Christmas at the office is bad for diversity


Countless workplace studies have shown that a diverse staff is likely to outperform a homogenous staff. So with all this talk about diversity, why are we still hanging Christmas wreaths at work?

Not everyone at the office celebrates Christmas, and acting as if everyone has the “holiday spirit” squelches the spirit of workplace diversity.

Diversity in the workplace is not “diverse religious expression.” Diversity should express itself in how people approach business problems. Religion is not appropriate at work in the same way that politics is not appropriate; both are divisive.

Corporate events that are tied to religion make people who don’t practice that religion feel like outsiders and therefore inhibit diversity. (And those of you who think Happy Holidays is non-sectarian, please realize that almost all non-Christians I know hear “Happy Holidays” as “Merry Christmas to those of you who do not celebrate it.”)

For me, the Christmas problem starts early – at Yom Kippur, which usually falls in September. This is the most important holiday for Jews, but I have never gotten this holiday off from work. I take vacation days to observe Yom Kippur. And I don’t complain about using my vacation days because it is absurd to think everyone should stop working because the Jews have a holiday.

But as workers, Jews have to observe Christmas. For us, it’s a weird day to be off from work. No stores are open. There’s nothing on TV. Most restaurants are closed. It’s a boring day, a good day to be at work. So when Christmas rolls around, many Jews would be happy to work on the 25th and have a more useful day off. But we are forced to take a holiday.

Given the nothingness of Christmas to most Jews, it is absurd how much Christmas cheer that Jews partake in just to fit in at the office.

Vendors send Christmas cards, co-workers say “Happy Holidays,” clients expect Christmas gifts. Jews partake in all these moments because the best way to succeed at work is to fit in. The bottom line is that Jews are forced to be what they are not in order to fit in, and that is never good when you’re trying to promote the diverse expression of ideas.

I can already hear the uproar: “Christmas is not about religion!” It’s always the Christians who say that. Christmas is about religion because Christians celebrate Christmas.

Jews don’t do Christmas. Muslims don’t do Christmas. Buddhists don’t do Christmas. And no one rants and raves about how religious or nonreligious Christmas is except the Christians. That’s because they feel they have authority over the holiday – it’s theirs.

Here’s an exercise for those of you who have gotten to the bottom of this column and are infuriated (I know you’re there – you send e-mail to me every December): Try to see my point of view. Even if you don’t agree with me, acknowledge that my point of view represents a minority in the workplace. If you cannot step outside yourself and see things from a minority perspective, you will not be able to manage minorities. And if you want your career to be upwardly mobile, you need to be able to manage diversity.

If you want to be kind and generous and contribute to peace on earth in the New Year, help minorities to fit in. Open your mind to experiences that are different than your own. Look at ways your office makes diversity difficult and fix them. You can start by getting rid of those Christmas wreaths.

64 replies
Newer Comments »
  1. Wendy
    Wendy says:

    … I won’t dispute the perspective in your post. It’s certainly valid

    But, I’ll add one defense of the workplace honouring a Christmas break — it becomes a time when virtually no deals are done. So everyone can therefore relax. It’s a time when many people — of all religions or none — can shut off the blackberry, not worry about checking e-mail or voice mail, and relax with your friends, family, a good book, a movie, or take a vacation.

    In the industry where I currently work, similar but less complete slow downs happen around school spring break, and in August — times that have nothing to do with religion, and more the local school calendar.

    My family isn’t religious. So we take advantage of the time off to be together.

  2. bruce
    bruce says:

    I am a Christian, but I can see your perspective. I live in New Zealand and Christmas is the start of are big summer holidays so I guess it have not been so much of an issue and really. We are all (no matter what religion or none) looking forward to the long summer holiday at the beach. Everyone is glad of the break – no matter what triggers it.

