Jacqueline Bruscella, SUNY Oneonta – Happy Holidays

Do you say Happy Holidays or Merry Christmas?

Jacqueline Bruscella, assistant professor of communication at SUNY Oneonta, says your choice may depend on your speech community.

Dr. Jacqueline Bruscella, Assistant Professor of Communication in the Department of Communication and Media at the State University of New York, College at Oneonta, presents her research on holiday greeting rituals as expressions of social change, published in the Western Journal of Communication.

Dr. Bruscella’s academic interests generally lie within organizational communication, specifically in the communicative constitution of organizations and language and social interaction. Recently, her research has focused on how organizations legitimize themselves through discursive techniques, such as naming and labeling practices. In her research, she’s discussed everything from responses to Paula Deen’s expressions of race and racism, to eradicating terrorism through propositions of organizational naming.  Generally speaking, Dr. Bruscella is interested in the language of everyday life and how we use words to “do things.”

Dr. Bruscella holds a Ph.D. in Communication from the University of Oklahoma, an M.A. in Speech Communication & Rhetoric from Hofstra University, and a B.A. in English and History from Lafayette College. One not to let the grass grown beneath her feet, she enjoys world travel, live music, and hiking with her dog, Scout.

Happy Holidays

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We’ve all experienced it: that moment in December, in the supermarket or at the post office, when you attempt to end a conversation with what was once a simple, and rather unremarkable, yuletide greeting.  “Merry Christmas”

Yet, Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays, these once uncontentious holiday greetings are now fraught with new implications and divergent meanings.  So much so, they are considered to be at the heart of the annual debate dubbed the ‘‘War on Christmas.” 

My research suggests that different religious and non-religious groups constitute different speech communities. Each community engages in specific, and oftentimes contradictory, ways of making sense of the world.

Importantly, it is not enough to know the rules of a language, but we must also know what is socially and culturally acceptable in an ever-changing social landscape.

Some people saw social change as unwelcome and undesirable. As one participant explained: “Well, there’s a big movement in our country to take everything that says ‘Christmas’ out. They’re destroying anything that has to do with Christ, for whom this whole business is about, and that’s wrong!”

On the other end of the spectrum, there were those who framed social change as necessary and desirable. For them, ‘‘Happy Holidays’’ was the greeting they chose in an effort to be inclusive.

But then there were those folks in the middle, who framed social change as somewhat inevitable. For these individuals, the decision to say ‘‘Merry Christmas’’ or ‘‘Happy Holidays’’ was contextual. Importantly, I argue that it might be these folks—those who see social change as inevitable, and are thus somewhat ambivalent about it—who are a significant force driving social change.  They speak strategically, fully aware of the social consequences of their language choice. They are conscious of their words and behaviors in order to avoid offending others, which may shed light on our progress towards becoming a more culturally sensitive society.

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