailers Say Merry Christmas in Their Stores?

Discussion
Nov 22, 2013

Through a special arrangement, presented here for discussion is a summary of a current article from the Retail Doc blog.

USA Today reported Sarah Palin wrote in her new book that each time retail workers greets a shopper with "Happy Holidays" or "Seasons Greetings," the customer should confront the greeter and ask them why they did not use the traditional greeting of "Merry Christmas" instead.

Can you imagine an aggressive response to someone’s pleasant holiday greeting in your retail store? I can’t.

Now before you go all Focus on the Family on me or think that I’m some atheist out to decry your values, you should know I’m a PK — a preacher’s kid. In fact, I come from a long line of preachers.

I sat through my own dad’s sermons, sang in the choirs, and learned all the verses to most every Christmas carol in the hymnal. I love the Christmas holiday.

If you are a devout Christian, I understand. To you there is no other greeting more necessary than, "Merry Christmas" — Christ is your reason for the season. And if you are someone around my age, you’ve probably grown up always saying, "Merry Christmas." Why would you change now to be politically correct?

In fact, seventy-five percent of all Americans call themselves Christians. The problem is that it is not inclusive for 25 percent of them.

You want to cater to every customer; those who will buy their presents with cash and those who pay credit; those who can afford the best and those who cannot; those who celebrate Christmas and those who do not.

It’s important to train your retail employees to greet everyone with "Happy Holidays." It’s not that you never can say, "Merry Christmas" or "Happy Chanukah" or "Happy Kwanza," just wait until the customer has offered you a clue to what they celebrate.

You want to build as wide an audience as possible wherever you hold shop.

So regardless of Sarah Palin, I say, "Happy Holidays" is still the best greeting for your retail store employees to welcome all customers into your store. Of course, if you choose to do other, that’s your personal choice.

Should stores discourage associates from using the “Merry Christmas” greeting during the holidays? Is there a way to appease both Christians and non-Christians?

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26 Comments on "Should Retailers Say Merry Christmas in Their Stores?"


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Tony Orlando
Guest
8 years 5 months ago

We need to stop over thinking this, for goodness sakes. We are retailers not politicians, and YES we say Merry Christmas to our customers, and if they are offended, than so be it. I’m not trying to be callous, but Christmas is a time for joy, and inspiring yourselves to be gracious towards others. So if my employees want to say Happy Holidays as well, I’m fine with it.

Let the true haters debate this, as they have nothing else to do with their lives, but I am going to do what I have always done, which is smile, thank everyone for showing up, and wishing them a Merry Christmas in a very positive meaningful way.

I’ll take my chances with folks who are put off by this, because the intent in my heart is all I need to feel right about it.

Al McClain
Guest
Al McClain
8 years 5 months ago

Here we go again. Like clockwork, the holidays approach and we argue about whether it is insensitive for stores to open on Thanksgiving and Christmas, and about whether it should be “Happy Holidays” or “Merry Christmas.” Meanwhile, for the retail industry it is really all about how much revenue and profit we can take in during this sacred season. So, tongue-in-cheek, how about if we greet customers with “Happy Spending Season” instead? All this fussing over religion and holidays does get tiresome, doesn’t it?

Max Goldberg
Guest
8 years 5 months ago

I agree with Bob. Happy Holidays is the most appropriate greeting, because it is the most inclusive. The job of a retailer is to sell goods. Why potentially turn off any portion of your customers with a more religious-specific greeting?

Paula Rosenblum
Guest
8 years 5 months ago

You’re the son of a preacher; I am the daughter of a Rabbi. My father felt very strongly about this and so do I.

It is the holiday season — and people exchange gifts at Hannukah, Kwanzaa, and, yes, Christmas. Even atheists do it. Everyone wants to partake in good cheer. On behalf of my father, I will say it’s just wrong to say anything other than “Happy Holidays.”

The only exception would be Christian product stores (like Family Christian).

Frank Riso
Guest
8 years 5 months ago

I do think we do not give store employees enough credit. Instead of mandating one greeting vs. another, let the store associate decide the greeting. If it is obvious that the customer is a person who does not celebrate Christmas, then it’s Happy Holidays. Likewise if the customer is buying Christmas Cards, then it’s Merry Christmas. Many store associates know their customers well enough to provide the more appropriate best wishes and greetings.

Sorry to say, Christmas has become more of a commercial holiday and not so much of a religious holiday! But for now, it’s have a Happy Thanksgiving to everyone.

Ed Rosenbaum
Guest
8 years 5 months ago

Once again we have the same debate. I am siding with Paula on this discussion for some obvious and some not so obvious reasons. Why turn off the above mentioned “25%” of the shoppers who are going to either help make or break the sales season for so many retailers?
This is an unusual Holiday season as Chanukah begins the day before Thanksgiving and ends in early December. So we have the rest of the month when only those “75%” will be shopping. Retailers better hope the “25%” are out early and often this season.

