“Merry Christmas”, “Happy Hanukah” or “Happy Holidays”? It’s a dilemma that’s a sign of the times. I’ve heard more than a few people grumble that their company has gone too far by renaming the traditional Christmas party a holiday party. “How dare they!” seems to be the sentiment.

Others bitterly (but in a low voice) protest the notion that they should have to say, “Happy Holidays” when in fact they personally celebrate Christmas. And a “holiday tree”? You don’t EVEN want to go there! Yet the fact of the matter is that we live in increasingly diverse communities and don’t really know just what some people celebrate.

A recent cover story on Religion at Work in HR Magazine sheds new light on how religious we have become as a nation. More than likely your colleague in the next cubicle celebrates something. Probably, it’s something entirely different from your own religious practice.

A strong majority in the United States are religious, even as religious affiliation becomes increasingly diverse. According to a 2008 survey by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life:

• 92 percent of Americans say they believe in God.
• 83 percent are affiliated with a religious group.
• 54 percent attend religious services at least once or twice per month.
• Nearly 60 percent pray every day.
• 39 percent meditate at least once a week.
• 74 percent believe in life after death.
• 63 percent say they believe Scripture is the word of God.

Here’s My Take

Ask yourself a simple question: What is your intent when you extend a greeting to another person?

Is it to announce what you personally celebrate or is it to offer an expression of celebration for their benefit? In most cases, it’s the latter. If you know that someone else celebrates Christmas, then offer a hearty “Merry Christmas”! If you know they’re Jewish, then smile and say “Happy Hanukah”! If you don’t know, but still want to extend the greeting, then “Happy Holidays” is the safe way to go.

The point is, we should always act on our best available awareness. Don’t let ignorance or arrogance be your guide. I personally respond to any greeting someone offers me with a huge smile and a heartfelt “Thank you…the same to you”!