Pour Your Heart Out: What’s Wrong with “Merry Christmas?”

Five years ago, I was pregnant with my third baby. To help out with the holidays, I was working part-time at Target as a cashier.

Yes, during the holiday season.

When the lines would be non-stop and everyone was irritable.

I tried to stay cheerful: my two boys were being taken care of by their Grammy, I was growing a new baby, and I was helping my family to have a better Christmas. I didn’t work long hours and anything can be tolerable in small doses.

I chatted with the customers as I rang them up. Oh, what a fun toy, who was that for? And such a pretty ornament, I hadn’t seen that one before. And oooh, that’s a great deal, I’m going to go get one of those on my break! 

And I said goodbye with “Happy Holidays” or “Merry Christmas!”

Oh yes, I said Christmas.

I don’t remember ever being told what we could and could not say, though there may be an official policy at Tar-jay somewhere.

But, no one seemed to mind my holiday cheer.

Until one day.

Oh, this woman who came through my line- she looked so incredibly stressed out. Her cart was overflowing: so many toys, miles of Santa wrapping paper, and tree decorations.

I smiled at her and nodded my head at all her complaints: how busy the store was, how she needed to get all of her shopping done, how long she’d been in line.

And then, when I handed her the receipt for all her purchases, I said “Merry Christmas.”

She stopped in her tracks, glared at me, and screamed “I don’t celebrate Christmas! I don’t want to hear someone tell me ‘Merry Christmas!'”

To which my pregnant and hormonal self wanted to snap back and say “I can’t say ‘Christmas’ but you can buy Santa wrapping paper and Christmas tree decorations?”

And yes, I know that someone who doesn’t celebrate Christmas could be buying such things for someone who does, as a gift.

But, sheesh.

Sometimes I think we’ve become such an overly-sensitive, politically correct society where every word has to be watched. It’s possible to offend people so easily.

My family does celebrate Christmas. It’s a big deal for us.

Yes, we take part in the commercial part: we buy gifts and decorate our tree and plan a big dinner. We go see Santa, decorate cookies, and hang our stockings by the fireplace.

But, I also believe that Christmas is the celebration of God’s greatest gift to us: His son. And yes, I do realize that in all likelihood, Jesus was not born on December 25th or even during this season. But, it’s the time of year that we celebrate His birth. And that means something to me.

So during this time of year, I tend to wish you a “Merry Christmas!”

If you don’t celebrate, I don’t mean any offense. “Happy Holidays!” simply doesn’t come naturally to me.

If you were to wish me a “Happy Hanukkah!” I wouldn’t think anything of it. I’d probably smile and say “You, too!” or “Happy Holidays!” or maybe even “Merry Christmas!”

I don’t think that when people wish someone else a happy *insert holiday here* that they are trying to insult or to convert.

And what good does it do to attack someone for a simple greeting?

Do you still wish people a “Merry Christmas?” Do you get offended if someone wishes you one?

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  1. says

    Shell, this post nearly makes me cry. If we take the Christ out of Christmas, then we might as well be celebrating Arbor Day, for crying out loud. Keep on saying Merry Christmas! I sure do. And I know plenty of other people who want to, but are afraid it’s no longer acceptable. There’s something seriously wrong with that. So you really worked at Target in December – while pregnant? Impressive. I just spent a fortune there last weekend, in the toy aisle. I’m one of those annoying customers who, when the cashier tells me, “Happy Holidays,” I respond with “Merry Christmas.”

    • Shell says

      I wasn’t due until the beginning of June, so I wasn’t massively pregnant. 😉 

      I say Merry Christmas- b/c I’m not meaning to offend, it’s just what this season is to me. It really drives me crazy when people who participate in the secular parts of Christmas then get offended by someone wishing them a Merry Christmas. If you are seeing Santa- it’s for Christmas, not “the holidays.” 

  2. says

    Yes, I wish I didn’t feel so scared to offend anyone that I force myself to say “Happy Holidays” or cringe at myself when I forget and say “Merry Christmas.” I think the entire PC situation is out of control AND unfortunately, I buy into it. I don’t think I’ve ever had anyone snap at me for saying “Merry Christmas” and I’m sorry to hear you have. I agree that it wouldn’t bother me at all if someone said “Happy Hanukkah” to me. Great topic and post! Happy Thanksgiving! (That’s still okay to say, right? ;-))
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    • Shell says

      Exactly- I wouldn’t be offended by someone saying that to me, either. I’d just assume that’s what they celebrate and they are sending good wishes. 

