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A More Inclusive Holiday Greeting

Written by Shaun Bernstein on .

How does your business send out holiday greetings?

Decades ago, warmest wishes for Judeo-Christian holidays were bandied about in corporate communications without even a second thought.

Wishing someone a ‘Merry Christmas’ or a ‘Happy Easter’ was simply de rigueur, without a second thought paid to anyone whose faith or culture does not include these traditions.

Today tides have changed significantly, with a broader societal move towards inclusion and multiculturalism for the variety of faiths and cultures that are now encompassed by the Canadian mosaic.

Leaders and politicians will send out wishes for holidays of each respective faith in their time, and businesses today sooner opt for a generic ‘happy holidays’ than risk leaving out a particular group.

While more conservative neighbours in the United States try to declare such inclusion as a ‘War on Christmas,’ Canadians are generally a little bit more staid, and are genuinely curious to learn more about each other’s cultures and traditions.

Which is why a recent holiday greeting that came across my desk was so puzzling.

A friend had forwarded along a seasonal message that they received from the head of a large organization in light of the Easter long weekend.

The message was heavily Easter themed, which the author acknowledged that he himself would be celebrating with his family.

Broadly speaking, this is of course no problem. There should never be any pushback to acknowledging how you and your family celebrate a holiday, no matter what your faith or traditions may be.

Instead, the troubling issue came down to the subsequent line, which noted that for many people, including newcomers to Canada, the weekend will be celebrated in other ways.

Therein lies the problem from a communications perspective, and the issues are actually two-fold.

The first, and rather glaring portion, is the outright failure to note other traditional celebrations occurring this weekend. If there were none notable that may be different, but this weekend also happens to fall during the Jewish holiday of Passover (one whose roots are closley intertwined with Easter), and also falls during the middle of the month of Ramadan.

The failure to acknowledge both holidays is questionable, but it is more disconcerting that the email effectively creates a binary category of Christians…and everyone else. This is not a communique from a Christian bookstore or religious college, but instead from a large non-denominational institution.

The latter, more subtle error in the communication was the move to lump in new Canadians outside those who may be celebrating differently, or not celebrating at all.

Granted, it may be true that many newcomers to Canada are not of the Christian faith, and will not be celebrating Easter with their families this weekend, and it is important to acknowledge those newcomers as important to this country as everyone else.

What it does though with that positioning is, perhaps inadvertently, connotes that those who do not celebrate Easter are themselves newer to Canada.

This is, of course, patently untrue. While the first Jews arrived in Canada in the mid-18th century, there were already sizeable Jewish communities from the time of the first Canadian census in 1871. When the first permanent mosque was erected in Canada in the late 1930s, Canada’s Muslim population was roughly 700 individuals.

There is no question that this email message was meant to be heartfelt, and that it was intended to offer warm greetings and holiday wishes to likely hundreds, if not thousands of recipients.

Yet the way it was constructed offers a key lesson in storytelling – be careful about how you tell your own story so as not to exclude others.

The greater purpose of storytelling is to be relatable – to offer readers an experience where they can see themselves in that person’s shoes.

It’s not difficult in practice. Speaking about your own experience is something that others can connect with, but true talent in storytelling means telling that story in a way that others can recognize when they’ve shared a similar experience, especially if it’s a situation where your business can provide assistance.

You likely have not set out to set others apart in your client communications, and you don’t intend to set one population as being less than or separate from another. Yet doing so accidentally can be damaging and hurtful, even when poor phrasing is the culprit.

Hiring a professional writer means welcoming a different vantage point when looking at your own shoes. Whether or not they’re writing as you, they’re looking for a way to connect with your audience, and the people who need to hear what you have to say – all of them.

With that, have a Happy Easter, Chag Pesach Sameach, Ramadan Kareem, and anything else that you and yours may be marking this weekend.