Bob Phibbs
Guest
8 years 5 months ago

Those of you readers who think this is frivolous might be interested in the vehement responses on my Facebook page

One guy said he didn’t care if he did lose 25% of his business — he wouldn’t “turn his back on Christ.”

Those advocating Merry Christmas seem to believe every employee is like themselves and will just say it. And what if they don’t? Do you ask what religion they are and give them a pass? Good luck with the labor board.

What does an employee who says “Happy Holidays” do if challenged by a Sarah Palin-esque follower?

While some might find this as tiresome as debating Kmart, Sears or JCP, the reality is it can affect shoppers.

Tania Steyn
Guest
Tania Steyn
8 years 5 months ago

Whenever this debate comes up, I always wonder if people would be offended by any well-wishing from someone who doesn’t share their personal beliefs. If someone were to come up to me and say “Joyous Kwanza” (which is not a Holiday I celebrate), I would probably think to myself, “What a lovely sentiment” and move on with my day. I am generally of the opinion that most people are mature enough to appreciate the sentiment of any well-meant Holiday tiding. If we could just get past the politics and see the humanity of it, maybe we’d have less to argue about/over-think.

Warren Thayer
Guest
8 years 5 months ago

“Happy Holidays” seems the best way to share peace and warmth of what is, for many, a joyous and spiritual season. Why would you not want to be all-inclusive, and insist on leaving 25% of people out? It seems like unfathomable de-facto religious persecution. It certainly doesn’t seem loving. This debate, unfortunately, will go down predictable political lines. I’m sad to see that religion in this country has become so political.

Tina Lahti
Guest
Tina Lahti
8 years 5 months ago

Sure, why not? I managed a retail store for 5 years. During that time, I had one instance where a customer complained that an employee had wished them a Merry Christmas. I gave the customer an honest non-apology: “I’m sorry that you were offended. I know that wasn’t Sally’s intent.” Any customer that is offended by or offers an aggressive comment in response to someone wishing them well by saying “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Holidays” obviously has an agenda that goes well beyond shopping and front line retail employees can’t help them with it.

David Biernbaum
Guest
8 years 5 months ago

Regardless of politics or ideology, Sarah Palin is a goofball and often she doesn’t understand her own off the cuff remarks. Folks like Sarah have no clue, nor any concern, that 25% of Americans do not share the same religion as she. For her to suggest that customers “confront” a retail employee to ask why he or she didn’t say “Merry Christmas” is lunacy.

However, as a Jewish person, I think I can speak for many that are not Christians, that it’s really not at all personally offensive if a stranger wishes us a “Merry Christmas,” so it’s really not a big deal. That said, “Happy Holidays” is probably the safer approach for retailers since this is, after all, a time of year when several different holidays are celebrated, for which, by the way, people are shopping and buying gifts.

Li McClelland
Guest
Li McClelland
8 years 5 months ago

This whole discussion makes me sad because it reminds me again of a part of America and American retail that is gone, and I miss it. I’m quite sure I’m not the only person on this thread who remembers a time when store owners and employees (even in cities) actually recognized their customers and knew their names and families. This made saying “thanks” and wishing “Merry Christmas” to Mrs. Ryan or Mr. Washington easy and joyous, while saying “thanks” and wishing “Happy Holidays” to Mr. Rosenbaum or Mrs. Goldberg both personal and equally sincere.

In this day and age of superstores and seasonal help, unless store people actually know their customer, why not just say “thanks, and have a great day”? Really, isn’t that enough?

Jan Kniffen
Guest
Jan Kniffen
8 years 5 months ago

When I was a senior executive at a retailer with approximately 100,000 associates (and more during the holidays), we had a hard enough time just getting the associates to say something to the shoppers, much less trying to get them to uniformly use Happy Holidays or Season’s Greetings.

Right now, I am saying Happy Hanukkah and Happy Thanksgiving; as we get closer to Christmas, I will switch to Merry Christmas and then Happy New Year. I think, unlike Sarah Palin, most customers could not care less whether they hear Happy Holidays, Season’s Greetings, or Merry Christmas as long as they are greeted pleasantly and treated well.

Tell your associates to say Happy Holidays or Season’s Greetings when dealing with a customer, and when you hear Merry Christmas or Happy Hanukkah or Happy Kwanzaa, just be glad they are saying something and being pleasant! If Sarah (or someone) confronts the associate with, “Why are you not saying Merry Christmas?”, tell them to be very pleasant and reply, “Merry Christmas to you and yours!”

Andy Casey
Guest
Andy Casey
8 years 5 months ago

I have no objection to Happy Holidays but honestly have never understood why anyone would consider Merry Christmas (or Happy Hanukkah or Kwanzaa or whatever) offensive. The way some people react, it is almost as if they had been cursed instead. If you look at regular church attendance in this country (which has been declining for years), most people saying it don’t go to church anyway, so it is almost a generic greeting.