  3. says

    I sometimes say it and sometimes say Happy Holidays. I tend to say Merry Christmas when it’s closer to Christmas for some goofy reason :) Maybe I would feel differently if I didn’t celebrate the religious aspect of Christmas, but I would like to think I would take the greeting in the spirit it is intended, which is with joy and good cheer.
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    • Shell says

      Oh for sure- I don’t usually start saying it quite this early, but I figured that right after Thanksgiving kicks off the holiday season, so I’d post this now! 

  4. says

    I say it. And my Christmas cards say it. And a few of those cards go to people who don’t celebrate Christmas. I don’t care. I celebrate it. At the very least many who are of other faiths celebrate it secularly, and I would think anyone who is receiving a card from me would appreciate the gesture and would understand I say it because I celebrate it. As for the lady with the Santa paper, that is just crazy. She clearly was taking part in the holiday in some form or another. For her one nasty comment to you, imagine how many people got a little boost in their day because you said it. I’m glad you say it. Don’t get me wrong – we should be mindful of others who we know don’t celebrate it – but I’m not printing them their own special holiday cards.
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    • Shell says

      That was my thought, too- if she had all that Santa paper, she either celebrates it or is okay with buying for those who do- so that was an extreme reaction.  

      I do try to be sensitive if I know that someone doesn’t celebrate, but I don’t mean anything by it if I slip and wish someone a Merry Christmas who doesn’t celebrate. 

  5. says

    I still say Merry Christmas. Period. I am Southern, that is what it is. I agree if you are doing all the stuff that goes with it, Christmas it is. Don’t want to call it that then simply don’t buy presents, don’t get a tree, just don’t do all the things that make it Christmas.. helloo..
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    • Shell says

      That’s what baffles me- it’s usually the people who participate in the secular parts of Christmas but don’t believe in the religious aspect of it that get more offended than people who don’t celebrate the holiday at all. 

    • Shell says

      It’s pretty amazing that I didn’t cry. I think I was in too much shock. And plus I had a huge line of customers to check out so I had to get right back to it. 

  6. says

    My feelings are mixed.  I do celebrate Christmas but if I didn’t, I don’t think I’d be offended to be wished Merry Christmas and I KNOW I wouldn’t attack anyone.  But, at the same time I respect the fact that we have freedom of religion and people can celebrate whatever way they like, so I have no problem saying “Happy Holidays”.  
    I definitely think you should’ve been safe to assume she was a Christmas celebrator with all that stuff in her cart!
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    • Shell says

      And if I know for sure that someone doesn’t celebrate, I will do my best to make sure I don’t wish them a Merry Christmas. But just in general- not knowing- it’s not meant to offend. 

  7. says

    People say Merry Christmas to me all the time and I don’t celebrate (and never have), but I’ve never felt offended. It’s not like I have the holidays I celebrate tattooed on my forehead, how would people know?

    The sentiment behind the greeting is more important than the actual greeting itself, that’s what matters.

    Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours, Shell!
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    • Shell says

      Exactly. It’s different if someone is aware and tries to be passive aggressive about it. But just a passing greeting during this season- I really don’t think people are trying to offend. 

  8. Kim says

    You hit a real sore spot for me here, Shell, and you said it so sweetly!
    Really, enough with the political correctness. I just don’t get it, like you said.

    A cart full of Christmas stuff and she’s offended? Even if she is buying it all for someone else, where is that deep joy and satisfaction of giving, of being grateful at being able to help out?

    How about some common courtesy in response? That would go a long way , especially in this season, and certainly help me be more open to hearing your point of view of how you can feel offended when I wish you a Merry Christmas, yet I shouldn’t be offended when you yell at me or are derisive of my faith.

    Thanks for letting me climb up on my soapbox, Shell. I’ll climb down now to wish you a very Merry, joy-filled, spirit refreshing Christmas! ;-D
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    • Shell says

      The cart was what really threw me. Obviously, she either celebrates some part of it or is okay with people who do, so why be offended? She could have just said “Happy Holidays” in return. 

