being told to remove “Merry Christmas” from your work email signature

A reader writes:

I have a former co-worker who I am friends with on Facebook. Recently, she posted an update to the effect of “I might have to remove my email signature which reads ‘Merry CHRISTmas’ (emphasis hers) because ‘it might offend some people.’ Too bad, I’m not giving up without a fight.” She then went on a bit about America, free speech, etc.

She is in her mid-twenties and was a model employee, recently promoted and is now the manager of 6-7 staff. The company is large, publicly-traded, and on the Fortune 50.

I don’t have a horse in this race, so to speak, as we no longer work together, but I personally agree that she should change the signature. I would love to know what your take on this is.

I don’t think her signature is a big deal, but I also think her reaction is way over the top.

But before I launch in to the rest of this answer, I want to note that people’s opinions on this topic are going to be heavily influenced by where they stand on this kind of thing. So rather than pretending that I’m some kind of utterly neutral robot who doesn’t bring my own biases to the table, I’m going to tell you exactly what my biases are, so you can read my answer with those in mind. Here they are:

I’m Jewish and so I don’t celebrate Christmas. But I recognize that we live in a country where most people do, and therefore at this time of year everything will be Christmasy. It’s the dominant winter holiday in our country.

Personally, I don’t mind that one bit — I like Christmas cookies and holiday cheer and generally warm and fuzzy feelings. As long as no one is forcing their religious beliefs on me, I’m perfectly content to observe others enjoying their holiday. (Things that I would consider inappropriate: religious hymns piped through the office, a creche in the reception area, a crucifix on a tree, an email signature about Jesus. Things that seem innocuous to me: Christmas trees, Christmas cookies, holly, Jingle Bells, the phrase “Merry Christmas.”)

Of course, that’s just me — I don’t speak for all non-Christians in saying this, not by any means. But getting offended by someone saying “Merry Christmas” seems, to me, to be silly. I’m not being oppressed by someone wishing me a merry Christmas. I would have a huge issue with someone infringing on my religious freedom, but an expression of well wishes in no way does that.

Okay, so back to your friend. I know the argument is supposed to be that having “Merry Christmas” in your email signature marginalizes everyone who doesn’t celebrate it by assuming that the minority follows the religious traditions of the majority … but honestly, I just don’t know any non-Christians who see this as a real offense.  A little bit naive, maybe, but it’s really not highly offensive.

Now, is it sometimes tiresome to deal with people assuming we celebrate Christmas? Yes. Is it annoying when people who know I’m Jewish are still surprised that I don’t have a Christmas tree anyway? Yes. But someone else’s celebration of their holiday, or an expression of holiday good will, doesn’t need to take anything away from other people’s faith.

And so my hunch is that a company that would order an employee to remove an innocuous holiday greeting from her email signature is showing that it doesn’t understand what types of things really matter to minority groups in their workforce. It’s a no-doubt well-intentioned effort to be inclusive, but they’re focusing on the wrong thing.

But your friend’s response to that is over the top and absurd itself.  Digging in her heels over something like this, and ranting about free speech and not going down without a fight, seems really out of place. I’m always suspicious when a member of a privileged, dominant group gets that worked up when they’re asked to be a little more sensitive to the minority group. I mean, she’s got Christmas all around her in this society — being asked to take it out of her professional signature really shouldn’t provoke wild rage. Eye-rolling, maybe, but not rage.

Anyway, that’s just my take, heavily influenced by my own personal biases on this stuff. What do other people think?

P.S. I also think it’s hard for the dominant group to know exactly what’s offensive to a minority group and what isn’t. For instance, I wrote here last year about how employers shouldn’t put Hanukkah ornaments on a Christmas tree, which it seemed like a lot of people didn’t realize. So I think we should all cut each other some slack and realize that we’re coming at this stuff from different places, and that’s okay.

Update: I thought the “merry CHRISTmas” was just the way she wrote it in her Facebook update. As some commenters have pointed out, it actually sounds like she had it that way in her email signature. If that’s the case, I just went on this huge rant for nothing, because I totally agree that having Christ in your work signature is inappropriate.

{ 212 comments… read them below }

  1. Rehofsunshine*

    As a fellow non-Christian, I agree with you whole heartedly. By wishing me a Merry Christmas I am not going to feel like it is a personal attack on my religious beliefts. I don’t understand the people who find this kind of thing offensive. If I was told that I can only celebrate Christmas and not observe my own religious festivals, then yes, I would have a major problem with that. But what is wrong in wishing someone well, no matter in which language or cultural saying?

  2. ashley*

    I don’t think it is the Merry Christmas that the company thinks might be offensive. I think it is the Merry CHRISTmas.

    Free speech be damned, your company is well within its rights to dictate what they think is appropriate for business communication. I am so tired of people hollering free speech over things like this. They are not threatening to have you killed or jailed for what you are saying. You are still free to say it. And they are free to fire you over it.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Oh! I thought she only wrote it that way in her Facebook update. If she had it that way in the email signature, then yes, I totally agree.

      And yes to your free speech point. The First Amendment protects speech from being censored by the government; it doesn’t regulate what private entities can do. In private entities, there are no across-the-board free speech protections.

      1. Brian*

        Your point is well taken that “The First Amendment protects speech from being censored by the government; it doesn’t regulate what private entities can do. ”

        This reminds me of the case of John Rocker the major league baseball player. Some readers may remember when that made news. The MLB punished John for what they thought were offensive comments, something the government couldn’t do, at least in this country. But he made those comments to a reporter on his own time. Was it just because of his association with major league baseball that the league thought they could regulate his public speech?

        1. Natalie*

          “Was it just because of his association with major league baseball that the league thought they could regulate his public speech?”

          It was probably the fact that Major League Baseball is not a government entity…

        2. Charles*

          RE: John Rocker

          Yes, he said those comments on his own time; but he said them as a baseball player. He would not have been interviewed if he were not in MLB. So, the league had the right to do whatever they did.

          Also, as far as “punishment” goes, John Rocker punished himself even more than the league, to the tune of millions of dollars. I say this because as one who does not follow professional sport, even I heard of him before that interview. That is the kind of star that can get millions in endorsement contracts – way beyond being on the box of Wheaties. After his comments he became kind of “toxic” and no company would want him as a sponser of their products – his stupid big mouth cost him opportunities.

          1. Brian*

            This example is a case of a high profile major league ball player. Does someone like that ever get a chance to speak publicly and detach himself from his employer?

            For somebody like this gal who writes Merry CHRISTmas in her tag line, it probably is all right for her employer to forbid it on the company’s systems. If this and all kinds of other religious or political messages appear on her facebook page while the only reference to her employer is in her profile, can the employer come after her for that? Should they be able to? When does an employer get to reach across into an employees personal life for what she says in public, if she makes no mention of the employer?

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              I’m pretty sure that would be illegal religious discrimination (discriminating against her based on her exercise of her religion in her personal life). However, if she were posting things on her personal page that did NOT fall in a protected category like religion — say, extreme political rantings — they could.

              1. Brian*

                How many times has anyone seen an employer blackmail their employees into keeping their opinions to themselves – whether on the clock or off?

    2. Anonymous*

      I interpreted it that way too. There is quite a “put the Christ back in Christmas” movement locally, so that is probably why I think that. Could well be wrong wrong wrong. Not the first time today.

      1. Rehofsunshine*

        Oh, I also thought it was just in the facebook status. In that case, I do think it’s inappropriate!

        1. Blue Shoe*

          First time commenter here. Love the blog, Alison; I check in every day!

          I just wanted to say that though I respect your opinion (can’t tell someone when to be offended or when not to be), I think it’s a bit oversensitive, personally. Touting your religious belief may be in bad taste or irksome to others, but merely mentioning Christ in this instance is hardly oppressive. I guess it’s easy for me to say that as a Christian, being in the majority, but I don’t think I’d have a problem with reading someone’s email signature about Hannukah or Diwali, or Buddha or Muhammad so long as it wasn’t using gratuitous language or something like that. It’s not like reading or hearing about someone else’s beliefs are an attack upon mine. I honestly don’t really understand why some people get so sensitive about being exposed to a religion that isn’t their own.

          Just my two cents.

          1. I'maJew,too!*

            I wouldn’t be upset if an acquaintance wished me a Merry CHRISTmas, but I still think it is offensive in business communication.

          2. fposte*

            “Merry Christmas” is merely mentioning Christ. “Merry CHRISTmas” is yelling about it. I think I’d find the yelling of any point of view offensive.

          3. kim*

            I think its worth looking at other religions differently. I mean, Buddhism is never gonna be big enough in America to make anyone feel oppressed. But a religion that over 80% of america belongs to? It has to have different rules. The vast majority of people will never see the phrase Happy Diwali and think of anything other than a quaint foreign tradition. Its different with a majority religion… And america has a proud track record of protecting the minority from the majority.

