by Richard Peters
What? It’s mid-December ALREADY? And I haven’t even bought my stocking fillers yet! Pass me another mulled wine…
As the weather gets chillier and the year draws to a close, I find my mind wandering to thoughts of mince pies and carol singing. But before I can devote myself to the various pleasures of the season I have work to do: formulating or translating salutation after seasonal salutation for our customers. They’re keen to end their final bulletin or magazine editorial for the year on a positive note – and they’re anxious not to offend the sensibilities of any part of their readership.
“But how many times can you say the same thing in different words?” I keep asking. The answer is: really quite a few! In the last week I’ve run the gamut from the classic “We wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year” or “May your New Year be full of health and prosperity” through to more modern “Season’s greetings to you and your family” or “Here’s to a happy holiday season and all the best for 2016”.
But why do we have so many ways to say the same thing?
’Tis the season to be shopping – ka-ching!
Let’s take a look at the phrase “Christmas season” and its variants “festive season” or “holiday season”. Originally, these were synonymous with Christmastide: the twelve days from Christmas Day (25 December) to Epiphany (6 January). But over the course of the twentieth century, as the buying of gifts and the decoration of homes became an ever more important aspect of this time of the year, the “season” grew to encompass the weeks beforehand and the sales afterward.
A stroll through your local supermarket any time after mid-October will soon remind you of what’s coming as you manoeuvre between Christmas trees and seasonal treats piled high in every aisle. But clearly there’s joy in choosing gifts for your loved ones, then wrapping them carefully in festive colours and putting them under the tree. And then there’s all the Christmas cards it’s become traditional (and commercially lucrative) to send to friends and family: of course we can’t write the same boring old message in each one!
’Tis the season to be inclusive – Hanukkah Sameach!
Nowadays in many English-speaking countries, the traditional religious themes of the last few weeks of the year (the Baby Jesus, the Nativity, the Three Kings) is largely ignored in the corporate world; instead, the period is defined by secular aspects such as a focus on gifts and consumption and a preoccupation with non-Christian or de-Christianised figures (Father Christmas/Santa Claus). This shift away from more spiritual considerations and toward more earthly pleasures has coincided with a secularisation of many Western societies, with religion becoming simultaneously more private and less exclusive. With increasing acceptance and celebration of different faiths, it is seen as less appropriate to use purely Christian language and imagery, especially in corporate communications.
As a result, corporate greetings to staff and customers along the lines of “Christmas blessings” or “Happy Christmas” have become rarer. In their place come references to the “holiday season” or simply to the New Year, rather than to the holiday that comes a week earlier. This is certainly the case among the customers for whom we have been composing or translating end-of-year communications.
Most recently there has even been a trend away from imparting a specific message of any kind: this year’s Starbucks holiday coffee cup, for instance, was simply red instead of featuring any kind of “seasonal” – i.e. specifically religious (angel) OR specifically non-religious (snowflake) – design. This has caused controversy in the social media, with people weighing in on both sides of the debate to claim that the coffee chain has either declared war on religion or is pandering to extremists with an abstract design that seeks to avoid the very controversy it has sparked. Against this backdrop, the company’s own statement that the aim was “for customers to create their own stories” seems weaker than a watered-down decaf Americano.
’Tis the season to be counting – Christmas cards
Having just finished writing my own personal greetings to a number of my customers, it’s now time for me to cap my fountain pen and wait for the postman to bring me cards. I wonder what images they will carry – will there be mostly corporate abstractions, or snowy countryside scenes, or perhaps a Baby Jesus or two? I wonder…
And now, dear reader, it’s my turn to wish you and yours a very merry (insert term of your choice here) and a happy, healthy 2016!