      I’m especially confused by those who participate in things like Santa and Christmas trees and the like who don’t like it said to them. And that seems to be where people get all up in arms- not so much from those who celebrate a different holiday. 

  9. says

    I agree. That said, I tend to go with “happy holidays’ just because I teach and I know I have students in my room who do not celebrate Christmas, but if someone say’s “Merry Christmas” to me, you can be sure I’ll say it back!
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    • Shell says

      I remember my first year of teaching- when it got close to the holidays, we were talking about the holidays and Christmas and I started saying “and if you don’t celebrate Christmas…” and my kids all looked at me with jaws hanging open, b/c who doesn’t celebrate Christmas? LOL I was used to the pc-ness of student teaching in the north. 

  10. says

    I completely agree.  For awhile, because I have to be PC at work, I started taking that home with me and saying “Happy Holidays.”  One day, I realized that I really don’t care what others believe (I mean I do, but not when it comes to this) and went back to Merry Christmas.
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    • Shell says

      Because it’s what you celebrate and you are just passing along holiday cheer- not meaning to be offensive. I wish people would realize that. 

  11. says

    OMG. Don’t even get me started. The whole not being able to say Merry Christmas because it might offend someone thing drives me INSANE. And that’s why I say it proudly, regardless of what anyone thinks. And I always make sure our card every year says “Merry Christmas,” not Happy Holidays. I’m over political correctness. If people would stop making such a big deal about it, we’d probably have a lot less offended people! (Did that even make any sense?) 

    BTW…Happy Thanksgiving!! (Am I allowed to say that, or will I piss off a vegan?)
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    • Shell says

      I agree! If you go Christmas shopping and decorate  your Christmas tree, do not be offended if someone wishes you a Merry Christmas. 

      While I think there are terms out there that are meant to be offensive, I do not think that Christmas should be included in those! 

      LOL @ offending the vegans. 

  12. says

    I like Mary, make sure my card says Merry Christmas unless I am to slack to get my cards off in time so they have to say Happy New Year! Happy Thanksgiving!

    We don’t believe in Santa and we told our children that Santa is not real. Our family celebrates a deeper meaning for Christmas. We DO NOT shun people who do the whole Santa thing. You won’t believe the people who told me we were ruining our kids!! You cannot please everyone!
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    • Shell says

      I think that’s a personal choice. I taught my kids about Santa b/c it never really occurred to me not to- it’s what Hubs and I both grew up with and it’s a fun tradition. Though now that I have one older enough to soon not be a believer, to be honest- I’ve started rethinking the whole thing. 

  13. says

    We are not religious but do celebrate Christmas. Where I grew up, I had more friends and neighbors who celebrated Hanukkah, so in school we sang The Dreidle Song AND Oh Little Town of Bethlehem. It was no big deal, no one freaked out. But it was far easier to say “Happy Holidays.” That said, I have no problem at all with Merry Christmas. People need to chill out. No one is taking Christmas away, and people need to smile and lighten up even if it’s not “their” holiday. I believe it should be a season of joy, peace, and love for all, no matter what your personal beliefs may be.
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  14. says

    I am in agreement with almost everyone on this.  I wish there was no negativity to saying “Merry Christmas”  We now live in south Florida where Christians  are in the minority.  I say “Merry Christmas” and have yet to have heard a negative reaction.  I’m sorry you got that reaction.  If it’s a neighbor and I know they are Jewish, then I will say “Happy Hanukkah”  and usually they will respond with “Merry Christmas”  

    Our Jewish vet has taken to saying “Happy Christmukkah” figuring that covers all the bases.  That doesn’t offend me.  I don’t do Black Friday but will start the season off by putting a Keep Christ in Christmas magnet on my car.  I get he real meaning.  I also get that commercialism surrounding Christmas has gotten to the point of no return for many.  Does it offend me when people show up at church just once a year?  Not really.  At lease they are trying to squeeze a little bit of the real meaning in.  

    Merry Christmas and have a joyful holiday season!  