  3. fposte*

    Just to be clear–the all-caps was only in the Facebook post and not in the actual sig? Because if the email was signed “Merry CHRISTmas” then that needs to stop immediately.

    We’re under the state, so we’re pretty meticulously nondenominational here and I would have also requested an employee change the sig. However, as a non-religious person, I’m not bothered by being wished a Merry Christmas, Happy Eid, Joyous Purim, or whatever–I’ll take well wishes in whatever form.

  4. Andy Lester*

    It’s her spelling of “Merry CHRISTmas” that is the problem. She’s taken it from the holiday that everyone, including Allison the non-Christian, can enjoy, into the realm of proselytizing.

    It’s not far removed from her having written “Keep the Christ in Christmas” in her sig,

  5. Paralegal*

    I agree! I do have to admit that I find myself a little offended by the “It’s Ok to say Merry Christmas to me!” pins that I’ve seen people wear at an orgainzation I volunteer with. Maybe it is because of who has been wearing them (generally the older, grumpier, slightly xenophobic crowd), but I’ve always felt they have a bit of a hostile undertone.

    1. AccidentalManager*

      Ugh, someone I work with wears a pin like that as well. I do celebrate Christmas and find it confrontational and challenging. I totally refuse to acknowledge the holiday with her.

      1. Paralegal*

        I always felt particularly uncomfortable when people would ask about it and they’d respond with “It’s Christmas time and everybody celebrates it rabble rabble…,” especially because I’m Jewish and I DON’T celebrate Christmas. A good 40-50% of the population in our area is Jewish as well, so it is hardly a case of not realizing that Christmas isn’t the only holiday this time of year.

    2. Under Stand*

      Since you have a problem with them saying “Merry Christmas”, do you say “Happy Holidays” in February so that you do not offend those who are not in a relationship? (After all, February has a lesser celebrated Presidents Day which is actually a combining of Washington and Lincoln’s birthdays).

      And for the record, if I know that someone is a different religion, I say “Happy Hanukkah” or “Happy Bodhi Day”. Some of us just cannot stand the BS of trying so hard not to offend anyone that you ignore altogether. If I wish someone a “Merry Christmas” and they tell me they do not celebrate Christmas but do celebrate Kwanzaa, I will wish them a “Happy Kwanzaa” then because the point is not to offend but to wish them well.

      But it is not appropriate in a professional email signature unless you work for the Southern Baptist Association, the Roman Catholic Church, or some other ministry.

      1. fposte*

        P. didn’t say there was a problem with people saying “Merry Christmas”–the annoyance was at people wearing pins bragging about it.

        It’s kind of like how Alison didn’t have a problem if the person in the initial report was merely signing things “Merry Christmas,” but did if it was “Merry CHRISTmas.” Paralegal’s button is basically a “Merry CHRISTmas” button.

  6. Anonymous*

    Psst! Alison, in the PS I think you forgot the word “tree.” Should it have read “…employers shouldn’t put Hanukkah ornaments on a Christmas [tree], which it seemed…”? I know you hurt your foot, but I think your meds are affecting your typing lately. =P

  7. AccidentalManager*

    Meh, people put all kinds of banal quotes and other nonsense in their signature lines, so I probably wouldn’t even notice a Christmas greeting. I don’t have an objection to it as long as it’s not telling me to love Jesus or I’m going to hell, or something of that kind.

    The bigger issue is that women’s over the top response. Does she really want to plant a flag in the ground for this cause? The two word signature line for a seasonal greeting?

    I thought her freedom of speech issue is moot anyway. Isn’t it the case that there is no freedom of speech when it comes to your employment?

    1. AccidentalManager*

      Just read the new responses. If her signature is Merry CHRISTmas, then it absolutely does not belong in work-related correspondence.

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Pretty much. I actually just wrote a reply about this in response to Ashley, above. Exceptions are speech about wages and working conditions, which employers can’t ban.

    3. Paralegal*

      I don’t see why she can’t switch it to “Happy Holidays,” which conveys the same seasonal greeting without the religious overtones.

      1. JT*

        Or “Best wishes for the new year.”

        What’s the point of the communication? If it’s to feel aggrieved as a Christian, then the woman is right in choosing that message, but no way is that appropriate for work. If I was her manager, I’d ask her to change it.

        If it’s to wish people best wishes at a time of year when a few religions are celebrating, and non-religious people too, then say “Happy holidays” or “Best wishes for the new year.” If I ran an organization interacting with people of a variety of faiths and non-faiths, then “Best wishes for the new year” is the message I’d want to send. “Merry Christmas” is OK, but seems at best to be unthoughtful or parochial. At worst (in the “Merry CHRISTmas” form) it’s obnoxious.

      2. Under Stand*

        OH, that is singularly my biggest pet peeve of any pet peeves! My automatic response is “Do you say “Happy Holidays” in February (you have Valentines Day AND President’s day in February). Stop being so stinking politically correct. Either ignore the particular holiday or don’t but do not go with that crappy “Happy Wednesday” greeting!

        1. Lesley*

          I love when people wish me Happy Wednesdays or Happy Fridays, or even Happy Mondays. The point is that they are wishing me a good day or good season.

          If someone is wishing you well, and you’re getting this fed up over the words that they use, you need to take a step back and think about why you’re responding with hostility to something that’s meant well.

        2. Natalie*

          You know, most turns of phrase aren’t meant to be taken exactly literally – they’re little cultural shorthands.

          But something tells me if you’re that aggressive and rude to people who are wishing you well, you don’t get a lot of well wishings in the first place.

        3. Elizabeth*

          I’m about to have a two-week break from work, during which I will celebrate two festive holidays: Christmas and New Year’s. (And maybe a smattering of Hanukah, too.) So “Happy holidays” is not politically correct for me – it’s actually correct.

          In contrast, I’ve never wished anyone a Happy President’s Day. Maybe that makes me a grinch. :-)

        4. Jaime*

          It is not political correctness (which I have little problem with either) to wish someone a Happy Holiday. The nominally Christian “Christmas” season is also a time of year where other religions celebrate and also covers the New Year. I am not religious, at all, but I enjoy the food and lights and gifts and trees and sometimes even the religious services during this season. So, I wish people a Happy Holiday and when they say Merry Christmas (or have a good day, have a good one, drive safely, etc) then I say “you too”. ;) Just like when a man holds the door open for me, I say “thank you” even though I am an able-bodied, feminist woman. People are being nice and polite and I’m not about to be so rude as to repay that with vitriol or some ridiculous diatribe about how I’m not religious which is something they couldn’t possible even know.

          As for February…. who even says “happy valentine’s day” to a bunch of people or whatever you’re getting at? If I give someone a Valentine’s gift then I say it, but otherwise it’s a “have a nice day” time of year. It’s a bogus holiday, but still fun since I like to shop for others and it’s a nice idea to have a day for romance and love (shopping not needed, but i like it).

          1. anth*

            Great analogy, thanks:
            Just like when a man holds the door open for me, I say “thank you” even though I am an able-bodied, feminist woman.

    4. KayDay*

      I (fortunately) don’t run into many people who put quotes in their business signatures, except for the 10 line long legal disclaimers and “consider the environment before printing” lines. I don’t think quotes or holiday messages really belong in email signatures anyway and would want all my employees to keep the signature professional…but I wouldn’t raise huge stink about it.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        I once asked a guy to stop using “be well, be free” as his email signature because it made him sound like a hippie. (This was an organization that worked on marijuana policy reform, so we had a strong interest in not sounding like hippies.)

        1. Jerseyknit*

          A friend of mine worked with someone who had a hot pink work email signature — and that was after she toned it down! Before that, it had been hot pink and had a crazy font. I’m pretty sure she was outraged about the imposition, too.

      2. That HR Girl*

        We have a standard signature that everyone must adhere to, or they get a gentle reminder. Font size, layout, color of font, caps/no caps, etc. it all needs to be the same.

        Part of me thinks it is to avoid things such as this!

    5. That HR Girl*

      “people put all kinds of banal quotes and other nonsense in their signature lines”

      Reminds me of a former coworker who put “You may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but you just might be someone’s cappucino!”


      1. Jamie*

        And this is why I config our sig tags so they cannot be changed by the user – only IT.

        One less thing to police on behalf of the company.

          1. Anonymous*

            “crushing the subtle creativity of corporate drones everywhere :)”

            Who sent Onery PR my job description? :)

            Actually, that would make a pretty awesome t-shirt.

  8. Jenny*

    I agree, as a non-religious person capitalizing the CHRIST part is unacceptable. I also work for a State government that has to be non-denominational. When I was still attending church regularly, I found the “they’re attacking Christmas” slogans petty, ignorant and offensive, but even more so now because I feel like they are shoving religion down my throat. The holiday season is about family, friends, snow and hot cocoa.

