Are there any issues or concerns a with student giving lecturers Christmas cards? I am apprehensive that the religious connotations of Christmas might offend some card recipient(s). However, if the card is appropriate and professional I can't imagine why it would raise concerns. I wanted to gather the opinions of others in the same position as my possible card recipient(s).

Is it appropriate for students to give university lecturers Christmas cards?

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    I'd like to point out that OP is from Europe, where Christmas is now almost entirely secularised. Nobody here takes offense at receiving a Christmas card on the grounds that they are not Christians. – fkraiem Nov 26 '14 at 9:58
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    fkraiem is right. Christmas cards have no religious connotations to them attached where I live (England.) There are very few people who would actually reject a Christmas card, and of those I don't think many would do for religious reasons, but because they dislike the superficiality of it. But the reason I ask this question is because I want to make sure that cards don't overstep a boundary between students and lecturers. – Lou Nov 26 '14 at 10:10
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    But how does it help if I know that there is a religious stigma attached to Christmas cards in other places in the world, if there isn't one over here? Talking about whether Christmas cards are acceptable within a secular sphere just obfuscates the question, because yes, they totally are here. The question isn't about cultural customs, it's about appropriate relations between lecturer and student. – Lou Nov 26 '14 at 10:21
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    I don't understand the fuss. Even if a card had religious connotations, if someone gave me a Hanuka or Eid card I'd be grateful for the thought. Granted customs vary from country to country, but why be so up tight? I'm completely irreligious and Christmas is my favourite time of the year! I suspect this may be unique to Britain. Besides, Christmas has little to do with Christianity since the celebration is a pagan assimilation. – Lee Nov 26 '14 at 14:40
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    Most Christmas cards are so secularised that I would rather expect Christians to be offended, than irreligious people. – gerrit Nov 26 '14 at 15:23

In my opinion, it is appropriate, but I would get one card and sign it together with your peers.

Others have pointed out that it's culturally dependent. That's surely true. In some countries one will see nativity scenes throughout towns and villages. Personally, I think all other public decorations I remember seeing are pagan, and I'd speculate pagan celebrations ("Christmas" trees, Santa Claus/Father Christmas, lights, etc.) should rather offend Christians than irreligious people.

However, there might be an issue if the lecturer always gets cards from some people but not from others. Therefore, I would recommend to get one card together with your peers, and all sign it together. That mostly eliminates the problem of favouritism.

(Personally, I would not be offended at all by receiving a religious Christmas card at Christmas, a Jewish card at Hanukkah, an Islamic card at Eid, etc. It would make a delightful collection above my desk!)

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  • This is my favourite answer, but I'll give it a few days. It's a really nice idea. I'll probably do that for my main Japanese teacher, it's a small class whom I can easily find. I'll get my linguistics lecturers individual cards, as those classes are a hundred-odd, and passing a card around a slanted lecture would hardly go unnoticed! – Lou Nov 27 '14 at 0:23
  • I'd just like to point out that with the "other religion" cards, you are probably an exception... – yo' Aug 6 '15 at 7:22
  • @yo' What makes you believe so? – gerrit Aug 6 '15 at 8:42
  • @gerrit My own experience. It very likely depends on the country/department where you are. – yo' Aug 6 '15 at 10:15

The religious connotations of word "Christmas" can be confusing and depend on the region. My UK university has Christmas and Easter vacations while most US universities now call these winter and spring vacations. In the US, a Christmas card implies a religious celebration while a holiday card is secular. In the UK, a Christmas card that says "Merry Christmas" would be seen as secular and the same as a US card saying "Happy Holidays". There are of course religious Christmas cards in the UK.

The level of appropriateness (or inappropriateness) of a Christmas card depends on the level of religiousness and the recipient. While I would not say giving a secular holiday card is inappropriate, it is pretty rare. I teach probably 500 students a year and I receive on average of 1 holiday card a year from my students.