    • Shell says

      The commercialism does drive me crazy, too. And while we do gifts here, I cannot bring myself to go totally crazy with it and make it more about the gifts than the real meaning. Or maybe I’d feel differently if I had tons of money, I don’t know. 

      I agree about those who just show up for Christmas- if they are there, great. Maybe at some point, they’ll decide to come more often. But that will never happen if they get a poor reception on their once a year visit. 

  15. says

    It’s hard to say because I DO celebrate Christmas, so I have no idea how I would feel if I didn’t. In all likelihood, I would probably smile, say thank you, and walk away rolling my eyes to myself. I don’t think I’d ever have the gall to yell at someone for it. What good does it do to be rude?

    When I worked retail in high school, we had a manager who helped a lady with a problem (I don’t think he solved it), and as she left, he wished her a Merry Christmas. She spun around and shouted for all the store to hear, “We don’t celebrate CHRISTMAS!!!!” Really? Was that necessary?
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    • Shell says

      I don’t know if it would be different if I didn’t celebrate. I’ve been told Happy Hanukkah and have never felt offended by that- just assume that’s what that person celebrates and they are just passing along their holiday cheer. 

      I do not get why people feel a need to yell at others over it. It’s nowhere near the same than if they had been given an insult. 

  16. Cindi says

    I work retail and we’re technically not supposed to say Merry Christmas but you know what? I’m going to have CHRIST much longer than I’m going to have my job so … Pfffffffffft! MERRY CHRISTMAS!

    • Shell says

      If I was told I had to say a certain thing, I could make myself change for that particular occasion. But just in a general greeting, it’s Merry Christmas for me! 

  17. says

    I think the saddest thing is that people can’t hear the sentiment behind the saying. By saying “Merry Christmas”, we are wishing someone joy during the coming days. To turn that around and spit it back at the person is taking something positive and turning it to negative.

    I wish we would not worry so much about political correctness and instead hear the sentiment and the meaning behind the words.
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    • Shell says

      I 100% agree. It is the sentiment behind the words that should count. It’s not an insult or an attempt to convert. 

  18. says

    Wow people can be rude.. she just needed an outlet because she was frustrated. I say Merry Christmas just because thats what Ive always said but like you if someone were to say Happy “whatever” Id say thank you and smile.
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  19. says

    This is exactly where we have gone wrong in this country, in my opinion.  We don’t SHARE our beliefs and thoughts anymore.  We nit-pick at what the other person is saying or doing.  Like you, if someone were to wish me a Happy Kwanza or anything different than what I celebrate, I would return the smile and wish them the same.  The truth is these holidays have become just another thing to argue about instead of coming together.  How very sad.
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  20. says

    I stick to “Happy Holidays” just because I like being all inclusive of all the events that go on at that time including New Year’s, etc. But I think getting bent out of shape over Merry Christmas is a bit silly, and there are a very small few who do. Heck, I have a Jewish friend who has more Christmas albums than anyone I know. She just likes the songs and the festive feelings.

    • Shell says

      Oh, that’s funny! It depends on the timing. Like right now- to me, it’s not Christmas yet, so I might say holidays. But as it gets closer,it’s Christmas that I’ll say. 

  21. says

    Goodness I have blogged about this!  I say Merry Christmas and sometimes I write it X-mas and holiday means Holy Day so to me, I don’t get offended either way.  I’m sorry for your situation and it sounds like you handled it well.  This has only happened to me once and when the person snapped at me I said, “Oh, well then, “Merrry Chrismachanaqwanstice” (which should cover everything but an atheist’s perspective). I thought it was funny.  She looked at me like I was an idiot.  At this time of year I remind myself I’m responsible for my actions, not other people’s reactions.  So say Merry Christmas and if someone gets upset, that’s their problem.  
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    • Shell says

      That’s a good reminder- if we have good intentions, it’s not our fault if someone gets offended by something like this. 