    But back to the point. “Merry Christmas” – ok. “Merry CHRISTmas” – not ok.

    1. Dawn*

      +1 to you! :) I feel the same way. I’m non-religious and it bugs me to see all these things all over the place. I also can’t stand all those religious chainletters I get by email (but that’s another story).

  9. KayDay*

    As a Christmas-loving liberal-protestant, I have always seen a bit of hostility in “put the Christ back in Christmas” when used outside of church. It’s a great theme to have at church (churches should emphasize the religious aspect, duh), but it’s rather hostile at work (by basically telling non-Christians that they ARE excluded).

    Personally, I like to wish people a “happy new year” to avoid the whole discussion anyway. I’ve never understood why people get so worked up about the fact that not everyone celebrates xmas and they don’t want to be told “merry christmas” every five minutes, but at the same time, I think some places have gone a bit psycho in their sanitization of the holidays.

    1. Emily*

      (by basically telling non-Christians that they ARE excluded)

      And by telling lapsed Christians (like me) that if we’re not celebrating Christmas their way, we’re doing it wrong!

  10. Rebecca*

    Heartily agree that it has no place in her signature if it’s “Merry CHRISTmas.” (And I’m a preacher’s kid.) It comes across as confrontational and not joyous in the least – which is what well wishing is supposed to be. I also get offended by the people who get offended at Happy Holidays. Look up the etymology of the word, people! The “holi” in holidays comes from “holy.” So what’s your problem? (Sorry, as a PK and an English minor I can’t help myself.)

    1. Julie*

      I have a friend who insists that certain holidays — like New Year’s Eve — are so secularized that they should in fact be called “niftydays.” It’s got a fun ring to it, I admit.

        1. Jaime*

          hahahaha …. last year I was on a conference call and the host ended with “and Merry Christmas, Happy Hannukah, Happy Kwanzaa and FESTIVUS FOR THE REST OF US!” I got such a kick out it, so fun.

    2. Elizabeth*

      Confrontational is exactly the word I was thinking. All-caps only belong in email if they’re an acronym, or they look like shouting – and shouting about religion in an email signature seems rather unprofessional.

    3. Under Stand*

      So, do you say “Happy Holidays” every month? Because you know that every month on the calendar has multiple religious holidays!

      1. Mike C.*

        You’ve said this retort at least three times and it’s wearing thin. You ignore the fact that the winter holidays have a special significance those of many or not-so-many faiths so your cry about folks not saying “happy holidays” in other months.

        It’s a red herring and you should know better. People say “Happy Holidays” because one doesn’t always know what holiday folks are going to be celebrating and even if they do there is always the secular New Year’s Eve/Day that happens near the same time.

        Get over it and quit whining about political correctness.

        1. Under Stand*


          CHOOSE ONE!!! It would not offend me if a person practicing Judaism were to wish me a “Happy Hanukkah” or if someone were to tell me “Happy Kwanzaa”. It does upset me when some jack wagon is too lilly livered to say “happy Spagetti Monster wearing a tutu day”! If you are so stinking afraid to offend, then you got serious problems!

          1. Jerseyknit*

            What if you’re secular but want to participate in all the wintertime goodness? Or, what if you as a Jew think Hanukkah is just a minor holiday made bigger to let American kids in on what’s basically Christmas? Speaking personally, it would denigrate my religious beliefs and traditions more to have to pretend like Hanukkah plays any role in my expression of Judaism than to just say “Happy holidays” or hear “Merry Christmas.”

            I live in a neighborhood formerly known for Italian, Irish, Norwegian, and Greek immigrants, but in the past few years more known for having the biggest Arab community on the Eastern seaboard. In the Turkish store next to me, they don’t know what I celebrate, I don’t know what they celebrate, but I know we all celebrate the joy of having the warmth of other people to get us through the winter. “Happy holidays” for a lot of people is shorthand during the time between Thanksgiving and New Year’s for that sentiment.

          2. Elizabeth*

            December is, for many, a holiday season. It’s a festive time of year. But it’s not Christmas today, or Hanukah, or Kwanzaa, or New Year’s. So wishing anyone a happy one of those isn’t actually all that accurate.

            Not everyone who uses the greeting “Happy holidays” is actually afraid of anything. Some people simply want to wish others well.

          3. KellyK*

            It isn’t necessarily about being afraid to offend. It can also be a simplified way of saying, “Whatever holiday or holidays you celebrate this time of year, have a happy one.”

      2. anonymous*

        There is a restaurant near me that had a sign that said “Happy Holidays” up in February.

        So maybe yes, they do say it all year round! Why not have happy holidays all the time?

      3. Rebecca*

        Under Stand, you missed my point. It doesn’t matter whether you say Merry Christmas or use the umbrella term of Happy Holidays. If someone is wishing you a joyous day, what is there to be offended by? Happy Monday, Wednesday whatever? And you are being rather thick on purpose I think – Happy Holidays in its common usage refers to the December/New Year time frame. Sometimes I say Merry Christmas, sometimes I say Happy Holidays – being lilly-livered has nothing to do with it. Being thin-skinned and trying to pick a fight just to pick a fight is rude.

        1. Under Stand*

          The point is that it is much like a “have a nice day” when you buy something at a store. Most- not all, but most- of the cashiers do not really give a flip if you have a nice day or not, they are merely saying something to say it. That just irks the crap out of me.

          If you find that thick skinned, well have a nice day and bless your little heart!

          1. Anon.*

            Kind of funny (not) that what you want us to know you by here on AaM is “Under Stand”. Obviously, you do not.

            And btw the way – wake up on the wrong side of the bed this morning? Out of coffee?

            Happy everything days!


  11. Joanna Reichert*

    I get more annoyed with the insinuation that you should buy crap this time of year to show your love to others – but that’s a whole ‘nother digression.

    As a Christian, I do say Merry Christmas to everyone. Because I really do love the whole season – I love the magic that never really goes away. Christmas trees, cookies, sparkling lights, traditional and ‘new-wave’ Christmas songs, it’s like a warm blanket.

    That being said, if I lived somewhere that didn’t widely celebrate the birth of Christ, I’d have no issues whatsoever with people telling me “Allah be with you” or any other phrase in accordance with their beliefs – because, hey, why get upset over goodwill, even if you don’t like how it’s phrased?

    It’s a genuine attempt at peace and friendliness – don’t turn it into a knife in the back. Be thankful you can way what you like in this country – including slams against the President – and you aren’t thrown in prison for it. It could be far, far worse.

          1. Another Reader*

            Best. Comment. Here.

            Thank you for a much-needed laugh.

            How about “Wish you lots of chocolate?” I could get on board with that!

    1. Mike C.*

      Yeah, I used to work at a place where I could hear six different languages being spoken at lunch, and I couldn’t imagine turning away from the traditional expressions of kindness that I heard.

    2. khilde*

      Joanna – I *knew* I should have kept reading before I responded!! I said pretty much what you said first and we are even coming at it as Christians. glad to see someone else has similar thoughts as me.

  12. Julie*

    As a Jew, I personally wish people “Happy holidays,” but have no problem if they wish me “Merry Christmas.” It’s the thought that counts, and the thought in general is, “I wish you to have joy and warm fuzzies in this dark season of the year.”

    1. 7th Child*

      I really like that: Joy and warm fuzzies to you!

      This girl really needs to find a worthy cause to get all worked up about, nevermind her office signature. It just makes you want to wish her a merry C’mas. HAHA

    2. jmkenrick*

      Honestly, I grew up in Northern California, with a fairly large Jewish/Hindi and Muslim populations scattered around, and have never had anyone tell me they find “Merry Christmas” offensive.

      In fact, I know a number of Jewish families who buy trees and hang wreaths.

      That said, I was raised Christian, and I know all the words to Adam Sander’s “Chanukah Song” and consider it a holiday standard. Melting pot, ftw!

      1. Natalie*

        When I was working in retail, I ran into a few people who would say Merry Christmas in a noticeably aggressive way. I presume they were expecting some sort of challenge. Those are the only times I’ve been a little offended, and I was offended at the sentiment behind the message rather than the words themselves.

  13. Anon*

    FWIW, as a non-religious Jew, I don’t get offended by people telling me “Merry Christmas,” at all. That said, I find it more inclusive and less alienating if they say “Happy Holidays.” Not to say that I’m alienated, per se, by large Christmas displays, say, at my office–but is it more alienating or more inclusive? Certainly the former. It reminds me of my minority and non-default status. Just food for thought for those who don’t understand why someone might not be perfectly fine with Christmas celebrations instead of generic holiday celebrations.

