Merry Christmas or Happy Holidays: What’s the Right Message?


“Can we use Merry Christmas or should we say Happy Holidays?” It’s a familiar but tough question our clients ask us every year.

A 2014 online survey from Angus Reid of more than 1,500 Canadian adults found that 80 percent of respondents prefer to call this time of year “Christmas”. Two-in-five people say they will be attending a Christmas service this year and will be saying grace at Christmas dinner. However, three-in-five say they will be doing neither.

U.S. retail giants, Wal-Mart, Macy’s, Sears and now Starbucks are using “Happy Holidays” or “Season Greetings” over “Merry Christmas”.

Why would they do that?

These retailers are corporations and serve a mass range of consumers as well as employing thousands of employees with diverse backgrounds. They realize they are going to “offend” some consumers with any stance so they are choosing the more inclusive communication style as publicly religious communication is more sensitive. This is typically the direction public institutions take as well.

What about the +90% of businesses that are privately owned who may have opinions they want to express?  I fall into this category and as a Christian business owner who is more vocal about my faith, I’ve wrestled with this topic for years.

I have found there is no right answer but here are three recommendations I offer to others:

1. Understand your Motives.

I’ve seen some companies and owners view Christmas as a time to make religious statements about the values they personally hold. Make sure your motives have the best interest of your audience in mind. Christmas is a great time to let customers know that you value them and wish the best for them at this time of year, regardless of how or why they celebrate.

2. Communicate Shared Values.

The top reason Christmas is special for 71% of Canadians is “the opportunity to be with friends and family”. Christmas gives an atmosphere of relationship, coming together, sharing a great meal (or three) and reliving family traditions. Whether you’re a Christian or not, we can all agree that these are great things that happen at Christmas. Talking about these things and the traditions you have (whether going to church at Christmas or not, reading the Christmas story, watching National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation etc.) are all common values that everyone can connect on.

3. Keep it Classy. 

Your audience is smarter than you think and you don’t have to be too literal for people to “get it”. It’s better to say a simple “Merry Christmas” and copy that talks about the joy and celebration this time of year brings. People will get it. Cheesy Christian design and literal statements just reinforce a perception that we’re out of touch with culture. Please take the time to use modern design techniques when thinking about in-store décor, displays, website changes and cards etc.

As Canadians, we tend to be more concerned with offending others than we are about doing what we personally feel is the best direction. But we’re also good at sitting on the fence too. If you’re still in doubt use both “Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays” together. If you’ve already botched it this year, just relax, no one will remember and there’s always next year.

Merry Christmas 😉