  3. Liz
    Liz says:

    I really enjoy your blog. I am a Catholic living in Israel. My fiance is Jewish. To some extent I agree with what you write here. Since I worked in the US mainly in the nonprofit sector, and the president of the last place I worked for was Jewish, I never encountered much of this. There was a floating holiday that Jews took for Yom Kipur. Most of the rest of us were discouraged from taking the floating holiday at all. Then they got Christmas off, like it or not.
    In Israel, it is a different story. There are many more religious holidays that you get off, like it or not. This Sunday is a holiday for us for Hanuka. Christmas will pass by without a mention, as will Easter. No floating holidays for these days, and Sunday is always a working day here. Ramadan also doesn’t get a mention here, and certainly not a holiday.
    We had Yom Kipur off, and by the way, you shouldn’t drive on yom kipur in Israel.
    We get a couple of days off for Rosh Hashana, and in between the celebrations relevant to my fiance and myself there were 5 rosh hashana parties for our departments. Passover is the hardest to get accustomed to, since not only are there various days off, but bread, pasta, cereal, cookies, etc. aren’t sold in supermarkets. Most supermarkets in Israel are kosher anyway, so your choice of what to buy is limited by religion. And of when to buy. They are closed on Friday afternoon until Saturday night.
    I like rosh hashana. It is very joyful, there are a lot of parties, everyone tells you shana tova all the time, people cook delicious food. Okay, it has nothing to do with me since I am not Jewish, but it is nice. The holiday season in Israel is October, with rosh hashana, yom kipur and sukkot.
    In the US, the holiday season is in December, whether or not it is relevant to you because of your religious background. I think it is nice to have a holiday season.
    But I agree with you that giving a lot of religious holidays and celebrating them excessively does tend to make those outside the dominant culture feel excluded. People should tone it down in the office. By the way, we were in Jordan a year ago, and it is hard to sleep with the muezzins waking you up several times in the morning…

    * * * * * * *

    Liz,This is a really fresh perspective on the topic. Thanks.

    – Penelope

  4. Cara
    Cara says:

    Wow, this post really opened my eyes. I’m a Christian but belong to an ethnic minority. Your post showed that even people like me can take some things for granted when it comes to diversity issues. Thank you for sharing your perspective and opening my mind this morning!

  5. Benjamin Strong
    Benjamin Strong says:

    Working for a military branch of the U.S. Government we don’t have a holiday party. Instead, we have “morale” parties spread out throughout the year. We do have one in December but it is more to celebrate another successful year. It helps to defuse the whole Christmas thing and keeps the party light and secular.

    Another incentive is that we offer early liberty (time off) when the party winds down. Everyone, regardless of religious affiliation, can appreciate going home early!

  6. John Ramseur
    John Ramseur says:

    I’m a new reader as of Monday.

    Your statement “Countless workplace studies have shown that a diverse staff is likely to outperform a homogenous staff” is the premise of your article.

    Could you point me to some of those studies?

    Do you have any experience with employers who celebrate Jewish holidays?


    * * * * * * * *

    John, the links at the beginning of the post are to three books that explain why diversity is good for the workplace.I have worked at offices that have floating holidays and you take off whatever day you want. Check out Liz’s comment for great examples of employers celebrating Jewish holidays.


  7. Marisa
    Marisa says:

    Thanks for this article.

    It’s very hard to address the whole “Christmas for non-Christians” issue without being perceived as “whiny.” You do an especially nice job of explaining why Christmas is NOT a “secular holiday,” and also why many Christians have the luxury of believing that it is.

  8. Ilya Grigorik
    Ilya Grigorik says:

    Well, it seems like I’m going to become a dedicated contrarian on your blog! :)

    Interesting post, but I think this problem goes away once you forget your own religious affiliation. I’m young, but I grew up in ‘USSR’ – we never celebrated Christmas there. Coming to Canada, it was both a shock and a sweet surprise (hey I was a kid!). Point is, my family, like many others do not celebrate Christmas as a religious holiday; Christmas is just a special time of the year when you can put everything aside and see humanity at its best.

