Dear Etiquetteer: I know there's no easy answer on this one. But as December 25th rolls around each year, I tell people whose faith I know, "Merry Christmas," and tell some folks "Happy Holidays" if I am not sure, or if I want to encompass New Years, too. Yet some people seem to think that, by not wishing someone "Merry Christmas," I am contributing to the downfall of society and the secularization of America, and others find "Merry Christmas" to be presumptuous and biased toward one faith.
I simply don't know what counts as proper these days. Life certainly was easier growing up in a small town when I knew what church each person attended. I'm not afraid of offending the overly picky, but what IS proper? When new acquaintances ask gingerly if I celebrate Christmas, I smile and tell them "Absolutely! With bells on!" as that's really the only time I wear my jingle bell bracelet for an extended length of time!
Perhaps, instead of using words at all, you could just ring your jingle bells at them with a big smile and let them construe that gesture as they may. On the other hand, that might peg you as the Crazy Jingle Bell Lady or lead your community theatre to cast you in "Crimes of the Heart," so scratch that.
While many are saddened by the secularization of Christmas, including Etiquetteer, it's an even sadder day when Christians respond critically to a pleasant greeting because it isn't Perfectly Christian. Really, it's enough to make Etiquetteer bark "Bah, humbug!" and just stay home by the Christmas tree in Perfect Propriety. They'd be Better Off -- and Better Christians, too -- by cheerfully replying "I love celebrating Christmas!" instead of making you feel bad.
What is Perfectly Proper is what you are already doing: using specific holiday greetings when you know the holiday a person celebrates, and using the generic "Happy Holidays" when you do not. Etiquetteer was about to say that after December 25 you could safely switch to "Happy New Year" for all, but of course the traditional Twelve Days of Christmas keep right on going until Twelfth Night in January.
Etiquetteer is delighted to wish you a Merry Christmas!
This being the Sunday after Thanksgiving, Etiquetteer would like to remind you that no time could be more Perfectly Proper to send those Thanksgiving Lovely Notes of Thanks to the homes where you enjoyed hospitality this year.