Posted by: Grandma LaLa | March 25, 2017

The courtesy of a greeting

Two events in my work life this month have inspired me to reflect upon the courtesy that is the fundamental core of a greeting.

In early March, the company where I’m employed celebrated its 60th anniversary in business. Quite a milestone! In a wide variety of expressions, from emails and texts to “selfie” videos of congratulations, many of our long-standing client customers and business partners sent their greetings.

Some people congratulated the company as a whole. Others specifically mentioned the business owner or even the staff person they have had contact with most directly. All of the people who conveyed greetings on this occasion were celebrating our identity as a business and our 60th anniversary.

In late March, one of my business colleagues will observe her birthday. Her day will start with each of us wishing her a “Happy Birthday!” And of course we’ll also celebrate her with a party of fun food (her choice!) and silly cards.

Whether it’s an anniversary, a birthday, or other special occasion, we commonly acknowledge that, when I express a greeting to you, I’m affirming something about you! My greeting to you shows my respect for you, my courtesy toward you, my appreciation of you. The courtesy at the core of a greeting is about you!

Think about it. When it’s my anniversary, would I say to you, “Happy Anniversary!” in greeting? Of course not! When it’s my birthday, would I say to you, “Happy Birthday!” as a welcome? Of course not! Our greetings to one another are courteous because they reflect and express what we know and value about the person we are addressing.

Even everyday greetings have this dynamic. When I say “good morning” to my co-workers, I say their name as an affirmation of them: “Good morning, Craig” or “Good morning, Linda.”

It’s time for this same level of courtesy, civility, and respect to be included in our holiday greetings. The ongoing uproar in American culture over whether it’s acceptable to greet someone you don’t know by wishing them a “Merry Christmas” fundamentally ignores that the purpose of a greeting is courtesy toward the other person. It’s not about you – or your beliefs – or your religious holidays. It’s about them – and their beliefs – and their religious holidays.

People of many different faiths celebrate holidays in December and January. So what shall we do? How shall we greet people in casual interactions when we don’t know what holidays they celebrate? If I don’t know what holidays you celebrate at year-end, I choose to say, “Season’s Greetings!” This honors you, without assuming that you must be identical to me (I am a Christian and I do celebrate Christmas).

For Christians to insist that everyone should be greeted with “Merry Christmas” because we are celebrating Christmas is the equivalent to expecting that on my anniversary I will wish everyone else “Happy Anniversary” and on my birthday I will wish everyone else “Happy Birthday.” That’s just plain silliness and it’s utterly lacking in courtesy.

I see and hear Christians who are self-righteous about this, insisting upon greeting everyone with “Merry Christmas” in December. For these brothers and sisters in faith, I would prayerfully request that you ponder scripture and the importance, as a Gospel witness, of meeting people where they are.

First Corinthians 8.13 is an excellent example: “Therefore, if what I eat causes my brother [or sister] to stumble, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause him to stumble.” As persons of faith, we are called to meet people where they are and to respect who they are, not to project onto them where we are or what we believe. Surely that includes how we greet them – in ways that welcome, not in ways that distance, dishonor, or disrespect.


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