OPINION: A Retail Casualty Of The ‘War On Christmas’-‘Happy Holidays’ Conflict

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10 years ago, I decided to start saying “Happy Holidays” at the toy store I worked at. It made people angry back then and, honestly, I’m surprised to hear it’s still making people angry today.

I don’t remember why “Happy Holidays” became my default. Was it an intentional act of inclusion for those who don’t celebrate Christmas? An intentional insult to those who preach the “loving” message of Santa? Was it simply something I’d started doing without thinking?

Yeah, it was probably that, something I didn’t really think about at the time. Despite the very well-publicized War on Christmas, I certainly didn’t think a cordial and sincere “Happy Holidays” would cause much of a stir. And I definitely didn’t expect the outright anger people aimed at me — NOT for ringing them up wrong, NOT for handing them the wrong item, NOT for being too curt as I answered their questions — but for wishing them a “Happy Holidays.”

This was my last Christmas season in retail. The toy store I worked at was in the Chicago suburbs. Though the clientele was diverse, there was no guarantee that the suburb they were from was. Some individuals came from multicultural communities that contained families that didn’t leave cookies out for ol’ Saint Nick, others came from communities where Christmas decorations were essentially a requirement.

It took about three or four “Happy Holidays” before a customer was offended.

“Don’t you mean ‘Merry Christmas’?” the customer asked with a note of irritation.

Too surprised to reply with a sassy quip, I muttered, “Sure, yeah.”

The odd reactions continued. When people implied or outright pointed out I may have uttered the dreaded “Happy Holidays” by mistake, I’d often reply, “Nope! Have a nice day.”

They would walk off in a huff.

Then there was this odd interaction, which happened several times:

“Happy Holidays,” I’d say with a smile, handing the customer their bag and receipt.

They’d lean in, a wicked smile on their face. “It’s okay,” they’d whisper. “You can say it.”

“Say what?” I’d ask, playing dumb.

“Merry Christmas!”

“Oh, no, no, no…” I’d reply. “The store let’s me say whatever I want — I choose to say ‘Happy Holidays.’”

Their smile would turn into a look of disappointment, which would further melt into rage. Sometimes they stomped off, sometimes they called me a jerk. They were clearly hurt. They’d thought I was an ally, a hostage stuck on the wrong side of the War on Christmas, some sort of POW. It was crushing, I suppose, to find out I was a willing conspirator.

Of course, that’s not entirely true either. Not from my point of view, at least. I’ve celebrated Christmas my entire life and I do not believe there is a conspiracy attempting to destroy Christmas… So how could I be a conspirator? (Which is exactly something a conspirator would say!)

Ultimately, I truly mean it when I wish you a happy holiday, even if that holiday is Christmas. I’m surprised to hear from acquaintances in retail that this animosity I saw 10 years ago persists today. I was surprised, too, when Huffington Post wrote about a poll in which 13 percent of respondents indicated that they are offended by “Happy Holidays.”

Which is not to say people aren’t allowed to be offended by that. You’re allowed to express that you’re offended! And I’m allowed to chuckle to myself about it. I’m just irritated when I hear about a customer taking their anger out on a retail employee.

To this day, I am still at a loss of the logic here, the specific root of the “Happy Holidays” offense. The idea of being mad at someone for expressing they’d like your holiday to be happy… It doesn’t make sense to me. It does not seem like an instance where Christians are being excluded. It does not seem comparable to the insult of someone intentionally saying “Merry Christmas” to those they know do not observe Christmas, persons of the Jewish, Muslim or Hinduism faiths, for example. If anything, those angry at “Happy Holidays” aren’t mad that they’re being excluded, they’re angry that others are being included.

Which not only seems selfish, but flies in the face of what the Christmas spirit is supposed to represent.

You want to know what I think? (Probably not, but here I go…) If you’re offended by someone at a retail establishment for saying “Happy Holidays,” suppress your urge to react negatively toward them. Smile, say thank you, then use those negative feelings to do something positive. Throw some extra lights on the Christmas tree, donate to a great organization, handcraft your Christmas-celebrating loved ones a really rad gift.

Trust me, actions speak louder than a few angry words at the person behind the cash register.

Anyway, Happy Holidays!

Mason Johnson is a Web Content Producer for CBS Chicago. You can find him on Twitter.

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