Miss Manners: 'Happy Holidays,' a proper general greeting

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Dear Miss Manners:

I work as a cashier during the Christmas season, and I often wish my customers "Happy holidays." Sometimes customers get all offended and reply with something like "I choose to celebrate Christmas," or they go into this long angry rant about the use of the word Christmas.

Am I wrong? "Happy holidays" is more of a habit for me than "Merry Christmas." I mean it as a gesture of goodwill, and am rather hurt to be yelled at for my choice of words.

But they mean it as a gesture of -- well, of what? The spirit of Christmas? Their interpretation of the proper Christian attitude toward those who wish them well?

Miss Manners realizes that those who deal with the public will encounter some nastiness, which professionalism requires them to ignore. But please do not allow the misuse of religion to browbeat others to make you doubt yourself. "Happy holidays" is the general greeting because, as you know, not all your customers are Christian, but they all do get legal holidays for Christmas and New Year's Day.

Dear Miss Manners:

We have a family friend who is, I think, in nearly all things, a model of etiquette. Yet, there is one habit she has that I find to be somewhat off the mark.

On a few occasions, she has invited me and members of my family to her home for holiday and birthday gatherings, and each time she has insisted that we do not bring gifts. Yet, on each occasion, she has gifts for us.

One time, I ignored her request not to bring gifts -- since I enjoy giving gifts on holidays and would love to give to her as well -- and she seemed genuinely displeased by my failure to follow her directive.

Am I wrong to be offended by her behavior, from which I glean roughly the following message: "You should be so lucky as to receive a gift from me, but please do not fill my house with your useless junk?"

Could you possibly put a harsher interpretation on the motives of someone who entertains your family?

It is true that some people who are gracious about giving can be less gracious about receiving. This is not pleasant, but at least better than the reverse. Your friend may be over-reacting against the invitations-with-registry practice so unfortunately common today.

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