    Obviously, this email sig is inappropriate. It’s a religious and political message going out to everyone you email from your work email address. Just . . . no.

    1. Anon.*

      Obviously, this email sig is inappropriate.

      It’s a religious and political message going out to everyone you email from your work email address.

      Just . . . no.

      THAT. Exactly.

  14. Jamie*

    Ugh – people getting the freedom of speech thing wrong is as annoying to me as the urban myth that you can’t take the tags off your pillows once you buy them, or that anything in the workplace that is unfair MUST be illegal.

    For work sig tags I would go with a Happy Holiday thing, if anything, because it’s safer. Even though I think it’s silly to be offended by an innocuous greeting some people are, why risk it? Especially for something as stupid as an addendum to a sig tag. Trust me, I’m not going to have a merrier Christmas because of any sig tag.

    If the Christ in Christmas was capitalized in the sig tag, then imo that’s totally out of line. That takes it into proselytizing which has no place in any workplace situation. If she wants to make a stand over this and champion freedom of speech rights that she thinks she has (but don’t exist) then this could possibly be one of the stupidest things ever to plant your flag on with your boss.

    And seriously, those of you who are easily offended, please look at intent before you get riled up.

    Case in point, I still have a little menorah I made out of clay when I was in fourth grade that up until Alison’s column last year I hung on my Christmas tree. As a Catholic girl in a predominately Jewish school I brought home a lot of handmade crafts for Hanukkah …wrapped them all up and gave them to my mom.

    She loved them the way only a mom can love the handmade gifts from her kids and put them up with the Christmas stuff.

    I put them up because my mom has passed and all the little tchotchi I made as a kid reminds me of her and how much she loved that stuff. There was no disrespect intended – but once I knew that was a faux pas I moved it a spot on top of the piano.

    The point is, there’s a danger in assuming disrespect is intended when it could just be well intentioned ignorance.

    And yes, when someone wishes me a Happy Hanukkah I don’t whip out my baptismal certificate with great umbrage. I smile and say thanks.


    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Oh no! Don’t take down your childhood menorah ornament because of me! I really only think it’s an issue when offices do it in a misguided attempt to include us Jews. I want it back up at your house!

      1. Jamie*

        It’s in my house – I just moved it from the tree to the piano!

        Don’t even ask about display containing bears wearing Santa hats, the extra wise men from nativity scenes past, and my collection of dreidles on the bookshelf. :)

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          After my parents divorced, my mom remarried a Christian, which meant that her house had a Christmas tree for the first time in my life (very exciting and exotic for me). One year she hung these ornaments that were actual cookies made to look like each member of the family. In an act of aggression, I ate the head off of the cookie of my stepbrother.

          1. Jamie*

            That is AWESOME sybolism!

            If only offices had those – so we could see which of our coworkers have their heads bitten off first!

            When I was little I loved The Magic Door which was a show which ran on Sunday mornings in Chicago WGN when I was a kid. It featured Tiny Tov, who was a tiny Jewish elf who lived in a magic mushroom. He was played by a Rabbi and it was a kids show with morality lessons from the Jewish faith. Funny thing is, except for the Hebrew vocabulary he’d teach, the lessons were really familiar. Sharing, being kind, respect…kind of things good people of any or no faith teach their little ones.

            When I was told by a kid from school that I wasn’t allowed to watch that show, it wasn’t for me, I was devastated. My mom had to talk me down and to my great relief convinced me that it was okay for me to watch it, too.

            Talk about lessons learned early. You can enjoy and find value in other cultures without renouncing your own. Being offended by how other groups celebrate seems silly to me.

            Why people are so touchy is one of the big questions of life. The other is why do Hanukkah gelt and red and green M&M’s in the holiday tube taste better than other chocolate?

            We may never know.

            1. Laura L*

              “The other is why do Hanukkah gelt and red and green M&M’s in the holiday tube taste better than other chocolate?”

              Ewww! Hanukkah gelt is gross! And I say this as someone who grew up celebrating Hanukkah AND Christmas (one parent was Jewish, the other Catholic).

              Actually, I personally think Valentine’s Day chocolate is the best, but that’s neither here nor there. :-)

            2. fposte*

              Oh, my God–The Magic Door! Tiny Tov of the bad special effect! I can still sing the “A-room-zoom-zoom” song. It was the thing that seemed the closest to children’s entertainment programming on Sunday morning, and yet…not so much.

              1. Jamie*

                You have no idea how happy I was to find on the internet years ago that this really existed and wasn’t some weird figment of my very young imagination.

                No one I’ve ever spoken to remembered this show!

                I can’t mock my kids for loving a sponge who lives in a pineapple under the sea, when I once loved a tiny Rabbi who lived in a mushroom. :)

            3. Nyxalinth*

              I remember that show! I used to watch it, and I found the description of the yiddish alphabet (If I recall rightly) that he’d do fascinating and more interesting than my semi-regular church.

              I’m agnostic now, but even when I was Christian, I accepted others’ beliefs and didn’t fuss if someone said Merry Christmas or Happy Holidays. Now I just celebrate Festivus :)

          2. khilde*

            Just when I thought there wouldn’t be any gut busting humor and witty responses in this post…I was wrong. Thank you!! This is hilarious.

        2. Anon.*

          oOoo.. what do you do with the extra wise men? extra sheep etc get added but I always feel bad about keeping the ‘others’ in the box :(

      2. fposte*

        This makes me think of a college friend of mine, who converted to Judaism in her teens; her loving and supportive mother went to to the temple because she wanted to get her daughter a menorah for Christmas.

        Aww. Moms.

        1. Laura L*

          That’s really sweet!

          On a related note, I once bought my mom an electric menorah for Christmas. I was living 2,000 miles away at the time and wasn’t home for Hanukkah, but was home for Christmas (my immediate family celebrates both), so that’s when I gave it to her. She thought it was funny.

    2. Anonymous*

      “And seriously, those of you who are easily offended, please look at intent before you get riled up… there’s a danger in assuming disrespect is intended when it could just be well intentioned ignorance. ”

      The other side of intent is impact. Although people may not intend to offend, they must understand when that is the impact their actions/words have. Its disrespectful when people assume just because they didn’t intend to offend that they are somehow not accountable, at least to some extent, for the impact their actions/words have.

      1. Jamie*

        I agree that “good intentions” don’t negate a negative impact. However, if the intent wasn’t malicious, but merely based on being unaware then the offense isn’t likely to be repeated.

        I don’t wish anyone happy anything this time of year, mostly because I tend to just nod and say hi and am not the most solicitous person in any season. But there’s a difference between someone doing something unintentionally offensive and then correcting the behavior once it’s pointed out – and I would certainly apologize if I ever inadvertently offended someone along these lines – than if the same words were used to make a point with no regard for the offense caused.

        If I’m offended by something I personally opt to assume it wasn’t done deliberately and depending on the relationship it can be an opportunity to point it out…or I blow it off. I find that works for me.

      2. Joy*

        It is true that if someone is grossly offensive ignorance isn’t a good excuse, but can we talk about what really impacts people? How sensitive do we really need to be? How horribly could the words Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays or any other greeting really impact a person?

  15. Wilton Businessman*

    Number one rule about work email: My house, my rules. Your email is company property, they can say whatever the heck they want to. It’s YOUR choice whether you want to continue to work in that environment or not.

  16. P*

    I’m confused. Why would a Fortune 50 company even allow personal variations in signature blocks? Where I come from, we all have the standardized company logo, job title, contact info, and the “please remember the trees” text. It might be a little less personable, but frankly, it’s just more professional.

  17. Suzanne Lucas--Evil HR Lady*

    As always, I agree with AAM 100%, but because I’m naturally long winded I have to add my 2 cents worth.

    Here is my policy on holidays that I do not celebrate: Is there food involved? Yes? Then I will come to your Christmas/Kwanza/Dwali/Hanukkah/any other holiday party. If the food is exceptionally good I may begin to celebrate it on my own, under the guise of “exposing my children to new cultures!”

    Because any holiday with good food is one I want to celebrate. And feel free to wish me a Happy [holiday of your choice] as you hand me the food. I will reply, and a Happy [holiday of your choice] to you!

    1. Under Stand*


      Now that I can get behind. If there is food, I am there! (plus they are actually choosing a holiday instead of being an indecisive person)

    2. ImpassionedPlatypi*

      I can get behind this 100%! This is my favorite comment so far. I really wish there was a ‘like’ button!

  18. Jerseyknit*

    I loved your answer and agree completely. I’m a non-believing Jew, and as a secular American I love Christmas. Growing up in a heavily protestant town, you learn to accept that people are just trying to wish you cheerful winter times, not trying to exclude. I work for an organization that “war on Christmas” people love to hate, though, so I get a few different perspectives.