  22. says

    Merry Christmas Shell. It’s become a political issue. Where people are welcome to celebrate Kwanza, Hanukkah, etc we’ve been reduced to calling Christmas “winter break”. Take out everything Christian or “seemingly” Christian and put in everything else. I have NO problem celebrating every holiday and calling it what it is. Right now, yes, it’s the holiday season so I don’t mind saying “happy holidays”, but if I say “Merry Christmas” I don’t want to be told I’m wrong for saying it. December 25th IS Christmas. There is a purpose behind the day to recognize. We’ve even done a birthday cake for Jesus when my girls were younger. Like you said, it’s probably not even the right season to be celebrating, but we don’t know His exact birth date. It’s simply the day we recognize the birth of our Savior. I’m sure the gal who got ticked off at you didn’t mind having the day off for Christmas even if she doesn’t like it or believe it in. Ok, I’ll get off my soap box. =) Have a wonderful Thanksgiving tomorrow!!
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    • Shell says

      We used to do a birthday cake for Jesus when I was growing up. A great reminder of the reason for the holiday. I can respect that people celebrate all sorts of different holidays at this time of year- it just gets me when people celebrate the commercial parts of Christmas but then get upset at any hint of religion. 

  23. says

    I have been switching to saying Happy Holidays in recent years, but it’s not because I’m worried about offending, per se. It’s more that I recognize that some people celebrate other things besides Christmas, and I want to wish them a happy whatever-they-celebrate. I would not be the least bit offended if someone wished me Happy Hanukkah even tho I’m not Jewish. I would think it was kind of sweet. People should never be offended when all you’re doing is trying to be nice.
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    • Shell says

      And that’s a good way to think about it. If I know that someone celebrates something different, I do try to wish them that instead of Christmas. But if I don’t know, my default is Christmas.

  24. Mary Beth Elderton says

    I think this lady was just having a bad day.  We aren’t Christian–nor Jewish, nor any religion–but we love a holiday about giving and having fun.  I have never really heard of anyone objecting to “Christmas” other than people who are sad or feeling bad in some way.

  25. says

    I absolutely hate that ‘Merry Christmas’ is now offensive. People these days are just getting so uptight about everything. It’s a friendly greeting. I know everyone doesn’t celebrate it, but why be rude to someone for saying Merry Christmas? People need to calm down.
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  26. Sarah says

    I think it’s sad that we have come to a place where we can’t wish happiness to other people without offending them…people need to get over themselves. MERRY CHRISTMAS!!!!

  27. says

    I’m with you. Seeing that cart, I would have said the same thing. I do say Merry Christmas and would not be offended if someone said something different. I would just think the person was wishing me well with the holiday they celebrate. I think there are far too many people who enjoy being angry and bitter and she was one of them.
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  28. says

    it hurts me that MERRY CHRISTMAS isn’t something that we are comfortable saying anymore, for fear that it will offend someone . Especially during a season of hope, love and wonder…of COMMUNITY. 

    I often say that when I say MERRY CHRISTMAS it isn’t to offend but to offer that person a moment of joy, if they say it back or HAPPY HANUKKAH or KWANNZA or whatever ,,,they are offering me that joy back. 

    I choose to say CHRISTMAS because it’s what I celebrate. 

    this is a beautiful post, Shell..have a blessed and HAPPY holiday season. A very MERRY CHRISTMAS season. xo
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  29. says

    That lady’s reaction was unacceptable. She may have had it up to HERE that day and unfortunately for you, “Merry Christmas” pushed her over the edge … but yeesh.

    I have a tough time saying “Merry Christmas” unless I know the person I’m saying it to celebrates Christmas in some way. Maybe I’ve had the PC police beat it out of me, I don’t know.

    However, I never, ever say it at my kid’s school to her friends unless they say it first. Many of the kids in my daughter’s school don’t celebrate Christmas or Hanukkah or anything at this time of year. We have a lot of diversity around here. And I don’t want to rub it in these kiddos’ faces any more than they already have to deal with all their friends talking about all the fun gifts they get. I would think that would be very hard for a small child.

    But adults? I think everyone needs to chill out a little about getting offended over everything!
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    • Shell says

      That’s very thoughtful of you to be careful at school. Kids have a reason to be sensitive and not really understand.

      Adults, on the other hand, need to learn to chill out a little bit, for sure.

  30. says

    I say “Merry Christmas” most of the time too.  That’s what comes naturally to me.  When someone says “Happy Hanukah” or something else to me, I usually just say it right back.  If it’s a friend, and I think I should know, I tell them I don’t celebrate it but hope they have a good one.  It’s a shame that some people just walk around looking to be offended. 
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    • Shell says

      They really do, don’t they? We need to look at the tone and intent- and realize that not everything is meant as an insult. 

