gary s. whitford

As the calendar turns toward its last month, Americans gather with immediate and extended family in Thanksgiving feasts and New Year celebrations on either side of declarations of faith – Christmas, Hanukkah, Solstice, Kwanza and others. Many of these annual commemorations have included warm greetings and gift-giving.

Holiday Greetings

Businesses often send clients, customers and collaborators “holiday greetings” that demonstrate appreciation for the work we do – and profit we generate – together. As a communicator, I not only do this for my company (Extraordinary Words has published some kind of calendar every year since 1988), but I fulfill assignments on behalf of many of my clients. We have been taught that America is a country that values religious freedom, and that instead of saying “Merry Christmas,” we should use the less restrictive “Happy Holidays” or “Seasons Greetings.”

Ornaments on the Alamo Plaza Christmas tree.
Ornaments on the Alamo Plaza Christmas tree.

Now Hold On – It’s All About Christmas

Some Christians have reacted to this counsel in recent years by demanding that we “keep the Christ in Christmas.” I will not address that particular point of view, because they have a right to their faith and opinion. Erin Wathen handles the issue quite well, speaking as a religious communicator in a Nov. 27 post on the Patheos website.

Instead, I will confess a mistake. Some years ago, when I worked for a major copy center in Indianapolis, a farm implement dealer came in one early December day asking us to assemble and print the company’s holiday greeting. Their sketch had “Merry Christmas” stretched from one side to the other over a picture of their family and a tractor. Trained as I am in professional business communications and always eager to share my knowledge, I made a convincing argument that the equipment dealer should use “Season’s Greetings” instead. After a few days, but I began to regret that counsel.

Christianity in the Brand

Upon reflection, I realized that a Christian family owned the implement dealership. For them, the “Season” is all about Christmas – celebrating the birth of Christ and the centrality of Jesus in their faith. Most of their customers also hold one degree or another of Christian faith, and “Merry Christmas” was probably an entirely appropriate greeting to express their brand to their consumers. I should not have said a word. I’m sure that if my former boss – who follows me on Facebook – saw this, she would agree and retroactively fire me.

Freedom of the Press belongs to the Press Operator


Freedom of expression in our democratic republic belongs to the sponsor – the company paying to publish the card, ad, spot or social media. A Christian concern should be able to say “Merry Christmas” without alienating their non-Christian customers. A company owned by Jews can take pride in wishing their clientele a “Happy Hanukkah.” And so on with all the other religious perspectives. Believers should proclaim their faith as clearly as they like without interference from those of us who practice mass communications.

Reason for the Season

Global organizations should recognize the validity of all of the religious celebrations and devise messages that bridge the diverse perspectives. At this time of year, the northern hemisphere turns cold and dark. Sometime around December 21, humans experience the darkest day of the year, and we know that three or more months of cold is about to descend upon us. Ancient peoples thought it was the end – so much deprivation and death was at hand. The discovery that the days would slowly grow lighter and warmer must have seemed a miracle. And the moment our species most needed to remember that miracle was the darkest and coldest day. Time to party.

For Christians, Jesus brought new perspectives – forgiveness, redemption, grace – to remind us that God loves humanity. Jesus is regarded as the light in the darkness, and so his birthday gets celebrated at the time of year when it is most crucial to remember the light. We can love our families and neighbors with great merriment. We can have a Merry Christmas. And a Happy Hanukkah (celebrating eight days of faith with a candle on each one). And a Sacred Solstice. A Joyous Kwanza. Raucous Saturnalia.

I wish you a meaningful holiday however you choose to express it.

San Antonio copywriter gary s. whitford writes Every Word Counts each week in The Rivard Report. His company, Extraordinary Words, provides clear and compelling communications for business and non-profit development. You can also read more of his writing on his personal blog, Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.

gary s. whitford

San Antonio copywriter gary s. whitford is a partner in Extraordinary Words, providing clear, compelling content for business and non-profit communications. gary has lived in San Antonio for 2/3 of his...