    If the company were smart, it should have just waited for the holidays to blow over. After Dec. 25, the problem solves itself. Telling someone they can’t do something, on the other hand, is usually a sure-fire way to see that something that’s not a big deal becomes one.

    It also depends on her role there. If she’s a VP etc., it could make the company look like it endorses that position or has a religious bent. But if it’s someone lower down, whose job doesn’t involve acting as an official representative of the company, who really cares if she has “Merry Christmas” for a week on her email? (Personally, though, I think most “fun” email signatures are usually just “dumb,” so I think it’s a silly battle to pick anyway. Actually…don’t most companies have official guidelines/policies about email signatures anyway? That could also be an easy solution for the company, if they’ve enforced it consistently in the past.)

    My advice to her would be to cool off and think about whether making this a big deal is worth compromising her professional reputation. Regardless of whether she decides to keep the “Merry Christmas” or remove it, I think she should do it without making a fuss. It’s a more powerful statement to protest the directive silently, keeping your harmless “Merry Christmas” up and seeing if anyone bothers you about it, instead of wasting company time on something so frivolous.

    If she has a sick sense of humor (it sounds like she may not), she should say “sure, I’ll change it,” and replace it with “Eid Mubarak!” Alternatively: “Merry Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Diwali, New Year, Eid al-Adha, Solstice, Chinese New Year, Saturnalia, Festivus, et. al.”

    This brings up the point that most people don’t realize that you don’t have access to a lot of constitutional rights when you work for a private employer (which can be particularly ironic if you work for a group that secures individual rights, but that’s the reality). She might be barking up the wrong tree with America/free speech/my rights/etc. in the first place; it’s a right she may not actually have in this situation. People can debate whether that’s good policy or not, but it’s legal ground that no one’s going to be breaking anytime soon.

    I guess my reaction is “a plague on both your houses.” Both sides seem a little ridiculous. Work is about getting stuff done, not using your company’s communications systems to spread your own holiday message within the company. (Unless you do internal communications…ha!)

    1. Jerseyknit*

      (Addendum to an already too-long post if caps-lock was on “Christ”: Yeah, if she’s a manager and it’s literally “CHRISTmas” in the email, unprofessional and offensive. If she were my supervisor, I’d feel like she’s proselytizing to me…a manager should know better. If I were her subordinate, I’d lose respect for her.)

    2. X2*

      BTW, “Chinese” New Year is excluding because several non-Chinese cultures, like Vietnamese and Korean folks, also celebrate Lunar New Year.

  19. Anonymous*

    Interestingly enough, having a Christmas tree is against the bible.

    “Jeremiah 10:2-5
    2Thus saith the LORD, Learn not the way of the heathen, and be not dismayed at the signs of heaven; for the heathen are dismayed at them.
    3For the customs of the people are vain: for one cutteth a tree out of the forest, the work of the hands of the workman, with the axe.
    4They deck it with silver and with gold; they fasten it with nails and with hammers, that it move not.
    5They are upright as the palm tree, but speak not: they must needs be borne, because they cannot go. Be not afraid of them; for they cannot do evil, neither also is it in them to do good.”

      1. Jerseyknit*

        That self-righteous displays of piety are hypocritical. That probably won’t go over too well, though.

        1. Wilton Businessman*

          “With devotion’s visage and pious action we do sugar o’er the devil himself.”
          –Thomas Fuller

      2. KayDay*

        The point is that many of the specific acts of celebration of Christian holidays are derived from common pagan celebrations based on the solar calendar. Which personally I take as meaning that it’s okay for offices to display lights and greenery during the period surrounding the winter solstice. Joy and warm fuzzies to all in this dark season of the year! :) (@ Julie: love that)

        1. jmkenrick*

          You should research Santa Lucia if you’re interested in that. It’s a Pagan celebration of the longest night of the year that was co-opted by the Christians when they moved into Scandinavia. (Which is fine with me. They brought beautiful music & I love the holiday.)

    1. jmkenrick*

      My ex-boyfriend was from a SUPER-Catholic family, and often quoted this to me.

      His parents also argued that the Church shouldn’t marry people, because apparently there is no passage in the Bible that actually specifies that marriage is the role of the church and the reason we associate them is because, in the Middle Ages, the French government asked the Church to handle weddings since they were better record-keepers. Apparently most of the marriages described in the Bible wouldn’t even be recognized by today’s churches (b/c they were generally polygamous).

      DISCLAIMER: I say “apparently” because this is what I was told by people far more familiar with the Bible than I am, and I have not combed through it to test my accuracy. And I share it because I think it’s interesting. Not trying to tell anyone to not get married in a church. Churches are pretty. Also, I recognize that this is not relevant to Christmas. I just have a compulsive need to share facts that I find intriguing.

    2. EngineerGirl*

      That part of the bible is about the silliness of setting up idols. Please don’t take it out of context.

      1. EngineerGirl*

        Looking at my comment, it appears out of context! :) I meant the bible verses from Jeremiah. This was a dark part of Jewish history, when Judah was more proficient at practicing idolitry than the “pagan” nations were. The entire book of Jeremiah is a warning against idolitry.

        Sorry – I get peeved when I see bible verses taken out of context to support someones agenda.

        But speaking as a Christian, I think that the e-mail tag wouldn’t be proper. The computer and e-mail account are owned by the company, not the worker. It isn’t a free speech issue. The worker can still have that tag on their personal accounts.

        1. Kelly O*

          I was just thinking that same thing. I’m a very practicing Christian, and it bothers me when one verse gets twisted around to serve a particular means (don’t get me started on the repression of an entire gender in many denominations, because of a couple of verses – or the whole Old Covenant/New Covenant track we could take with the Jeremiah verse, because I left my Halley’s commentary at home.)

          1. Jerseyknit*

            Matthew in general is a masterpiece, but I especially love this part:

            “But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thine inner chamber, and having shut thy door, pray to thy Father who is in secret, and thy Father who seeth in secret shall recompense thee. And in praying use not vain repetitions, as the Gentiles do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking. Be not therefore like unto them: for your Father knoweth what things ye have need of, before ye ask him.”

            It’s amazing to me that people are so confrontational about their Christianity when a passage like this exists. Right before the Lord’s Prayer no less!

            1. Heather*

              I actually put a status on fb about a week ago saying, “Instead of trying to keep ‘Christ’ in ‘Christmas,’ we should be focusing more on keeping ‘Christ’ in ‘Christian,'” because so many of those dreaded copy/paste statuses, buttons, signs and whatever else fighting for “Merry Christmas” versus “Happy Holidays” tend to have very un-Christlike undertones and are posted or written by people who don’t tend to behave very Christ-like the rest of the year, either.

  20. Cruella*

    While I am a Christian, I say “Happy Holidays” because it is all inclusive. If I KNOW (as in beyond a shadow of a doubt, 100% absolutely certain) that the message recipient is Christian, only then do I wish them a “Merry Christmas.” It has nothing to do with “denying my Christianity” or being “fed up with being PC,” but being polite.

    Christians didn’t corner the market on Winter holidays.

    1. JfC*

      I tend to say “Happy Holidays” to Christians as well, because I also want to wish them a Happy New Year if I don’t see them then. There are TWO majority holidays in a short span of time.

    2. Anon*

      I really appreciate you being polite, for what it’s worth! It’s nice when people don’t make assumptions that I fit into the default category.

  21. Anonymous*

    I work at a similar company, and our email signatures, down to the font size and spacing, are dictated by our marketing department, with a strong warning not to add any mottos, etc. of our own. This makes sense to me, and since you never know what your customer thinks about such things, it seems to me that what she’s doing in unprofessional and she should remove the message from her signature.

  22. Chris*

    I absolutely hate email signatures. They are so 1997 when email was all new and novel. I expect someone with an email signature to also include an animated gif and a link to their Geocities page. I want a short communication regarding a relevant topic or question – not a pearl of wisdom about life and perseverance from Albert Camus (and for the record I love Camus.)

    So in my mind the sig in inappropriate just for being an email sig. If its stylized as “Merry CHRISTmas” in her email then of course its inappropriate. I’m a practicing atheist, and like many here I don’t get offended at others beliefs – but I do get offended at other’s invented sense of victim hood and persecution. In my mind this is what the whole “keep Christ in Christmas” movement is all about. There is no war on CHRISTmas – only greater understanding that there are some who do not celebrate or who celebrate different days than Dec. 25th as the birth of Jesus Christ. This does not equate to a “war.” People read a story on Drudge report about how some middle school in Iowa once had to remove a nativity that took up part of the gymnasium and all of a sudden people take up pitchforks like this even remotely impacts their life or sensibilities. Fact: Nativity displays are inappropriate in schools because a LOT of people don’t recognize Jesus Christ as their lord and savior. Our courts have been pretty consistent on this. Get over it – and put up a nativity in your living room if you need one. When I see people insist they are the victims of persecution (despite the overwhelming evidence of a happy Christian holiday all over the place) like they are moments from being burnt at the stake, it leads me to think they are irrational and think skinned. “Merry Christmas” in an email sig is just standard holiday fare. “Merry CHRISTmas” in an email sig is obnoxious and sort of childish. Doubling down and noting the “Merry CHRISTmas” email sig incident on a facebook page where the employee is obviously friends with former co-workers (and possibly current co-workers) is near tinfoil hat territory to me.