James Tenser
Guest
8 years 5 months ago

Let’s give some credit to the folks who work in our stores, and to the shoppers who visit them. In some communities, it’s pretty near certain that Christmas is the correct holiday to acknowledge. Can’t we let that just be OK?

“Happy Holidays” is a safe choice in more diverse locales or as a corporate directive, but it may be perceived as less warm by some. “Best of the season to you” is another (albeit more wordy) option.

Let me remind all my friends that we Jewish people really don’t equate Chanukah with Christmas at all. It’s just a coincidence that they fall near each other on the calendar. Christmas is a major holiday; Chanukah is a minor festival. We get the difference, and are only offended if someone chooses to convey intolerance at a time of year when good will should prevail.

George Anderson
Guest
8 years 5 months ago
This is clearly an issue that spurs strong emotions among some members of the population. Here are some of my observations on the subject. 1. Proponents of retailers loudly pronouncing “Merry Christmas” in ads and in personal interactions in stores are largely people worried that somehow Christ is being taken out of Christmas. I’ve always understood the concern, but not the logic. Most Christian faiths that I’m familiar with embrace developing a personal relationship with Jesus. How can someone running commercials or wishing you “Happy Holidays” interfere with that relationship? It simply makes no sense. It’s like saying a parent’s relationship with a child disappears because an acquaintance doesn’t ask after them in a chance encounter. 2. Keeping with the Christ in Christmas theme: Would Jesus really be getting up in the middle of the night so he could outrun other shoppers to a bargain table in a retail store on Black Friday before dawn? Seems more likely he’d be getting up that early to head to a soup kitchen to feed the poor or… Read more »
Warren Thayer
Guest
8 years 5 months ago

I stand corrected. Tania Steyn’s answer had much more wisdom than my own.

David Livingston
Guest
8 years 5 months ago

I doubt there is a way to appease everyone. I suggest we let employees just be themselves and use their own judgment.

Mark Burr
Guest
8 years 5 months ago

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all.

Larry Negrich
Guest
8 years 5 months ago

If I’m given the correct change, handed a receipt, and told, “Thanks for shopping here today” or something that lets me know they appreciate my business, that’s enough. If someone wants to go to the next level and genuinely wish me a joyous anything, I would appreciate the sentiment and wish them the same. But it is neither required nor expected by me in a retail setting.

Jerome Schindler
Guest
8 years 5 months ago

A simple “Thank you very much for shopping at ______” would be better. If you say “Merry Christmas” you risk angering the non-Christians. If you say “Happy Holidays” you risk angering the Christians. Then there is the option of saying nothing at all which is what I hear from the cashiers at many retailers. And these damn self checkouts are silent as well.

Kai Clarke
Guest
8 years 5 months ago

No. Happy Holidays is the correct way to do this, but political correctness is really more of a media and HR issue than reality. How many people complain about some of the Christmas movies that are shown? What about the clearly obvious Xmas colors? Overly sensitive and overtly cautious might just go a little too far here. Let folks say what they want when they greet people, the real key is that they are positive, happy and excited!

Patrick Eha
Guest
Patrick Eha
8 years 5 months ago
The author as well as many in the comments (possibly due to the author’s incorrect information) are assuming that 75% of Americans celebrate Christmas, when it is in fact around NINETY-FIVE percent (95%) according to Gallup Polls conducted since 1992. Also according to Gallup, up to 80% of NON-CHRISTIANS self-identify as celebrating “Christmas.” Christmas is not only a religious holiday, this is common sense. If Christmas could be referred to in classic movies like Die Hard without invoking religion, why now in 2013 are we all of a sudden in this mentality that Christmas = RELIGIOUS? It’s ridiculous… step out of the U.S. and go to Europe, you’ll see that the greeting “Happy Holidays” DOESN’T EVEN EXIST there, they only say Merry Christmas. On that note, I think Sarah Palin is nutty in most respects and wouldn’t want to say that I agree with her, just that I disagree that Merry Christmas is offensive, or even non-inclusive. Companies can have Back-to-School sales even though most people aren’t going to school, so how are Christmas sales… Read more »
Kate Blake
Guest
Kate Blake
8 years 5 months ago

You forgot the pagans. It’s Yule for them and has been before Christ.

William Passodelis
Guest
8 years 5 months ago

This is a non-issue. We live in what is supposed to be a “politically correct” world and so this answers the question. Happy Holidays would present the least offensive greeting. Mature adults should not be pre-occupied with this anyway; If someone offered me a ” Happy Chanukah” I would reply with a smile and a “Thank You” and move on without a second thought. Who cares? I am a Christian, but it is not a tattoo on my forehead. I suppose an atheist could still be offended with “Happy Holidays” if you want to be strict, but on that note, there are Thanksgiving and New Year.

Shilpa Rao
Guest
8 years 5 months ago

I agree with Al. For retailers it is more about revenue and profits, so why not “Happy shopping season”? I think customers are mature enough to take any greeting in the right spirit. After all, the offers drive the holiday traffic.

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