Greeting Customers: Tricky During Holidays

For retailers, in addition to being the busiest time of the year, the holidays have become more complicated with the controversy over how to greet customers. The traditional greeting of “Merry Christmas” has been deemed politically incorrect and possibly offensive to some.

Owner of Paws & Effect Pet Grooming and Doggie Day Camp in Rocky River, Jason Stefan said, “I myself greet customers with Happy Holidays but do not require my employees to do so—it’s their right to greet in the way they feel comfortable.”

On the other hand, some customers do not like it when local retailers succumb to political correctness and greet them with “Happy Holidays” or “Season’s Greetings.” Some go so far as to suggest a war on Christmas is at the center of this politically correct shift. Conservative Christians nationwide have converged around the topic of Christmas, complaining that secularists and nonbelievers are destroying the holiday's religious meaning.

“As a pastor I might be expected to be the guardian of Christ in Christmas.  But in reality, I just don’t get bent out of shape over what Christmas is called,” said Gordon Myers, Pastor at Rockport United Methodist Church in Rocky River. “History teaches us that the early church did not place the same importance we place on the birth of Christ. For the record, the birth of Christ is mentioned in only two of the four Gospels.” 

A Pew Research study found 42% of American consumers preferred that stores greet their customers with “Merry Christmas”, 12% preferred “Happy Holidays,” and 46% did not care how they were greeted.

Not surprisingly, a majority (62%) of white evangelicals Protestants disagreed with the use of the “Happy Holidays” or “Seasons Greetings” salutation instead of “Merry Christmas.” A majority (58%) of the religiously unaffiliated agreed a secular greeting is more appropriate.

Myers added that he is concerned when the culture attempts to reprioritize the importance of festivals to meet its own needs.  “When that happens, we often end up with a reclassification of the event.  A clear example of this can be seen in the previous religious influences associated with Christmas and now the secular commercialization of the Christmas season.”

Most advocates of the more generic greetings suggest that these salutations avoid offending the increasing number of non-Christians who live in the U.S. They note that this is not a war on the December 25 holiday. In part, the controversy stems from the changing demographics of the U.S. The number of Americans who identify themselves as Christians fell from roughly 78% in 2007 to just over 70% in 2014.

“I choose to say Happy Holidays to avoid conflict but certainly would not be offended if someone greeted me with a holiday I don't celebrate, like Hanukkah,” Stefan said. The use of secular greetings by retailers is not an attack on Christianity. “Everyone is way too sensitive these days.”

This year Starbucks came under fire for taking Christmas trees and ornaments off its holiday red coffee cups. The company said the move was made to give customers more room to write their own holiday message on the cups.

Myers added, “I believe that a festival or event like Christmas needs to, and should be expected to, change to meet the cultural needs of the day.  What I am not willing to give up is the original significance associated with the season—thinking of others through the act of giving.  If that is maintained, I don’t care what it is called, Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, or the day I think of others more than myself.”

Perry Haan

Dr. Perry Haan is Professor of Marketing and Entrepreneurship and former Dean of the Business School at Tiffin University. He resides in Rocky River and can be reached at 419-618-2867 or

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Volume 3, Issue 6, Posted 2:41 PM, 11.30.2015