Holiday Marketing: “Merry Christmas” vs. “Happy Holidays”

This time of year, brands across the country are walking that fine line between celebrating the holidays and “political correctness.” Over the past few years, more brands have shifted towards generic greetings (“Happy Holidays” or “Seasons Greetings”) over “Merry Christmas.”

But why did this happen? And what does it mean for your business?

According to a recent poll from Pew Research, 9 out of 10 Americans celebrate Christmas. Of course, there are also people who celebrate other holidays, like Hanukkah or Kwanzaa, or none at all.

Most brands abandoned the phrase “Merry Christmas” in an attempt to avoid the religiously charged holiday association. And while, yes, Christmas is a Christian holiday, many of the people who celebrate Christmas view it as more of a cultural holiday than a religious one (about 32%, according to the same Pew survey).

Lights, trees, wreaths, ornaments, gifts, cards, carols – while many of these things do indeed have ties to the religious aspects of the holiday, but many also represent this festive season to those who don’t consider themselves religious. Christmas decorations and activities are a way for families to celebrate the season – their meaning is broad, complex, and personalized to each family and individual.

No matter what you call it, this time of year has deeply rooted meaning for your customers. Lowe’s learned this lesson the hard way, when in their 2007 Holiday catalogue, they referred to Christmas trees as “family trees” – and experienced a huge backlash, nationally apologizing for the “error.”

Ignoring and avoiding the religious importance of this season is not always the best practice. By attempting to avoid marginalizing those who practice other faiths or who don’t consider themselves religious at all, many brands have instead marginalized the 92% of customers who do celebrate Christmas – religious or not.

Faithfulness is an important aspect of many people’s lives. As a Forbes contributor Paul Jankowski states, “This is about accepting the importance of faith, not certain religions, in the lives of consumers and how to incorporate that into marketing decisions. Would you serve steak to your vegetarian dinner guests? Nope. Then dismissing the importance of faith in the vast majority of your consumers’ lives wouldn’t be a good tactic. It’s not about pushing or supporting a certain religion, it’s about understanding the value it plays in the majority of consumers’ lives, whether you’re religious or not.”

So this season, relax and enjoy the celebrations. Consider the needs and values of your customers, not just this time of year, but every time you communicate with them, every time you serve them, and every time you market to them.

From all of us at Automated Marketing Group – Happy Holidays, Merry Christmas, and Seasons Greetings. Wishing you and your customers a very joyous season.