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In many cultures it is considered polite to wish people well on religious holidays (e.g. Christmas, Ramadan, Diwali). I often receive (Christmas) seasons greetings from various (usually US based) services. While I don't find this offensive, I can imagine some people finding it so.

What if anything should we do over religious holidays to be polite and respectful of peoples beliefs while still not alienating others?

Edit: to clarify, I'm speaking specifically about companies doing things like sending emails or putting something on their website. Not general issues of how people treat each other.

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Are we assuming you don't have some level of (assumed / tailored) knowledge about your customers' religion? –  Rachel Keslensky Dec 25 '12 at 18:34
    
"Not general issues of how people treat each other" I think if more companies acted like how they'd like people treating others, there'd be a lot more happy customers. –  DA01 Dec 26 '12 at 0:39
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@RachelKeslensky Yes, that would be a fair assumption as asking for someones religious preferences is very likely to be offensive. –  JohnGB Dec 26 '12 at 7:47
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It's more of a "depends on the business" type of knowledge -- For instance, a retail company dealing with Judaica shops inside synagogues, or a marketing firm that deals with Halal butchers, is very likely NOT dealing with Christian customers. –  Rachel Keslensky Dec 26 '12 at 15:26
    
Christmas is as much a cultural holiday in the states as it is a religious holiday. It's kind of silly for people to get upset over being wished well. Atheists celebrate Christmas here too. –  VoronoiPotato Dec 28 '12 at 14:14
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4 Answers

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It's all about the users.

If you are able to determine that your users are particularly religious, and that they adhere to a particular religion, and your company benefits by also associating with that particular religion, then it's probably fine to leverage a particular religious holiday greeting.

But I imagine that's a tall order for most companies that aren't specifically in the religious industry to begin with.

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Yes, this. If you're a religious business then go ahead and use your religion's norms for these things; if I call a Jewish bookstore I expect to be greated with "shana tova" near Rosh Hashana no matter who I am, and if I call a Christian store I'll expect a "Merry Christmas" around now. But if you sell widgets, why do you need to do anything special at all? Holidays don't compel you to acknowledge them. (Hmm, I wonder if anybody has done a user study on this.) –  Monica Cellio Dec 25 '12 at 21:58
    
@MonicaCellio: Acknowledging the holiday season is also important for marketing purposes, though not as an in-person greeting. If your company is a likely source of holiday sales and/or gift shopping, it's common to email customers something like "Buy holiday gifts from us. Here's what's on sale. For guaranteed shipping, please buy by [XX]." –  Brian Dec 26 '12 at 18:56
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I might say that the greeting is not "all about the users". The obvious holidays which might merit an email greeting would be those that are also national holidays, when people wouldn't normally work. In this light, a greeting in line with that holiday would seem to suffice. So for example, even though Christmas and Easter are Christian holidays, many people also get time off, so send a greeting reflecting that. A recipient who doesn't adhere to that religion is still having a holiday from work because of it, and hopefully would receive the greeting without undue insult.

But, why should the company keep track of the beliefs of its customers anyway? There are alot of holidays the company would have to take into consideration in its attempts to be polite. You couldn't really skip any day with religious significance in case some of the customers are adherents to that particular religion, or aren't. You risk offending everyone!

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This is kind of silly, because I as a Catholic do not even celebrate 90% of our religious holidays publicly, I suspect other religions are the same way. Find the top 3 cultural holidays of the top 5 cultures of your demographic and you can celebrate everyone without losing your appreciation of diversity. –  VoronoiPotato Dec 28 '12 at 14:07
    
Not really a Catholic then are you? Your admission only strengthens my suggestion that an email greeting acknowledging religious holidays may not even be necessary, especially if there are many like yourself who don't even celebrate a given holiday. As some said above, recognizing the country one is in and respecting its laws is a good baseline, if the OP really feels an email greeting is necessary. This way everyone gets the same email on the same days for the same reason: its a holiday, no work! If a holiday hasn't been given an official day off then less need to include it as an email. –  Shane Dec 29 '12 at 9:22
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There's a holiday for almost every single day of the year. Even the most zealous catholic would never publicly celebrate every single feast day. Simply some prayer and going to mass, and maybe a special meal for the occasion. Also telling what someone is or is not is quite offensive, just an FYI. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/General_Roman_Calendar –  VoronoiPotato Dec 31 '12 at 13:09
    
Sorry to offend. Still, I think you make my point, there are just too many holidays/special days in any one religion, so stick with what the government has recognized in terms of work days, IF an email is felt necessary. Nothing silly about that. –  Shane Jan 1 '13 at 13:10
    
Typo: alot –  TRiG Jan 7 '13 at 22:14
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This is a difficult one. I stumbled across the Wikipedia entry for Holiday Greetings, which provides some interesting historical information on the use of "Happy Holidays" and "Season's Greetings". I hate to generalize, but perhaps look at the countries that your users registered from and try to match the greeting to the predominant religion of the country (best-case is obviously to match it to the person, but I assume you are talking about the general case). The CIA world factbook might come in handy here. If there is a chance to alienate/offend your customer base, then perhaps reconsider sending out such greetings en-mass.

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+1 Happy Holidays is what president Obama said on his speach, which is interesting in a religious driven country as the US. I'd say your safe with Happy Holidays. –  Benny Skogberg Dec 25 '12 at 15:08
    
Trying to guess religion based on geography may be right most of the time, but when it's wrong it'll be terribly wrong. It's one thing for a minority to think everybody got the same inapplicable-to-him greeting; it's worse if he finds out that you did adjust but, from his POV, got it wrong. –  Monica Cellio Dec 25 '12 at 19:56
    
In the US happy holidays is the politically correct nondenominational way to wish someone good cheer without endorsing a particular religion. Chanukah, Christmas, and New Years are covered by the blanket statement. –  Charles Wesley Dec 25 '12 at 21:22
    
"Happy holidays" has an implied judeo-christian bias as it is not the holidays for muslims, hindus, or buddhists. Would most Americans be happy if the president said that over Ramadan? –  JohnGB Dec 26 '12 at 17:26
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I think the intent of the message is the important part, and that will hopefully minimize any extremely negative reactions. As JohnGB said in the opening line of his question, it is "considered polite" to send such a greeting. I think as long as the company is honestly trying to just "be polite" and not profit from the greeting message (not listing "items you may like during this festive season" for instance), then the average person will take it as being well-intentioned, even if wrong. –  CJ Franken Dec 26 '12 at 18:58
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I believe everybody should be more polite and respect the traditions and laws of the country that they live in. I see these holidays not from religious point, for me they are about meeting old friends and family, bringing people together and enjoying nice food and each others company. So I guess the question is not how do Catholics need to be polite and respectful of people beliefs, but how non Catholic people should react to these holidays.

I lack belief in gods.

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