    1. FrauTech*

      I agree with this. Though I hope you are not decrying ALL elements in an email signature. It’s extremely useful that all of my colleagues include their extension in their signature. I am REAL irritated at people who don’t. Or people outside my organization who don’t include their phone numbers in replies. I don’t want to have to look up your phone number to talk to you (more antiquated than geocities!)

      Also as a fellow non-believer I just have to ask, what exactly is a “practicing atheist”? ;)

      1. Chris*

        Oh yes! To be clear I’m not anti ALL email signatures. Relevant information is totally ok (phone number, extension, webpage etc.) Its just the ones that contain some ridiculous quote in purple italic script that annoy me. Particularly when you have to have multiple communications in a threaded email. Scrolling through an email thread for information and reading “If you love something, set it free…” 30 times makes me want to beat my head against a wall.

        And I meant “practicing atheist” as a more active form of disbelief. :) As in, I’m not agnostic and don’t take the “I’m not sure because we can’t know” route. In contrast there are more passive forms of atheism that don’t particularly believe in deities but accept that “absence of evidence isn’t evidence of absence” so to speak, and therefore leave the door and the question open.

        I actively deny the existence of all deities – but only when asked. I don’t try to talk anyone out of their beliefs and I congratulate anyone who finds peace, comfort or guidance through any form of study – religious or otherwise. That is something all too rare so matter how its arrived at.

  23. Karyn*

    The office I work in has a mix of Christmas-celebrating individuals (some different flavors of Christian, some secular), a BUNCH of Jews (including most of the executives), and then a handful of Jehova’s Witnesses.

    I’ve always been careful not to do too much “holiday” stuff because I just don’t know who might be offended, but getting into a conversation with one of the Witnesses one day, he told me that he and the other Witnesses in the office don’t care if we wish them Merry Christmas or Happy Hanukkah or whatever. They all went to the “end of the year” party, and they all eat cookies and candy that are sent to us by clients for the holidays. He actually seemed surprised that anyone would think they would be offended by the expression of goodwill – and told me that if someone says “Merry Christmas” to him (cause let’s face it, unless you know someone’s Jewish you’re probably not defaulting to Happy Hanukkah), he just says, “Have a nice end of the year!”

    Personally, as a Jew, I wish everybody a peaceful new year and am done with it. But I’m also not going to get upset if someone says Merry Christmas to me, unless they do it in a “Merry CHRISTmas” way that signals they’re offended by the fact that I do not celebrate Jesus’ birthday.

    1. That HR Girl*

      Happy End of the Fiscal Fourth Quarter!!

      *Just kidding. I agree with all of your sentiments here :)

      1. Jamie*

        YES! I am SO stealing this – I may have to become an extrovert just so I can talk to more people and use it!

        Seriously, if I wasn’t the one who wrote and enforces my company’s sig tag policy I would add it to mine – with a little That HR Girl™.

  24. Joey*

    For me the type of signature depends on the company culture. More conservative companies are probably going to have strict guidelines about it while others may not care. But you have to remember that the company owns the company email so it’s pretty hard to come up with a good argument if you disagree. Put whatever you want on your personal email. But it’s stupid to dig your heels in over it.

  25. DJO*

    WHERE OH WHERE is the OP to tell us if it was CHRISTmas or Christmas in the sig block?

    Or did I miss it whilst combing through the comments.?

    1. OP*

      DJO – I wish I could tell you, but as she is my *former* co-worker we don’t communicate using work email addresses any more. I’ve asked a few other former colleagues who still work with her if they can confirm or deny the emphasis on CHRISTmas.

      I’ll report back what I learn, if anything.

  26. Karen*

    I’m a big proponent of people being able to give holiday greetings based on the holiday they celebrate, rather than a soulless, generic “Happy Holidays.” I celebrate Christmas, but if someone wishes me a happy Hanukkah, I’d be delighted, and would wish them a happy Hanukkah as well.

    That said, if the OP’s colleague wrote CHRISTmas (with that emphasis), I just think that’s tacky. That goes beyond holiday greetings – it seems like she’s trying to make an overt statement, and that doesn’t belong in a work email.

    1. Lesley*

      I say “Happy Holidays” because usually people are celebrating more than one (Christmas and New Years, or Hanukka and New Years, or Winter Solstice, Christmas and New Years).

      I don’t think it’s soulless. It’s a wish of happiness for others.

      I say it because there’s a plurality of celebrations! Also, I’m not religious, so I celebrate the season as a whole, which usually includes a few celebrations, not just one. There’s nothing PC about it. If it’s Christmas Eve or Day, I’ll definitely say Merry Christmas, and on New Year’s, Happy New Year!

  27. Natalie*

    The woman’s reaction does make me wonder if she has been a pain about religion in other ways. (In the office, that is.) The Facebook status seems to be straight out of the “War on Christmas” manual.

  28. jersey mama*

    i am also jewish, and really… i hate christmas. its just so annoying. haha but nevermind that. i am generally quite liberal and i think it is everybody’s right (well, in america at least) to celebrate as they see fit. however, i actually don’t find it appropriate to have it in her signature, and if i was her employer i might ask her to remove it. it would maybe depend on the clients she communicates with (as we already know, ther are many non-christians in the financial industry), etc. either way, i think she has the right to do, but i agree that she shouldnt bother making a big deal out of it.

    i suppose that i just find it entirely uneccesary. i even hate “happy holidays!” because, really, its just a fake expression to help people not feel left out – and those of us who dont celebrate christmas know that. thats why i am fine with the tree being called a christmas tree. i mean, its not a holiday tree! nobody else uses it. just christians (ok, pagans too). i just dont want to pay for it with my taxes. ok. rant over. sorry!

  29. Sophie*

    I’m Australian, and over here the standard wish is “Merry Christmas and Happy New Year” – we say it to everyone, in both a professional and personal context, regardless of their religion. I’ve never met anyone offended by it. It’s funny that Australia has a lower percentage of christians than the US, and out of those christians we do have, most of them are not particularly serious about their faith.

    I think “Merry CHRISTmas” is very confrontational and hostile. Definitely not appropriate for work.

    Most businesses here have a stock-standard email signature with a person’s name, title, and the business name. It really is unheard of here for employees to personalise their signatures with messages or quotes. It seems very strange to me and also quite unprofessional. But I can see that that’s a difference between work cultures in the US and Australia.

    1. Anonymous*

      Sophie : “I’ve never met anyone offended by it.” I believe that some minorities in terms of religion don’t want to talk about their religious believes when they tell you that they don’t celebrate Christmas. Most of the posts here are disquassing Hanukkah as the other holliday. But what if they tell you they celebrate Ramadan instead. They’d get some nasty looks and probably some would be blamed for everything and anything for no reason. And they may be affraid that that “secret” would cause them to loose their job, their relationship with the coworkers, their boss and a possible promotion. So, that’s why some don’t want to show that they are offended.

      1. Karen*

        Anon – I think that one would be wrong to be offended by someone wishing them “Merry Christmas.” It’s simply a wish of happiness, as others have mentioned.

        BUT, at the same time, one would be wrong to have negative feelings toward someone who celebrates Ramadan. All of my Muslim friends have thankfully felt very comfortable sharing their beliefs and traditions with us, and we enjoy learning about them as well.

        As I mentioned, I think we need to get to the point where everyone feels comfortable sharing their religious and personal traditions, rather than hiding behind “Happy Holidays” because they don’t want to offend. And at the same time, people need to share without trying to impose on others, as the woman who wrote “Merry CHRISTmas” tried to do.

  30. Kelly O*

    I’d just like to present this idea to the OPs co-worker, realizing it would go over like the proverbial ton of bricks –

    If you are truly a Christian, you should not have to stand on a rooftop and scream it. People ought to know by the way you act, and the way you treat other people. Simply saying “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Holidays” is enough when people can tell by your actions that you have love in your heart. It doesn’t matter how many ichthys fish you have on your car, how many witty parody t-shirts you wear, how many Dayspring calendars are on your desk, or how you capitalize your Christmas wishes.

