How to Write 10 Common Holiday Greetings

December is here, and that means one thing — it’s time to send end-of-year holiday greetings.

For friends and family, that might be as simple as shooting off a mass text message similar to this one I received on Thanksgiving morning: “Happy Thanksgiving to u all!” But for clients, colleagues, and even connections on LinkedIn and Facebook, minding grammar rules is probably a good idea.

While adding standard best wishes to a greeting card or electronic message sounds simple enough, a few questions about how to write them properly often come up. For instance, should it be “Seasons Greetings” or “Season’s Greetings”? Should “holiday season” be capitalized? And what’s the preferred spelling for “Hannukah”?

So, before you head to your office’s card signing party — or sit down to tackle your own list — consider these guidelines for 10 common holiday greetings:

  1. Best wishes for the holiday season – The holidays are a special time of year, and it’s tempting to emphasize this by capitalizing any word associated with them (and write this greeting as “Best wishes for the Holiday Season”). But stick to the basic rules of grammar, and you can’t go wrong. In general, capitalize only proper nouns, such as the name of a holiday, and the first letter in a sentence.
  1. Deck the halls – Adapting expressions from popular holiday songs can be a fun way to send well wishes, as in “Hope you have fun decking the halls.” But many people wonder whether it’s necessary to capitalize the adaptation or set it off with quotation marks. Usually neither is necessary. Unless proper nouns or the start of a sentence is involved, lowercase is appropriate. Quotation marks can be used to emphasize the fact that you’re borrowing from what might be licensed material, but if the expression is well-known, using them is more a matter of preference than official style.
  1. Happy Hanukkah – The biggest question many people have is about the right way to spell the name for the Jewish Festival of Lights. Hanukkah, Hannukah, and Chanukah are all common spellings — and Webster’s New World Collegiate Dictionary even lists Hanukka and Hanuka as alternatives. But Hanukkah is often the first listing in dictionaries and is the preferred spelling in the Associated Press Stylebook.
  1. Happy Holidays – With so many people celebrating different holidays at the same time of year, this has become a catch-all greeting to cover everything. While “holidays” isn’t technically a proper noun, in this instance, it is being used to replace words that are (substitute “Christmas,” “Hanukkah,” “Kwanzaa,” etc.). So, capitalizing it is common practice and is acceptable even when it’s part of a sentence, as in “Happy Holidays to you and your family.” Outside of this use, lowercase “holidays,” as in “I hope you enjoy the holidays.”
  1. Happy New Year – The official holiday is New Year’s Day, but it’s acceptable to keep the capital letters for this standard greeting. In some other uses, however, lowercase is more appropriate, as in “I hope your new year is off to a great start.” Also, note that New Year’s Day and New Year’s Eve are written with an apostrophe before the “s.”
  1. Joyous Kwanzaa – The correct spelling for the holiday is “Kwanzaa.” Do not confuse it with “kwanza,” the Swahili word meaning “first,” which the holiday is derived from.
  1. Merry Christmas or Merry Xmas – “X” is the symbol for the first letter in the Greek word for Christ and has long been used as a shortened spelling of the holiday. But some people are put off by the substitution. If you’re not sure about the preference of the person you’re sending greetings to, you won’t go wrong with “Merry Christmas.”
  1. Peace on earth – Similar to “deck the halls,” capitalize “peace” only if it begins a sentence. No need to capitalize “earth.”
  1. Season’s Greetings – Multiple holidays are celebrated in one combined season, so use an apostrophe and “s” to show that you are sending greetings of the season. Also, treat this catch-all greeting like “Happy Holidays” and capitalize both words.
  1. Warm wishes – If trying to remember when to capitalize is too taxing, keep it simple by avoiding words that might need it.

Chances are most people will care less about your grammar and more about the sentiment of your greetings. So, whether you use these guidelines or not, remember to take a moment to send well wishes to clients, colleagues and friends.

Happy Holidays!

About Calmetta Coleman

Calmetta Coleman is Director of Editorial Services and Corporate Media at Ketchum. A journalist-turned-PR pro, she frequently offers unsolicited advice and timeless tips for writing in today’s communications environment. She hopes someday to take up swimming, tennis, and piano; in the meantime, she is the mom of two grade-schoolers. Connect with Calmetta on Facebook or on Twitter - @Calmetta.