I have the distinct pleasure, or perhaps displeasure, of working nine holiday seasons in the retail world. Just over half of those years were spent managing the store in which I worked, and the first four were spent on the front lines of the retail war. The holiday season is mostly mechanical in the later three months of the year, and Black Friday (and all the related Black Friday deals) are the centerpoint of the entire year’s operation. One thing that always creeps up, no matter the year, is the question of whether it is “appropriate” to say “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Holidays.”
Or, in recent years, the trend to say nothing at all to the customer who just spend a life’s savings on video games.
As an HR rep once told me, “we owe them good customer service, not platitudes.”
America, I ask you, oh lover of holidays great and small, when did we get offended by wishing someone a good day?
Let’s face it, Christmas is a Christian holiday that happens to fall near the end of the calendar and right in the time of Hanukkah. I don’t think the Romans who set this holiday meant it to be a major commercial entity, but Christmas has become THE most important time of year for anyone who sells anything. Despite Christmas’ roots or origination, it is now more commercially celebrated than any other holiday. Knowing this, and knowing that there is a significant amount of non-Christian shoppers, what’s a shop owner to do?
Where I live there are not a lot of Jewish people. One year I decide to say “Happy Hanukkah” to every customer, just to be a bit cheeky and raise the ire of my manager. Then one older gentleman shakes me hand and tells me that in twenty years he had never had a salesperson say that and it made his day. I was flabbergasted at his humility and thanked him all the same.
Though I did not tell him I wasn’t Jewish.
Maybe it’s taken me many years from that exchange to realize that Christmas, and it’s affiliated gift-giving holidays, is not always about the religious aspect, and maybe to many more than I realize it’s only about giving gifts. I hang around with a mostly Atheist crowd and my Christian beliefs are under constant scrutiny, so when the topic of proper Christmas greetings came up, I was very surprised to hear their responses. Most of them thought that it was quite pleasant to wish people a hearty “Merry Christmas.” To them, Christmas was about sharing your time with the ones you love and that meant more than just buying toys and baking cookies. And though the religious implications of Christmas were not present, it didn’t mean they shouldn’t celebrate the season.
Although let’s not get ahead of ourselves, baking cookies should ALWAYS be important!
But at that moment, at the register, with a cart full of trinkets, what is one to say?!
Sadly, that choice is almost non-existent as all major retailers, and many small ones have very specific guidelines about what employees can and cannot say. Years ago Wal-Mart made headlines with their edict that Wal-Mart associates were to say, and only say, “Happy Holidays,” and many within the establishment thought it prudent to shake their fist at that rule and loudly proclaim “Merry Christmas” instead. I don’t feel your workplace is the ideal location to make a philosophical or religious protest, but I think anyone up at the crack of dawn on Black Friday to buy a cheap toaster is definitely familiar with Christmas.
Ultimately we have to govern out own speech, and in today’s easily offended and overly sensitive marketplace you can never be too careful. Remember folks, this is the same America that doesn’t always allow Nativity scenes in front of churches because it “could be” offensive to passers-by. Christmas has taken on a life of it’s own that had more to do with Santa Claus than with Jesus Christ. The common ground that I hope all parties can stand on is that whether or not you believe in Christianity (or any religion), that we all can agree that Christmas is the “most wonderful time of the year” and we should all take a step back from work and spent more time with our loved ones. So next time you visit Target to buy an early bird special or K-mart for their Black Friday door buster, don’t get offended if the cashier wishes you a “Merry Christmas” or not. It’s not their job to be a mind reader.
Remember, stores owe you customer service, not platitudes.