    If you are playing small in your heart, so caught up in how other people perceive you that you think it’s a good thing to fight over an email greeting at work… well maybe you ought to think twice. And then go read Radical by David Platt and think about people in other parts of the world who truly risk life and limb for their faith. Or watch this program called “the news” – all sorts of people of all different faiths who simply want to be able to worship openly.

    And then come back and tell me if your email signature is worth it.

  31. Seattle Writer Girl*

    I once worked in the Corporate Communications department at a government contractor. We, too, had to ask people to not put “Merry Christmas” in their email signatures because we would frequently send emails to our government clients and we wanted to keep the “separation between church and state,” so to speak.

    It was the same deal with people who liked to quote scripture in their email signatures–not appropriate for professional communications.

  32. Jack*

    All this reminded me of an oldie but goldie:

    Happy Winter Solstice

    Please accept with no obligation, implied or implicit my best wishes for an environmentally conscious, socially responsible, low stress, non-addictive, gender neutral, celebration of the winter solstice holiday(tm), practiced within the most enjoyable traditions of the religious persuasion of your choice, or secular practices of your choice, with respect for the religious/secularpersuasions and/or traditions of others, or their choice not topractice religious or secular traditions at all . . . and a fiscally successful, personally fulfilling, and medically uncomplicated recognition of the onset of the generally accepted calendar year 2012, but not without due respect for the calendars of choice of other cultures whose contributions to society havehelped make America great, (not to imply that America is necessarily greater than any other country or is the only “AMERICA” in the western hemisphere), and without regard to the race, creed, color, age, physical ability, religious faith, choice of computer platform, or sexual orientation of the wishee.

    By accepting this greeting, you are accepting these terms: This greeting is subject to clarification or withdrawal. It is freely transferable with no alteration to the original greeting. It implies no promise by the wisher to actually implement any of the wishes for her/himself or others, and is void where prohibited by law, and is revocable at the sole discretion oft he wisher. This wish is warranted to perform as expected within the usual application of good tidings for a period of one year, or until the issuance of a subsequent holiday greeting, whichever comes first, and warranty is limited to replacement of this wish or issuance of a new wish at the sole discretion of the wisher.

    1. khilde*

      ha ha – and I bet there are some out there who could totally follow along that train of thought, too! Too much for me to keep track of, but funny. :)

  33. MaryBeth*

    As far as saying Merry Christmas or not, my high school chemistry teacher always said “happy winter solstice holiday,” and I’ve kind of just stuck with that when I don’t know my audience well. Otherwise, I say Merry Christmas.
    Regarding the email signature, I agree with Alison, as always. However, people get way too wrapped up in email signatures. No one cares or takes the time to read them unless they need your contact info (and for some reason don’t already have it). The more professional, the better, but if you want to have flair, have flair – just don’t be obnoxious.
    On another note, the “put the Christ in Christmas” slogan has always meant to me to remember what the holidays/ Christmas is really about – not getting the cheapest TV at WalMart or pepper-spraying a fellow shopper, but celebrating friends, family, and good health (and if you’re religious, the appropriate holiday). As a Christian, I don’t find Christmas to be that BIG of a deal that our society makes it out to be – Easter is far more significant for Christians because it’s what makes being a Christian radically different from other Abrahamic religions. But that’s another discussion not really appropriate for this blog.

  34. Anonymous*

    It’s the whole “Keep Christ in Christmas” campaign. Many people write “Xmas” and forget the whole religious aspect of Christmas. There are aetheists out there who refuse to recognize God and Jesus but still have wish lists. There are self-proclaimed aetheists who are products of a bi-religious family (usually Jewish and Christian parents) who claim to be “screwed up” about religion, but they still celebrate the gift giving. So some people want Christians to remember “Jesus is the Reason for the Season.”

    I agree with Alison on wishing someone a Merry Christmas – it’s not being evil or pushing Christianity on someone. It is the dominant religion in the country. If someone wished me a Happy Chanukkah, then I would say thank you. I’ve been wished a Shabbat Shalom when I went to temple once with a friend. If you take offense that someone “assumed” you were Christian, then that’s your problem. You didn’t hear the meaning behind the words.

    But as far as writing Merry CHRISTmas, then that’s a bit obnoxious. Either just write Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, or Season’s Greetings. I actually like the third one.

    1. Blerg...*

      Just throwing out there, that X *is* an abbreviation for Christ. The Greek chi (X) is the first initial of “Christ” as a name.

  35. Katy O*

    I have to say, do most people really get far enough to read the signature? I ignore them most times, unless I’m pulling up an old email to find a contact number.

  36. ThomasT*

    AAM’s response to the question at hand is spot-on, and has been discussed ad-nauseum, but I’m a little dismayed at this paragraph:

    “Personally, I don’t mind that one bit — I like Christmas cookies and holiday cheer and generally warm and fuzzy feelings. As long as no one is forcing their religious beliefs on me, I’m perfectly content to observe others enjoying their holiday. (Things that I would consider inappropriate: religious hymns piped through the office, a creche in the reception area, a crucifix on a tree, an email signature about Jesus. Things that seem innocuous to me: Christmas trees, Christmas cookies, holly, Jingle Bells, the phrase “Merry Christmas.”)”

    I think that the suggestion that a display of the religious symbols of Christmas is “forcing one’s beliefs on you,” strikes me as odd. If a business owner wants to display his or her faith in his or her workplace, I fail to see how that impinges on the rights of others. No one is being asked to join in the celebration – it’s just an acknowledgement of the religious nature of the holiday. The traditional public display for Hanukah is a hannukiah – the nine-branched menorah that represents the G-d-given miracle of the temple oil burning for eight nights instead of only one. Why would you begrudge a public display of a nativity scene?

    The email signature question comes down to consistency and fairness – if religious and/or political statements (and to my eye, “Merry CHRISTmas” is more the latter than the former) are tolerated from other staff members, then it should be tolerated in this case. If the requirement be that signatures should be business-related only, then the request to remove it is legitimate.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Again, this just happens to be where I draw the line and other people may feel differently, but I draw the line there because the first groups of items (religious hymns piped through the office, a creche in the reception area, a crucifix, etc) are overtly religious, whereas the second group of items (Christmas trees, Christmas cookies, holly, Jingle Bells, the phrase “Merry Christmas”) seem less so. Believe me, I do know that Christmas trees, etc. all represent religious concepts, but it’s the difference between “Jingle Bells” (a song that’s really about winter) and “Oh Holy Night” (which is about Jesus being our savior, etc.).

      And when you’re talking about a workplace, overly religious displays don’t belong there, unless you want to make some of your coworkers and clients feel uncomfortable.

      1. Liz T*

        The good Christmas songs are written by Jews anyway, and the trees and stuff come from the pagans, so bring on the fun!

  37. Beth Anne*

    sometimes quotes in signatures are kinda lame…I’m just saying.

    I think this girl was freaking out about something REALLY dumb. There are a million other things to worry about like being thankful we can celebrate christmas or whatever other holiday you want to than worrying about your email sig.

    1. Joy*

      ‘sometimes quotes in signatures are kinda lame…’

      I would go so far as to say MOST of the time quotes are lame

  38. Liz T*

    I just don’t get what’s wrong with “Happy Holidays.” I’m a Jew (raised half-and-half, my family has a tree every year) and I never would’ve cared until that whole Walmart thing where the greeters switched to “Happy Holidays” and people THREW A FIT until they changed it back. I’m so with Alison on the cultural import of Christmas–it’s awesome, and I love it, and my Rabbi always said we should feel free to join our gentile friends in their tree-trimming or whatever. But now that I’ve been sensitized, when strangers say “Merry Christmas” I want to respond with “Happy Channukah!” Xenophobia is the only reason to be offended by “Happy Holidays.”

  39. FrauTech*

    All of this makes me really sad my corporation doesn’t have an email signature policy. I didn’t realize it was so common. We have a standard for voicemail, it’d be nice if I had a similar “script” for my signature and others did as well. Wanting more corporate clarification might put me in the minority, but at least it’d prevent any situations like this one.

    1. Anonymous*

      You have a standard script for your voicemail? That’s awesome! I wish my company did. I hate recording those things…I always sound so unbelievably awkward…

  40. Cat*

    How did America get this far as certain things are “offensive” to everyone? 50 years ago you never heard any of this nonsense and we all got along. I’m really sick of all the politically correct c_ _ _.

    1. fposte*

      We all got along in *1961*? A year after the Greensboro sit-ins and the start of the assaults on the Freedom Riders?

    2. theguvnah*

      ah yes, those halcyon days when african americans couldn’t vote, women couldn’t get a bank account without their husbands’ permission, and young men were sent to die in an unjust war! I wish we could return to the good old days!


  41. Emily*

    Because of this quote from the OP (who I assume is accurately quoting this person’s Facebook status), I think it’s fair to assume that she did write “CHRISTmas”:
    “She posted an update to the effect of “I might have to remove my email signature which reads ‘Merry CHRISTmas’ (emphasis hers).”