    I don’t see how this is any different from having an office ‘getaway’ to boost team morale. You build your team spirit, you communicate, you enjoy your time. It’s breath of fresh air in an otherwise hectic year of never ending work.

    I admit, it may not be ‘fair’ that your holiday preferences do not coincide with the ‘Christian’ calendar. However, I think ‘Christmas’ has already lost much of its religious context in North America (certainly seems to be true in Canada).

  9. Rick Cottle
    Rick Cottle says:

    As a Christian, I am serious about my faith, and am daily trying to learn more about God, live like Jesus, and apply these things in my life. I am not boasting because in most of this I feel like I’ve got a long way to go. I certainly don’t corner the market on spirituality.

    You indicate that Christians say that Christmas is not about religion. Unfortunately, that is probably true because I believe most people who identify themselves as Christian only do so because of tradition. They were raised in a church, they are faithful about attendance, well at least twice a year on the two big ones, and give faithfully, a dollar to the bell ringers that used to be outside of Target.

    I don’t see how anyone who really identifies with Christ could say that Christmas is not about religion. I truly believe that our country was founded by very religious Christians. In their wisdom they created a country that protected the believers of all faiths–or none at all. I believe that while 98% or some very high percentage of the people were more or less devout Christians (maybe for the first 100 or more years) it was acceptable to have Christian holidays as part of the national calendar. I have a hard time today insisting that Federal and State workers get the day off when the majority of them either do not believe in Christ at all, or do so out of religious tradition.

    I loved your point about diversity in the workplace being about diverse ways to solve business problems, and not about diversity of religion. I also don’t think it is about diversity of sexual orientation, which is what it too has become focused on. You may find it interesting that a family that we are close to, who are leaders in our church and a model for me regarding living according to these principles, do not even celebrate Christmas. They instead celebrate the Jewish holy days. They do the Passover, the Festival of Lights, of Trumpets, Hanukah, etc.[Note: I may have some of these wrong, but you get the idea.] Why? Because they so want to identify with Jesus (who of course was Jewish) that they try to live each year celebrating the things He celebrated.

    I am with you about Christmas in the workplace. Give me the floating holidays and I’ll use them for Christmas, you don’t have to, and everyone should be happy.

  10. Anton Chuvakin
    Anton Chuvakin says:

    Hmm, I celebrate Christmas *because* it is a day off. I’d celeberate Yom Kippur as well, IF it were a day off. But it is not, for whatever reason.

    To be honest, New Year Day is my fave, but I don’t mind celebrating other people’s religious holidays, just for fun. What’s wrong with that?

    Thus, at least my own atheistic example shows that Christmas is JUST a holiday, not a “religious holiday.”

  11. stever
    stever says:

    seems like you’ve got a pretty good christian following with your blog, eh..

    the floating holiday does seem very nice — the only problem is that workaholic / extreme career fathers and mothers might not take them off if they are an option.

  12. Dylan Tweney
    Dylan Tweney says:

    Actually, I know Buddhists who celebrate Christmas. And I know a lot of atheists who celebrate Christmas.

    Rather than calling Christmas a “Christian” holiday, I think it would be safer to say it’s a “commercial/Christian holiday.” Your point about it being divisive in the workplace is probably apt, unless you’re working in one of those workplaces that make money from the Christmas retail season — in which case the holiday is a major business event.

  13. MyNameIsMatt
    MyNameIsMatt says:

    As an atheist, and one raised as a Christian, I definitely appreciate this post. Thanks. There’s so much I could ramble off on this, but your post was just right for me, so why be an echo.

