It may be late in the game by now, but just in case you have been putting off those holiday greetings to some professional contacts because you weren’t sure what to say: here are some pointers that might be helpful.
1. Christmas? Hanukkah? Festivus?
If you know which of the holidays your contact celebrates, and it is the same as yours: name it! They will feel more like you are speaking to them, personally, if you identify “their” holiday. Plus, if you share the same holiday, it will add to the human connection between the two of you.
If you know which of the holidays is “theirs,” but you don’t share it, then it might be better to settle on “happy holidays.” If you say “happy Hanukkah” when you don’t celebrate it (and especially when your contact knows that), it may be perceived as not authentic, not coming from the heart. (Granted, that depends on a variety of other factors, such as the rapport between the two of you.)
If you don’t know which of the holidays they observe, then “happy holidays” definitely seems like a ready option. You don’t want to assume anything that can cut to the quick of something very near and dear to them. Going beyond that, the even more generic “season’s greetings” will cover anything, including the possibility they don’t really celebrate any holiday at all.
2. Exuberant cheers or quiet reflection?
It can be kind of important to get the mood right when sending holiday greetings. Consider how your contact’s year went. The way it may have been marked by fortune or misfortune (professionally or personally) may affect profoundly the mood in which the holidays find them.
A reference to Christmas bells ringing after tragedy has struck may come across as callous. When particular sensitivity and tact seem to be in order, it may be best to say something like, “Wish you strength to keep the faith,” “Find a season of renewal and peace,” or “Look ahead to a brighter New Year.”
3. Who is included?
On the occasion of the holidays, perhaps it is important to you to show you are thinking not only of that one person but also of those close to that individual. Oftentimes, people come up with the phrase “you and your family.” That is all good, provided they do happen to have a family—one of their own, that is (“your” family).
It might not be the wisest move to just assume, out of the blue, they have family to be with for the holidays. (As this Dilbert cartoon shows, addressing this when you don’t really know the terrain you're treading on can lead to awkward moments, even in everyday work situations.)
Maybe you can keep it in the business realm by extending neat and clean-cut holiday wishes to “you and your staff,” “you and your team,” or “you and your associates.” When in doubt, “you and yours” is the safest bet.
Still not sure what to say for the holidays?
How about bypassing the holiday frenzy altogether and targeting the New Year instead? At least the Common Era calendar is something we all agree on! So, to those of you who were able to keep reading all the way through here:
Happy Winter Solstice! May your days get longer from here for the next six months!