    I think this attitude (“Let’s put the ‘Christ’ back in Christmas” etc.) is obnoxious and irritating. I think it bugs me more because I’m Christian. My husband is Pagan and finds this attitude silly but really doesn’t care. Or maybe that’s just our personalities.

    At any rate I think it’s totally appropriate for an employer to ask the employee to take this out of her signature. It’s just uncalled for to push your religion on people, even in small ways.

  42. Travis*

    (Aside: this may be my first comment anywhere on the interwebs).

    I agree with the consensus on the capitalization of CHRIST. On the broader issue, for me it is one of proximity. Since the meat of the controversy on this issue is being raised regarding coworkers or classmates, we are typically referring to “the holidays” as a group…as in, “I’m not going to see you on any of the actual five holidays themselves (Christmas, Kwanzaa, Hanukkah, New Year’s and Boxing Day*) due to flying home for this period, so I hope you enjoy this whole period of time off, doing whatever it is you do with whomever you do it.” Synonyms: have a great break, have a great vacation. I think it’s weird to single out any specific holiday when it is still a week or more away, regardless of which one is most popular. It sounds bizarrely specific…and if the person were Christian, I would assume that they would not do fun vacationy things like skiing or traveling on Christmas day itself, but I still want to wish them a happy time doing these things during their days of holiday that were not the 25th.

    For me the converse of the proximity issue would be true if, on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day, somebody wished me “happy holidays.” No! It’s Christmas today; the most common-sense pleasantry is the one appropriate to the day, because to do otherwise comes off as *extremely* disingenuous and makes it appear that you are intentionally ignoring what is acknowledged universally as at minimum a statuatory, if not religious, holiday. I think the same would be true on New Year’s Eve or New Year’s Day. When the clock strikes twelve you don’t yell “happy holidays.” The next day, you still wish the people you meet “happy new year”, because that’s what it actually is, regardless of whether or not they were out the night before getting sloshed and wearing silly paper hats.

    *Boxing day for Canadians

  43. mishsmom*

    AAM, i love love love your site! i know this isn’t the topic, but i had to say it because you cover every topic, even ones i had never dreamed of. you rock! :)

  44. Anonymous*

    The fact is that everyone wants tolerance for their non-Christian religion or tolerance for atheism but no one wants to give any tolerance to the Christian belief. And as far as merry Christmas ( not merry CHRISTmas) is not only a belief, but traditional and cultural heritage of America.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I’m sorry, what? No one is tolerant of Christmas-celebrating Christians? Everything closes for the day, there are Christmas decorations everywhere, most events at this time of year are Christmas-themed, and it’s widely recognized as the dominant religion of the country and dominant holiday of the winter. This kind of claim seems … well, delusional. Where exactly are you seeing no tolerance?

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        I am pretty sure that “no one wants to give any tolerance to the Christian belief” really just means “I’m resentful that I’m being asked to be sensitive to the fact that there are other religions out there.”

      2. Anonymous*

        Even I, and I love x-mas, thinks some places go overboard with their “toleration” of Christmas. My very office building, with a bunch of rather liberal tenants, has in addition to an over abundance of generic greenery, not one but 2 Christmas trees complete with fake red and green presents, and a star at the top. This is in addition to a “holiday” i.e. Christmas display at almost ever retail outlet I attend. If that isn’t enough Christmas for you, maybe you should move to the north pole and live with santa’s elves.

      3. Harvey*

        Hi AAM …While it’s true that American society has conformed to Christmas as a holiday, I think what the poster meant was that Christians are always being spoken to about these holiday inconveniences in a negative fashion. Think about the grumbling: “Why is the Post Office closed on Christmas?” “There shouldn’t be a nativity scene in the town square.” And on and on. But when other religions or traditions are introduced in December or elsewhere, it’s in a positive tone, all in the name of diversity. I’m not knocking that, I’m just trying to objectively explain the statement that there can be a perceived intolerance against Christian/Christmas stuff because of its dominant status. Shrug.

  45. khilde*

    I am a 31-yr old priviledged, white Christian woman (actually, only as of the last few years) and I appreciate AAM’s very professional take on this. I wish people a Merry Christmas because that is the holiday I’m personally celebrating, but I would LOVE LOVE LOVE if someone who was not a Christian would respond in kind with the holiday they are celebrating. For instance, I would love to wish some random stranger a Merry Christmas only to receive the response of Happy Kwanzaa! Or Happy Hannukkah! I think it would be a wonderful conversation piece and an opportunity to learn more about a holiday I’m not familiar with. To me, that would truly demonstrate diversity and tolerance if we could all just sincerely wish each other well without taking offense and taking a stand. I can’t tell (for the most part) by looking at you if you’re Christian or non-Christian so I’m going to go with the greeting that I’m most comfortable with and excited about. If that’s not your holiday, then wish me well in a phrase that you enjoy and we’ll all walk away feeling buoyed by humanity rather than pissed off and looking for a fight.

  46. TP*

    Just a reminder… for christians, Christmas is the birth of Christ; therefore merry CHRISTmas should not be offensive, but an expression of what part of Christmas is important to that person. I think when you reprehend that you are making it more of a big deal than the person who wrote it in the first place. I had my signature as “In God I trust” and that was my company’s moto. Out of hundreds of clients, ONE asked me take it off and I didn’t.

  47. Sara*

    I have to confess, as a non-Christian, the whole holiday stuff really depresses me sometimes so, in that vein, I can understand why the company would want to be sensitive about that (because it does kinda make me feel bad) but it’s also not a big deal.

    Like AAM said (which is gold, by the way, couldn’t have said it better myself) “Now, is it sometimes tiresome to deal with people assuming we celebrate Christmas? Yes. Is it annoying when people are still surprised that I don’t have a Christmas tree anyway? Yes. But someone else’s celebration of their holiday, or an expression of holiday good will, doesn’t need to take anything away from other people’s faith.”
    So if it’s all in good faith then I guess I don’t mind that much… It’s just a personal thing I deal with every year. But again as AAM said, she’s got Christmas all around her does she really have to go over the top with the email too?

  48. happy holidays*

    I think it’s simply polite and inclusive to include everyone in holidays greetings, not just some. It’s really easy for those celebrating Christmas to have no problem w/people saying Merry Christmas. It’s their holiday. To my friends celebrating Christmas I say “Merry Christmas.” But to assume, ignorantly, that those who do not celebrate Christmas shouldn’t be offended by ignoring THEIR holiday, I think that’s selfish. These people are assuming they either celebrate like they celebrate, or they don’t care enough to ask what their holiday is. It’s nice to feel included. Maybe someone in this instance feels they’re ‘including’ by wishing a Merry Christmas regardless. Wouldn’t it be more inclusive to know for sure and wish them a Happy (insert their holiday here) or just simply say Happy Holidays? If you’re a child celebrating Kwanzaa or Chanukah… – c’mon, kids have enough problems trying to fit in. When they go into a store this time of year and the entire store is decked out in Christmas trees, in Christmas lights, grinches, elves, Santas, reindeer, and every employee is wearing a Santa hat, red and green colors, and this entire experience reminds them that they’re an ‘other’ – don’t you think a simple ‘Happy Holidays’ is charitable? Everything else screams Merry Christmas anyway. I’ve even heard – “whichever holiday you celebrate this time of year, enjoy it!” or “Which holiday do you celebrate this season?” if you want to be more direct…just ask! But to simply assume that everyone else either be exactly like you or PISS OFF is not exactly in the spirit of the season.

    Christmas – the holiday, the idea, the word isn’t offensive. It’s the lack of understanding that not everyone is not like you, if you celebrate the holiday. It’s the majority’s holiday. Not everyone’s holiday.

  49. muah*

    i think if you’re representing a large company you should be very professional and mirror what the large company wants to portray. do they want to be seen as a Christian based company? then fine, go for it. but if they do not then i think it is very fair to ask representatives of the company to not use Christian greetings. Happy Holidays or Seasons Greetings does the job just fine and is inclusive to all.

  50. Meh*

    Thank Fox News for this lady’s reaction to being asked not to offend her clients. Their constant ginning up of a “war on Christmas” has made people hyper sensitive to being asked to use the word Holiday instead of Christmas.

    Yes, I think that it is her right to say Merry Christmas to people. However that right extends to her PERSONAL interaction with people, NOT her PROFESSIONAL one. Once she starts representing her company in email or in conversations, she must follow the company’s policy. If the company wants her to nix “Merry Christmas” from her signature, then she can either do so or find another job, but whining like an entitled little snot is not the way you behave in your work environment. If I was this woman’s manager and she refused to follow a company policy, I’d show her the door.

Comments are closed.