  14. MitchH
    MitchH says:

    Oh boy…whiney. One good thing, we can just revert back to saying “Merry Christmas” instead of the insipid and weak “Happy Holidays”. Thanks for the permission! I don’t use “Happy Holidays” in most cases unless I am lumping in Thanks Giving or New Year’s but anyway. PC = stupid. Give the baby a bottle. Besides I suspect that more and more stores are/will be open on Christmas day and TV well, you are wrong about that. The horror of your suffering is just terrible. Where is that eyes rolling emoticon…

  15. Joanne
    Joanne says:

    I am a new manager (less than 1 yr), and I have a VERY diverse department. I have really been struggling with how to approach the holiday, and your column is very timely for me. My issue: I came from a fairly homogenous department (okay, several ethnicities, but Christian/lapsed Christian), where my managers always handed out cards, small gifts, etc. Now I’m in an ethnically and religiously diverse department, and I don’t want to inflict my (secular!) Christmas on non-Christians. But I want to recognise their contribution to the department with a token of my appreciation (that’s how I was justifying the whole department getting something). I don’t think it will necessarily offend anyone when I hand out baking – inspired by another one of your old columns, Penelope! – but I didn’t know what to do about cards.

    I asked my manager for advice, she suggested “Happy Holidays”. It seems weird, though. It’s like saying, “Merry Christmas to most of you, and to the rest, have a nice 4-day weekend”. At least on Boxing Day the stores will be open again.

    How would you advise handling cards? Should I stick with the plates of cookies and just not give cards?

    * * * * * * * * *


    Great question. Cards are very nice, especially if you write a nice note of thanks that is special for that person. Keith Ferrazzi suggests, in his book, Never Eat Alone, that you give out the cards and gifts at Thanksgiving. That seems like a good idea to me. You have probably already missed that, though. You can do cookies and a card for New Years. Lots of Jewish people, including me, who want to participate in the spreading of goodwill but do not want to participate in Christmas send New Years stuff. (Note to all my friends who are expecting cards and cookies from me at New Year’s: The blog is taking up an insane amount of time and there might be nothing for New Years except a new post on the blog.)


  16. David
    David says:

    I’ll leave out the sarcasm, but I have to agree with Mitch. A few points:

    1) Why not take “Happy Holidays” for what it is: a sincere attempt by your coworkers to be sensitive that not everyone celebrates Christmas?

    2) Why not decorate your office space as you see fit, for whatever holiday you want. Isn’t that what diversity means? The fact that some do not celebrate Christmas should not prohibit others from doing so, just as others should not prohibit you from expressing your faith.

    3) I am not a practicing Christian, and run in fairly secular circles, but I have never heard anyone, anywhere, ever say that “Christmas is not about religion”. I’m afraid I have to call BS on that comment.

    4) Have you ever talked with your employer about the possibility of working on Christmas in exchange for another holiday off? If not, perhaps you should. While not everyone could swing this, there are plenty of jobs that can be done in the peace and quiet of an empty office.

    5) Instead of getting rid of the wreaths, why not add a menorah? Sensitivity runs both ways…

  17. Wendy
    Wendy says:

    Re: New Years cards / token gifts.

    Thanks Penelope. This is a great suggestion. It also allows you to take any holiday time you might get around Dec 25 to write your cards!

    I would think a “Happy New Year” card is something that could be sent until mid January, too. And in business terms, sending a January card (when everyone else sent Christmas cards) would put you on client radar screens right at the start of the year when they’re ramping up business instead of when they’re winding down for the holiday.

  18. Diana
    Diana says:

    Re: David’s comment from yesterday, but not directly addressed to that individual: I agree on some points, but I also think it is very hard for most Americans to look at this subject objectively. Even if someone were not raised in the church, many of your family members and friends are probably Christian and/or celebrate Christmas. Saying something like “put up a menorah” just trivializes the Jewish experience in America. I’m not Jewish, but I know enough about the religion to realize that Channukah is not a synonym for Christmas. How is a small menorah supposed to compete with the Christmas cluster@#!!* displays you see *everywhere* in people’s homes, in stores, at the White House…?! Jews and others of non-Christian backgrounds have to put up with the Christmas hoopla for an entire month, starting around Thanksgiving (around Halloween in some stores!) and lasting through the end of December. There is no equivalent to this insanity in Judaism or other religions in America. There is no Jewish Santa Claus, no Muslim Christmas Tree, no Atheist Messiah. It’s like the laws that allow religion in school, but only expect that religion to be Christianity (the other kids can just meditate quietly while “everyone else” prays to the Lord “our” God).

