How to respond when someone says 'Happy Holidays'

This is the time of year when we Christians are confronted with the annual dilemma of how to respond when someone says, “Happy Holidays.” Should we respond with, “Merry Christmas!” to make it clear that there wouldn’t be a Christmas holiday had it not been for the incarnation of the Messiah? Should we just respond in kind so as to not offend?

Here’s something simple to keep in mind from your friends at UTG at Work: people can be offended if you try to correct them, but they can’t argue with your experience. After all, we live in a politically correct (PC) society, so no one has the right to tell you that what you feel is incorrect.

So for starters, responding with an emphatic, “Merry Christmas!” can stir up unnecessary hostility. After all, the person wishing you "Happy Holidays" is most likely trying to be nice, and for all you know they may be Jewish, Muslim, or of some other faith that doesn’t believe Jesus to be the Messiah. It’s also true that some organizations have a policy that employees who deal directly with the public must say “Happy Holidays,” so the person may well be a Christian who is only following corporate policy.

Next, keep in mind what St. Paul did at the Areopagus in Athens. He didn’t argue with what the Greeks believed, rather he used it to his advantage. We read in Acts chapter 17:

“You Athenians, I see that in every respect you are very religious. For as I walked around looking carefully at your shrines, I even discovered an altar inscribed, ‘To an Unknown God.’ What therefore you unknowingly worship, I proclaim to you.”

Paul then went on to preach about Jesus Christ. Not everyone who heard it became Christian, but we read in Acts that some of them did join him and became believers. This is similar to the martial art of Jujutsu, where one redirects an attacker’s energy and momentum against them.

As to how to employ this concept, when someone says the dreaded, “Happy Holidays” to you, simply respond with, “Happy Holidays to you as well!” You’ve now got them on your side.

In some cases, such as a quick passing, that may be all you can do. But if there’s an opening, you can follow up with something like: “I just love this time of year. The food, the decorations … and I especially love midnight Mass at my Church. It’s such a wonderful way to celebrate the birth of Christ!”

Now you’ve begun to evangelize in a subtle way, but you’re speaking from your experience without offending them for their experience. And if the person is a Christian — or if they are curious about Christianity — you’ve opened the door to further conversations about the faith.

Will this approach convert someone to Christianity? It may, and it may not as well. But we have to start somewhere when it comes to evangelization. After all, if someone as passionate and devoted as St. Paul couldn’t convert all of the Greeks that he spoke to at the Areopagus, certainly we shouldn’t expect to convert everyone we meet along the way.

Always remember that spreading the good news is like the sower who sowed the seed. Some of it landed on the path, some on rocky soil, some among the weeds, and some on good soil. Our job is not to worry about where the seed falls. Our job is to sow the seed.

So Happy Holidays! May the Lord Jesus Christ whose birth we honor over these Happy Holidays, bless you and yours.

Deacon Michael Houghton is executive director of UTG at Work, an apostolate that seeks to help working professionals live their faith in the workplace and in the wider society. This article was first published at utgatwork.com.

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