University of Calgary

Merry Christmas?

UToday HomeDecember 19, 2012

By The Faith and Spirituality Centre

At this time of year, the Faith and Spirituality Centre and our chaplains are often asked whether it is appropriate to say “Merry Christmas” to one another, put up Christmas trees in our work areas or other public places and other questions of inclusivity surrounding the December holidays. These are complex topics concerning religion, culture and the public sphere.

While there are many fascinating academic works discussing the topic, we’d like to briefly touch on the importance of saying “Merry Christmas” and acknowledging and learning about other traditions too.

Our response is to the above question is yes. Diversity and inclusion are not about taking away traditions, but about adding and respecting other traditions. If celebrating Christmas is a part of your religion and/or culture, saying “Merry Christmas” to a co-worker, colleague or student is a great idea.

Christmas has many religious and cultural connotations for those celebrating: it’s as a celebration of the Nativity of Christ and a special season to spend time with family and friends. It’s similar to saying “Happy Hanukkah” to those celebrating the Festival of Lights or “Happy Kwanzaa” to those of West African descent who will celebrate their African heritage from Dec. 26 to Jan. 1. Eastern Orthodox Christians in our community — such as Greek and Coptic — will celebrate Christmas on Jan. 7, 2013. Wishes for a bright solstice or Happy New Year are also welcomed by members of non-religious communities who would like to share in the general cheeriness of the holidays.

It is common for those who are a part of the dominant tradition to mistake inclusion to mean not offending. Most people from other traditions won’t take offense to receiving a greeting of “Merry Christmas” just as they would love to hear “Hajj Mubarak” for Muslims recognizing Hajj this past October or “Happy Diwali” for Hindus who celebrated the Festival of Lights on Nov. 13.

Acknowledging all of the celebrations and traditions that are shared by many members of our diverse community is more respectful than diminishing or removing what is seen as the dominant tradition for the sake of not offending.

So this season, when so many different traditions have overlapping holidays, feel free to say “Merry Christmas”, “Happy Solstice”, “Happy Hanukkah” or “Happy Kwanzaa,” and be open to learning about and acknowledging our diverse communities.

For more information on what the Faith and Spirituality Centre offers on campus and in the community, or for more questions on this topic, please visit