Today is the first day of Advent. Christians officially await the birth of the King. In that light, the phrase “Happy Holidays” is a bit of a let down… like receiving a cheap swag bag, or a stress ball at a trade show. It’s nice enough; it shows you care. But you can’t really use it.
Christmas greetings in business are acceptable and expected. Because my business has grown this year, I’d like to send to my clients, customers and friends a Christmas card. As I was shopping for cards, I found myself hesitating over the theme. As a Christian I like the cards that say “Merry Christmas,” but I keep remembering an email tip I just read that advised not to exclude anyone…better to just say “Season’s Greetings” or “Happy Holidays.” That sounds so bland!
Don’t say it; I KNOW this is a country made up of people with different religions. I get it. We all get it. America, the melting pot.
But if you want to send specific Christmas greetings in business, would anyone raise a fuss? Come to think of it, you can wish me Happy Hanukkah or Happy Kwanza, too. I wonder why people don’t. Wouldn’t others welcome those sentiments, too, even if they didn’t celebrate them?
While trying to analyze the way Christians in business share Christmas with the public and their customers, I’m afraid I won’t have much new to offer. I’m addressing it only because the secularization of our culture in certain polite pockets of society makes me want to stir the pot. I do think the blandness of a world without freely expressed religion is a soul-killing prospect.
Some people seem to prefer uniformity across the entire population, instead of unity and diversity. There’s a big difference!
Now if I worked for a big corporation that enforced “Season’s Greetings” during this season, I might follow the rules (if there were any) regarding the utterance of the “C-word.” I don’t have a major ax to grind. I happen to approve of gainful employment, which means play by the employer’s rules.
But the nice thing about owning your own business is that you are the face of your business. You might say “Merry Christmas” not to make a big point or anything, but just because it’s easy on the lips. It’s natural to you.
Sounds dangerous? Do you think I’ll lose subscribers? Clients? Friends on Facebook? Who’s gonna drop off, I wonder?
Here’s the thing about seasonal greetings, whichever you prefer…Hanukkah, Kwanza, Christmas, New Years, Winter Solstice, when sending email to your clients and customers, are you constricted by rules someone else made?
Are you building a business that reflects you? That’s really what it comes down to. The holiday greeting card and email is a tiny side note to the way you express yourself in your marketing. It’s one of the many ways you burst out of the stuffy confines of buttoned-down business world and really connect with the people who mean the most to your business.
I believe in what I do…helping small biz folks express in words what makes their business special. Really special. Marketing that’s a chip off your personal block is far more effective for reaching ideal clients than standardized “big business” rules.
In your small business you’re shooting yourself in the foot if you don’t use the full concentrated flavor of your personality to market your business and sell your products. Which brings us back to Christmas.
Why it’s OK to say “Christmas”
The first story. Several years ago on my son’s fourth birthday, I went to wake him for school. I placed my hand on his forehead and moved a lock of hair. He opened his eyes, paused as he woke to remember what day it was, then beamed.
“Happy Birthday,” he said to me.
In his world, we were all celebrating his birthday, so why not wish his mom a happy one? Shows an unfettered heart. Sadly that was a once in a lifetime event.
Come to think of it, that would be a great way to celebrate your birthday; walk around telling people, “Happy Birthday.”
“It’s not my birthday,” they’d say.
“No, it’s mine!” You’d get to say it at least a hundred times. What fun! Like Hobbits, giving presents and happy wishes on your own special day. Plus, it would take the burden off other people remembering. (Of course we have Facebook for that now.)
And here’s another story on the subject of holidays. While in college I worked for years at the Ming Palace Chinese Restaurant. Half the wait staff was Chinese, the other half Caucasian. My first February there, I was caught off guard by Chinese New Year. I walked into the restaurant to find my co-workers weirdly jubilant. The owner made some special food, they hugged hello; I got a present — a wooden foo dog ornament with bells and a red tassel. As soon as I knew what was going on I celebrated with them (as best you can while waiting tables), enjoying the spirit of the night.
The years went by and I started to anticipate the New Year in February, although sometimes it did catch me off guard. But never did I feel even the slightest bit offended when greeted with “Happy New Year!” weeks after I took down my Christmas tree. It would have been spooky had only half the staff celebrated. By the way I still have that foo dog; it’s in with the Christmas ornaments now. I hang it on the tree and remember my old Ming Palace friends.
Most Christians fully realize that a lot of people don’t celebrate their big holiday. We don’t really want to convert anyone during Christmastime anyway. We’re too busy shopping, partying and preparing our hearts for the birth of our Savior.
What we do want is to acknowledge the source of our joy by spreading cheer to a stranger on the street. It’s the time of year when we can say things like “spreading cheer” and “God bless us, everyone” without sounding dopey.
Still, few Christian business people will opt for the traditional Christmas card with angels, stars, or the baby in the manger. Even candles are borderline “religious,” something I’d bet most companies avoid. Many will choose one with sparkly ornaments, wreaths, presents, cardinals flying around in a forest the woodland creatures spontaneously decorated one winter’s night with ribbons and seeds. (Magical story; maybe you’ve heard that one?)
No baby, no virgin mama transfixed by grace. No dusty barn, nor heavenly hosts. No Joseph, dear Joseph, the adopted father who’s acceptance made the miracle possible in the real world. No wise men; no star.
Why, in business, do we avoid expressing our own individual holidays? I’d be delighted if a shopkeeper looked me in the eye and said “Happy Hanukkah, dear.” Or “Happy Kwanza!” or “Have a wonderful day.” I’d just be happy for the greeting because it sparked a connection.
I’ll never forget a woman who rung up my things at a clothing store at Christmastime — must have been 20 years ago. I said the usual “Hi, how are you?” and she responded with a smile, “Oh, I am blessed, child.” OK, so I live in the south.
What I believe in my heart: Jesus wouldn’t have wanted his followers to piss anyone off by purposely being offensive, but he wouldn’t have want them to squash sentiments of goodwill either. I also think he was a teacher who challenged people to look into their hearts and see if the status quo really fit into the possibilities of the wisdom he offered. He invited people to take chances (risky ones) and see what happened.
I wish I could have met him. That’s why I celebrate his birth…he taught the Kingdom of Heaven exists right now for everyone who “gets it,” for everyone who is open to receive Him. (Ahh, where to capitalize?)
Why not say what you believe? Why not celebrate others’ happiness?
At Christmas, let’s celebrate Unity, not uniformity.
Tell me, if you ever get a Christmas card or email from a business — with the word Christmas — would you think it was in bad taste? Would you wonder how such an out-of-touch organization could survive doing business like that? Seriously, what would you think? Please let me know in the comments if you prefer “Merry Christmas” and “Happy Hanukah” to “Happy holidays.”
If I’ve challenged your patience; humor me. It’s Sunday. I don’t even usually post on Sundays.
For the record, if you celebrate any holiday at any time of year, religious or not, in a big enough way that you want to send me a thank you for my business or give me free shipping on purchases, please bring it on! I’m happy to celebrate with you.