Respond to Holiday Wishes by Email

Posted On: December 19, 2015

When working between cultures, sometimes we don’t always know how to respond to holiday wishes by email. Onsite colleagues, clients or business partners may know about when Indian holidays are happening. Especially for the most important festivals like Onam or Diwali or others depending on the region of India the offshore team sits, the American counterpart may send their wishes to you. At times these kinds of wishes may be tricky to respond to because not everyone in an office or team site in India celebrates the same holidays depending on if they are from that local area or not (for instance, a Bengali in Kerala may not celebrate Onam at home) or they do not celebrate that holiday because it is not part of their spiritual tradition. As many major holidays including Onam, Diwali, Christmas and others are celebrated in the office, American colleagues may just assume everyone in the office also celebrates this holiday on their day off. Let’s look at some polite ways to acknowledge holiday wishes if it is a holiday we celebrate or one we do not. 


Respond to Holiday Wishes by Email – Sample Emails 

While we will take a look at examples related to certain holidays, the concepts work for responding to any holidays.

Christmas Display - Phoenix Mall Bangalore
A White Christmas Display in Phoenix Mall, Bangalore, India

How to Respond to Christmas Wishes 

Email from Onsite: 
It’s been great working with you this year. I wanted to reach out to send warm holiday wishes in addition to Christmas greetings, if you celebrate. 
Hepzibah could respond like this:
It’s so nice to read your warm greetings. I also would like extend warm wishes for the holiday and a prosperous new year. 
Note, that while Christmas is celebrated in India both religiously and secularly, there are a large number of people who may not celebrate Christmas, and some may not celebrate New Year on January 1st due to the fact that Indian traditional calendars start their new years on different dates. Therefore, to be culturally competent, one may receive an email such as this from the US counterpart:
Good day. As you know, we will be on vacation for about two weeks for the Christmas and New Year holidays. We start our vacation on (date), returning to the office on (date). I am not sure if you celebrate the holidays during this time of year. However, we’d like to send you warm wishes for the next few weeks until we talk next year.
It’s been wonderful working with you this year. I am looking forward to our ongoing work and partnership in the new year!
Hashim could respond like this:
It’s so nice to read your email and receive your wishes. Yes, as per my family’s culture, we don’t celebrate holidays this time of the year, but as so many do, we take some time to rest and spend time together, which is always welcome.
I know you and your family will enjoy this holiday season. I hope you have a white Christmas as I know you have mentioned that you really like that!
I’m also looking forward to our continued collaboration in the new year.
Until next year.

Decorations for Onam in a Mall in Kerala, 2014
Decorations for Onam in a Mall in Kerala, 2014. The words in Malayalam read “Onashamsakal” or Onam Wishes.

Respond to Holiday Wishes by Email – Onam 

Email from Onsite: 
Hello. I know you and your team will be off for the next few days for Onam. I wish you and yours a Happy Onam. 
Suggested Response #1 (Yes, you celebrate it):
Hi! It’s so nice of you to send me Onam wishes! Onam is our most important holiday. I will be traveling to my native place (home town) to see my family – all of my cousins, aunts, uncles and everyone will be there! I’ll be happy to tell you more about Onam when we come back to work next week! 
Suggested Response #2 (No, you don’t celebrate it): 
Thank you so much for the wishes. I think you must have seen the video of me dancing the Onam dance! While that was a great experience for me, I am actually from a different part of India (Hyderabad) that doesn’t celebrate Onam. I will be traveling home to spend some time with family. I am looking to some home-cooked food and rest! Looking forward to being in touch after the holidays. 


Author, Jennifer Kumar, eating the Onam Feast (onasadya) with family in Kerala, India.
Author, Jennifer Kumar, eating the Onam Feast (onasadya) with family in Kerala, India.

Reply to Diwali Email Wishes

Email from Onsite: 
I remember you mentioning in the last standup meeting that Diwali is in a few days. I wanted to take some time before the holiday to share Diwali wishes. I’d love to wish you in your own language if you want to share that with me!
Jazmine’s Response:
Oh that’s so nice of you. I did not expect to get this email from you, and it makes me so happy that you thought of me! Yes, my family and I celebrate Diwali. In my language, Hindi, you can say, Shubh Diwali, which simply means Happy Diwali. I’ll be happy to tell you about our celebrations when we return to work next week.

Respond to 4th of July Emails

Email from the team in India, also a nice way to check in before a holiday to see if there are any last-minute requests: 
When we held the demo a few days ago, I remember you mentioning that US Independence Day is in a few days. How will you celebrate?
As I know we have a lot to do before the next delivery date, is there anything you’d like me to look into before you go on holiday?
Brian’s Response:
Yes, my family and I usually go to see a parade and visit family and have a big bar-be-que. It’s always fun. It’s kind of like a family reunion as we get to see family members we don’t live close to and get to see everyday. Especially after the last two years of Covid, we are happy to gather again!
I think we are up to date on all the to-dos. Thank you for asking, though. If anything comes to mind, I will ping you.

How to Respond to Happy Holidays

When interacting with US counterparts, you may often hear the phrase “Happy Holidays.” While there are debates about the use of this phrase, it was originally intended to be inclusive of all – regardless of celebrating a holiday or not. In addition, from late November to mid-January, there are many different holidays depending on ethnic, cultural or religous affiliation including Thanksgiving, Advent, Hannukkah, Christmas (sometimes, celebrated by some as late as January 6, though typically the 25th is the pan-US day-off), New Year, and Kwanzaa.
So, the greeting “Happy Holidays” has been used to respect the fact that we may not all celebrate the same holiday. It’s appropriate to respond to this in any of these ways:

Thank you for the holiday wishes. I wish you the same.

Have a nice time off, I’ll be looking forward to touching base when you get back.

Same to you.

Typically, unless we know our US colleague has family they are to visit, we don’t assume any relationships. If they broach it in a conversation, we can respond generally until they offer more information. For instance, if you were speaking and the US counterpart said, “Happy Holidays to you. I hope to spend some quality time with my family.” You could say, “Oh, that’s nice to hear. I am glad you will have time with your family.” Do not ask, “Oh, you’re family, who all will be there?”
Just like responding to similar emails with Indian colleagues or clients, when responding to wishes, the key is to sound conversational and natural. Being to the point or writing responses in bullet points will give a distant or cold tone. In all cases do not ignore these emails. Do not avoid or put off responding. Responding in a warm, interactive way will build relations with your onsite colleagues. 
Feel free to share more ideas of how to acknowledge or respond to holiday wishes by email in the comments section below. 
Are you looking for strategies to communicate with US counterparts from offshore more effectively? Jennifer Kumar, author of this post helps Indian offshore teams and US onshore teams build better business interactions across global borders. Contact us for more information or check out our programs
Related Posts: 
How to respond to Thank You  
Tips on sending acknowledgment emails (with example templates) 
Managing Teams in Different Parts of India 
Photo credit: Hannah Grace at Unsplash
Original publication date: Dec 19, 2015, Updated Dec. 19, 2021


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