    The reason why it is FREQUENTLY advised to avoid religion, politics, and sexual orientation at work is because these topics can be so divisive. What would happen if sometime around elections every employee plastered their cubicle with political paraphenalia? I don’t doubt this happens in some places, but it seems like such a crazy thing because it would alienate people of opposing viewpoints and destroy teamwork (I’m not do #$%! for him, because he votes a Republican/Democrat/Green Party etc.!!) It’s no so different with Christmas, except that many non-Christians have just conceded that December is for the Christians and it better to go with the flow than to stand up and say “NO, I will not pray with you over this company potluck!” The attitude is so much that Christmas/Christianity is the mainstream, the status quo, and everyone else is “alternative” to that.

    My point is that it is hard for Christians (by religion or inheritance) for understand what Christmas is like for people who do not share your background.

    * * * * * * * * *

    Diana,Thank you for this thoughtful and insightful comment. Often, the best way to make a point is by analogy to something that is better understood, and you do an excellent job of this.


  19. christian cowboy
    christian cowboy says:

    Wonderful post. I am a minority non-christian and have noticed the proliferation of xmas trees and christmas lunches, etc. at work. It’s quite annoying really. But then again I am surrounded by old-school farts.

  20. Reena Lederman Gerard
    Reena Lederman Gerard says:

    THANK YOU for such a timely post!!!! This evening I attended my husband’s faculty holiday party. We were the only Jewish family (there was one Buddhist family attending). When we said we were leaving early to go home and light the menorah, we were met with a somewhat negative attitude. I would have expected a “Oh, enjoy your holiday!” or “Happy Chanukah”. Just something to acknowledge the difference, but no, nothing.

    Regarding the “Christmas isn’t a religious holiday” comment: I have heard this before and it really ticks me off – it is absurd to say that, unless you are willing to acknowledge the pagan history beneath it (but this is still religious, just not Christian). I have also had people say that red decorated stockings, wreaths, and "Happy Holidays" signs are not religiously oriented! Those are ubiquitous symbols of Christmas in our country and anyone who suggests otherwise patently lying.

    The day off issue: I have offered to work on Christmas many times, but have never had my offer seriously considered. When I have explained to co-workers that I have to take personal days if I elect to observe my holidays (Passover, Yom Kippur etc.) and that they get Christmas off by default they say well, it is the winter break or winter holidays – €“ as if a winter break ought to be standard fare. They simply do not see that non-Christians are effectively shorted a paid holiday by most businesses and our government. Public schools use those terms to be politically correct, but oddly enough, that "winter break" always falls over December 25th!

    Oh! What about all those classroom materials around this time of year???? My daughter was in tears last year when every coloring sheet, every little handout, had a Christmas theme (in a public school). She asked her teacher about marking Chanukah on the calendar and the teacher said there wasn't room to put a little paper menorah up next to the little paper tree. This year's teacher is a big improvement in that vein, however, her class didn't discuss Kwanza. And, I might note, there are very few African Americans in her school. Why aren't they talking about all of these, and what about Eid-ul- Fitr or Winter Solstice? How can we espouse diversity and then fail to teach our children?

    My final comment: I must add that Chanukah is not an important Jewish holiday, but that isn't the point. The point is that non-Christians are forced into some level of Christmas participation if they want to "get along" with others AND that non-Christians do not get equal compensation when they have to give up one of their precious personal days to be religiously observant.

    Okay, done with my rant – €“ the whole thing bothers me greatly, and I appreciate reading everyone' s thoughts on this and being able to share mine.

  21. Mike Hobart
    Mike Hobart says:

    From observation, it seems in recent years that Christmas has been turned into a secular holiday to a large extent. Even the venerable “Carols By Candlelight” telecasts on Australian television seem to be an excuse for soap opera stars to raise their profile as singers. My minister swears he heard one group perform a Christmas carol and leave out all the verses that mentioned God!