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    In the UK, a Christmas card with a picture of the virgin and child might be seen as religious; one with a picture of a snowman wouldn't be. – David Richerby Nov 26 '14 at 19:21
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    I rarely see people actually complain that you're "infringing on their rights" by saying something religious. In general, even if they're not Christian (or of whatever religion you're acting from), they seem to understand that you're trying to be nice. This seems to be much more of a politicized issue among very specific groups than something you really have to worry about on a personal level. – Panzercrisis Nov 26 '14 at 19:41
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    I think that as long as it's not attached to an invitation to attend church it would be fine even here in the US. – Mr. Mascaro Nov 26 '14 at 19:48

Don't do it. First, as mentioned in the comments, not everyone is a Christian. Second, your religion is none of the lecturer's business (unless you're in seminary or something.) Third, your professors are not your friends, at least mostly; they're your professors. Finally, it could be perceived as an attempt to curry favor.

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    Your third and fourth points are valid, but your first two, as I've said in another comment, don't apply where I live. Giving cards has nothing to do with religion in England. (And FWIW I'm not religious.) – Lou Nov 26 '14 at 10:11
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    @LeoKing I don't think that's a safe assumption. First, the lecturers in a UK university might come from anywhere in the world. Second, it appears that some people in the UK don't agree with you either. Do not mistake a watered-down state endorsement of religion for a secular practice. – jakebeal Nov 26 '14 at 13:09
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    Christmas as anywhere I've experienced it (Netherlands, Germany, Sweden, Canada) is almost entirely pagan (santa claus/father christmas, christmas tree, light decorations, etc.). Only in Spain I've seen religious elements in public celebrations. I don't agree at all that there's anything inappropriate about sending a card to the professor for christmas, new year, or birthday, in particular not if you get one card and sign it together, which would reduce Bobs final point. – gerrit Nov 26 '14 at 15:28
  • @jakebeal Thanks for the link of the Wiki page. I didn't know its existence. – scaaahu Nov 27 '14 at 4:31
  • "it could be perceived as an attempt to curry favor.": Oh, c'mon, really. – Massimo Ortolano Nov 27 '14 at 20:48

I have never heard anything saying there are issues, and on a quick search I wasn't able it find anything. Based on my own experience I would think there aren't any major issues in the UK with this (with regard to @dirkk's comment, I think this is again a cultural thing, and giving (suitable) cards to those you know more formally is not considered inappropriate. I think that how common this is is changing rapidly though, and could be very sensitive to respective ages etc).

I think though you are wise to consider whether it's a good idea or not. As you mention, overly familial expressions would be bad. If you're also someone who includes a Christmas letter, that would also be best avoided here, I would say (usually). You should thing about how it will be viewed. Handing over a card along with an assessed project might be different to giving one to a lecturer who will never be marking your work/has no way of identifying it. You might also want to consider the effect of giving one to all/only some lecturers, or if you're the only person doing so.

I take it the question primarily refers to current lecturers, but it is possible the question could be asked about past lecturers, who you might have developed a closer relationship with. In that case, one point to remember might be whether you are likely to be asking them for a reference any time soon.

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Giving someone a christmas (or other celebration, i.e., birthday) card is a (somewhat) personal matter, so that will depend strongly on the personal relation to the lecturer, and also on "general environment". E.g., here some departments insist on strictly "professional" (distant) relations between students and lecturers, others are much more relaxed and friendly. This will probably also vary for undergraduates/graduates, a lecturer you know well (e.g. have been a TA for several terms) and more so between you and e.g. your thesis advisor).

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I would be more concerned about the ethical aspect of this than the religious one. The lecturer is grading your work, so I would suggest that if you do send them a card to leave it until after you have received your grade for the module.

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    If it were a gift of some monetary value, I would agree, but I don't see an ethical problem with giving or accepting a greeting card of negligible value. – Nate Eldredge Aug 5 '15 at 21:32

I'd say it depends on how well you know the lecturer. Have you talked to him/her in a more personal manner?

But in the end: if the country where the University lies does celebrate "Christmas", then I see nothing wrong with a "Christmas Card". Highly-educated people (such as professors or lecturers in the academic domain), usually know something about the culture and what holidays are celebrated (and in what way (commercial/religious)). If it is a tradition to give/send/receive postcards for some holiday they should not be offended by it at least.

A "long story short": When in Rome, do as the Romans. Yes, there are some left-wing "liberalists" who do not like common sense, but hey that's their problem as I see it :)

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