  31. says

    I don’t celebrate Xmas or any of the holidays, but I definitely don’t get offended when someone says “merry christmas, happy holidays, or even hello”. I normally reply back with whatever the person said. I use to work in retail for 15+ years and the store I worked in had a very specific policy on what we could and couldn’t say to people. For my regular customers I normally said whatever I wanted, but for people I didn’t know I stuck to the script just to avoid getting in trouble with my bosses. We could definitely do with some more common sense and courtesy and less PC.-ness. Thanks for having this. I’ve met/read some wonderful writings from people. I look forward to participating each week.
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  32. says

    I remember the year I said Merry Christmas to a friend in my history class and the teacher freaked out on me telling me to “stop preaching Jesus.” As I’ve grown older, the holiday season seems to be filled with less joy & love and more hate & conflict. I don’t like it… 
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    • Shell says

      I agree. While there are somethings that I think we do need to be careful how we phrase, I don’t think Merry Christmas is one of them. 

  33. says

    Ugh, I could go on forever about being “PC”… it just irritates me how everyone gets their panties bunched up over such miniscule things. I read something once about being offended as a choice. We can’t all be mind readers and know what one celebrates and doesn’t. I’m with you… wish me “Happy Hanukkah” and I’ll probably respond with “Merry Christmas” and we all should understand that it’s the spirit of wishing each other love, peace and joy. 
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    • Shell says

      That’s very true- it is a choice to be offended. To decide to make a big deal out of something that wasn’t intended to harm. 

  34. says

    I would never have a problem with anyone sharing there holiday greeting with me. I think it’s festive and fun and welcoming. II think we have become way too sensitive about something as simple as a greeting. In this day and age I’m just happy when the cashier speaks to me.
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  35. says

    Christmas is also my most favorite time of the year and through the years I have learned that some people regard Christmas as an unwanted visitor, dreading for it to come and eagerly waiting it to leave their doorsteps.  Though certain people may have their own personal reasons why they treat it as such, I realized that a little prayer may just be what these people needed, hoping that one day they will learn again how to accept Christmas greetings and reply back, without trying too hard.
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  36. says

    Amen sister! It seems as if people are searching for reasons to be offended. I wish they would put more effort into being kind.

    • Shell says

      I think some people really do. It takes so much more energy to get offended than it does to just let it roll off their backs. Especially with something this small and well-meaning.

  37. says

    I agree. People are too offended by EVERYthing these days. We are a Merry Christmas family, but I’m not upset if other say something else. I agree with Erin, we just need to be kind to all, whatever they say of believe.
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    • Shell says

      Exactly- someone could wish me a happy whatever and I’m okay with it. It’s all meant in good spirit.

  38. says

    AMEN SISTER!!  Seriously- it is not meant to be offensive if someone wishes someone a Merry Christmas.  As you said if someone wished me a Happy Hanukkah even though that is not what I celebrate I would simply say thank you so much.  Political “correctness” just makes people afraid to interact and reach out to others as they might accidentally offend someone or say something not “right” 
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  39. says

    People are just too stressed out nowadays to remember what the Holidays are about…No matter what the holiday it’s about community, family and connecting. I celebrate Christmas, it’s always been big in our house and while I am respectful of other beliefs I think we shouls all be resectful of eachother. If a person does not like it, fine, they don’t have to but we should be allowed to express our happiness for the holiday we do celebrate too. 
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  40. says

    I totally wish people Merry Christmas…and it’s on on Christmas cards that we send out…
    because that’s what we believe, but go ahead and wish me Happy Hanukkah or Festivus or whatever…I’m not going to jump down your throat…
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  41. says

    I’m with you–what’s wrong with saying Merry Christmas? No one flips out when we say Happy Halloween or Happy Thanksgiving. It is the Christmas season after all. If you don’t like the holiday, how about you not stay home from work or participate in any of the festivities? What about our freedom of speech to be able to say Merry Christmas? Grrr…sorry, I just get SO irritated about this stuff.
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