DEAR MISS MANNERS: At this time of year, I try to be respectful of the diversity of the people I may meet by wishing them "happy holidays." I like to think this neither assumes what they may celebrate nor imposes upon them what I may celebrate, but still manages to convey my good wishes toward them.
However, I have recently begun to think this may not be entirely appropriate. After all, some people may not celebrate anything at all this time of year, and I would not want to inadvertently offend them. I also think it might be even more respectful to show some interest in offering more than just a generic farewell.
Do you think it would be appropriate to ?rst ask, "Do you celebrate a particular holiday this time of year?" I could then tailor my farewell to their response, from "Merry Christmas," to "Happy Hannukah," to simply, "Have a lovely day." I want to ?nd a balance between being festive and friendly without appearing unduly personal or rude.
GENTLE READER: Please do not go around interrogating random people about their religious af?liations and practices. It is disrespectful of their privacy. Besides, the number you might offend would be considerably larger than the number offended by being wished a generalized or wrong holiday greeting.
Miss Manners is well aware that there are some who do take offense at any such wishes, speci?c or not, including "Have a lovely day." If you really want to protect yourself, you would be better off asking, "Are you the sort of person who makes an issue out of a simple expression of good will?"
But as that, too, would be an invasion of privacy, Miss Manners is afraid you will have to take your chances or wish everyone a happy winter.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: My ?ance and I are planning a "surprise" ceremony during our Christmas party. We're trying to word the invitations for minimal offense to guests who choose not to attend.
What is the best way to make clear, especially after they ?nd out about the ceremony that while we would have LOVED for them to attend our party, it was not mandatory?
My main concern is the few relatives on both sides of the family who will ?nd some way to construe the surprise (only our of?ciant and the two of us know this is going to occur!) as a slap in the face and intentional on our parts to "embarrass" or offend them somehow.
GENTLE READER: Or just to mislead them into thinking it was not an auspicious family occasion so they might miss it?
Perhaps you will be kind enough to explain to Miss Manners what the point is of a surprise wedding. Is the gasp of those present worth the annoyance of those who might have liked to be?
She supposes you could put "to celebrate Christmas and other rites" on the invitation so that your would-be guests would have warning to ask you what on earth you mean before deciding whether the occasion is crucial enough to trump other possible plans.
It would spoil the surprise, of course. But unless you have been married so many times that your relatives are getting bored attending, that would be a good idea.