Dec 7, 2021

Merry Christmas vs. Happy Holidays

It’s that time of year again… holiday season! And, most of us know the routine. The stores take down their Halloween displays and promptly put up their “Christmas” displays. Some people are delighted. Some people find it too soon. Maybe even a little jarring at first; you know who you are. And, for some people, it really just doesn’t apply to them since not everyone celebrates Christmas or the holidays.

With such a wonderfully diverse society, it can be tricky striking the right balance of celebrating traditions and avoiding alienating people that either do not celebrate Christmas or celebrate different holidays. This is a topic that comes up for Condominium Managers and Condominium Boards too.

Merry Christmas vs. Happy Holidays

I think many Boards and Managers have decided to go with a more neutral “Happy Holidays”, and this is widely accepted as good tidings that most residents do not take offense to, even if they don’t partake.

But I want to tell you a story from my early days of Condominium Managing. I had sent a notice to each suite detailing information for the upcoming “holiday” season. I was managing a building with residents from so many different cultures and faiths, and I chose to use “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas” in my notice. A short time after the notice was sent out, in walks a resident that I usually had a pleasant rapport with. On this day, I could see by the red colour to his face (and my notice clutched tightly in his fist) that he was a bit fired up. Uh oh…

I greeted the resident with what I had hoped was my most charming smile and welcome. My goal was to diffuse some of his obvious anger, but let me tell you, my charm failed me that day. He started by throwing the crumpled notice onto my desk in front of me, and then promptly launched into a tirade about my use of “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas”.

“Aren’t you just a good girl!?” he yelled to me (yes, it was a bit derogatory). “Just trying not to offend people, but you offended me!” he continued. “It is Christmas! CHRISTMAS, not the holidays!” I will spare you the rest of his speech…

I was more than a little taken aback at his level of vitriol. I did try to explain that I was just trying to be inclusive and fair, since we have such a multicultural community in the building. He was having none of that. Once he was done yelling at me, he left. Obviously, this resident went about addressing this with me in an unfortunate manner, but there was something to be learned from this incident, and I remember it to this day.

After all is said and done, I still feel “Happy Holidays” is perfectly acceptable. However, some residents may also still like to see “Merry Christmas”, and that’s okay too. Using diplomacy and respect is key here.

These days, I send my holiday notices saying “Happy Holidays and Merry Christmas” and I add a little tag line of, “to all that observe”. I also try to select images that are more holiday neutral. I always avoid religious symbols. I complete my notices by wishing all readers good health and happiness in the days to come, since that is universal and sincere.

I have also taken to sending notices observing many other commonly celebrated holidays, and for those I also add the tag line “to all that observe”. At first, I was nervous I could miss a celebration, and someone might be offended. I have a plan for that too. I will be earnest, honest, and human. I will apologize, and ask the resident to help me learn more about the celebration so I won’t miss it next year.

To Decorate or not to Decorate, that is the question…

Each Manager and each set of Directors will have to decide what is the best fit for their community. Know your audience and read the ‘room’. All those good cliches!

Generally, this would probably be a time to avoid religious imagery and decorations. The common elements are spaces for all residents to use and enjoy. It’s a good idea for Boards and Managers to use a little restraint when it comes to holiday decorating. Maybe think of the holiday décor more as an accent than a focal point. This can be a delicate line to walk, but all we can do is go forth in good faith and remain mindful of the community as a whole.

Instead of Santa Claus, maybe go with a snowman in a top hat! In stead of a banner that reads “Merry Christmas” this would be a time for some classic garland and lights. Perhaps avoid a nativity scene, and the Star of Bethlehem altogether.

A tasteful wreath would probably be acceptable, and maybe a couple poinsettias – if you can keep them alive. Many Condos have Christmas trees in their lobbies, which is usually accepted by residents. If you don’t feel a Christmas tree would be welcome in the community you oversee, then it’s also okay not to have a Christmas tree. One little pro tip on the Christmas tree thing, if your Condo does put one up, try not to take it down before the Greek Orthodox Christmas, which happens in early January.

Final thoughts: If a resident does bring forward a complaint or concern related to the holidays or decorations, try to listen with an open mind. They probably just want to feel heard and acknowledged. Ask them for their suggestions for better inclusion for the future. Take their suggestions seriously. With a little considerate we can keep our communities as safe and inviting spaces for everyone to enjoy. It’s not about giving up ‘old traditions’, it’s about adapting and being a progressive society that makes
everyone feel at home.

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