    Oh well, happy holidays to you anyway.

  22. Bettina
    Bettina says:

    I’m so glad you said this, Penelope. I think the positive responses to other kinds of celebrations your commenters shared show that there are viable and non-‘whiney’ alternatives to the Christmas madness.

    And this year, I’ll send out New Year cards–what a good idea!

  23. John Schneider
    John Schneider says:

    I strongly disagree with this article. The proposition that all Christmas symbols, no matter how commercial or secularized, should be banned from the office in deference to diversity is absurd. I seriously doubt that Christmas causes divisiveness among minorities in the same sense that politics does. I know of no African American or Hispanic leader, group or movement that is agitating for the removal of Christmas from the workplace. Likewise I have heard no protests from any Muslim, Hindu or other non-Jewish religious groups. This is understandable as most Hispanics are Catholics, Muslims believe in the virgin birth and Christianity is so fundamentally different from eastern religions that most adherents do not view it as threat to their beliefs. While Ms. Trunk defends her position based on a general appeal to "diversity," I doubt Ms. Trunk speaks for very many non-Jewish minorities. This article is really part of an on-going dispute involving a small but vocal minority of Jews and the Christian traditions of the Western World. I don't mean to sound callous or insensitive. Although I am a gentile, I can understand that it must be difficult for Jews to be surrounded by a festival devoted to the birth of someone that Jews at best view as misguided. However, Christmas is a long-standing tradition in the United States and rest of the Western World as well as in South and Central America. As such, many offices and workplaces observe the holiday to some extent. What is the alternative? Banning Christmas and telling workers that they are prohibited from displaying any signs of Christmas cheer? I can understand objections to displaying an object as overtly religious as a nativity scene, but come on, is it really necessary to pull down Christmas wreaths? Is this really being tolerant of other customs and traditions. And while it may be difficult for Jews during this time of the year, I doubt it would be easier for them if they were the reason the office Christmas party was cancelled. Jews do have their own cultural and religious state, generously funded by American taxpayers, 98% of whom are not Jewish. Let other countries keep their customs. Jews have Israel; let the rest of the world have Christmas.

  24. David
    David says:

    Diane, you may not have been addressing me directly, but you managed to misquote me to make your point.

    I did not propose to just “put up a menorah”, but suggested one “add a menorah”. Its a small but important point: that diversity is about adding to our culture, not taking things away.

    If you’d rather spend your time trying to take away someone else’s cherished traditions, that’s your perogative. But understand that people like you only serve the purposes of the “war on christmas” right-wing fanatics.

  25. Diana
    Diana says:

    David… I apologize for misquoting your “add” as a “put up”… they seemed synonymous to me so I didn’t even notice.

    I am not waging a “war on christmas”, nor am I trying to “take away someone else’s cherished traditions” (how ridiculous and futile!). The “perogative” of my comment was only to show the other side of the coin, what the Christmas season is like for people who don’t celebrate Christmas.

  26. Christie
    Christie says:

    I agree Penelope! Offices should not have holiday parties. If the company really wants to have a party and invite all the employees, why can’t it be a summer picnic party? Everyone can enjoy the celebration that way. And just because there might not be work going on at some offices this time of year doesn’t mean that deals are flying elsewhere. My father is going nuts right now trying to re-sign all of the vendors for a hospital system and get the budget in order for the beginning of next year. This is a very busy time for people like him. He would probably be happy not to have a holiday party to attend and rather would love to have the time to finish some work.

  27. kareem
    kareem says:


    It seems ironic that you write “Open your mind to experiences that are different than your own…. You can start by getting rid of those Christmas wreaths.” It seems like homogeneity in the workplace will only increase divisiveness and resentment.

    Opening your mind to differences doesn’t mean stamping out your own traditions, but experiencing others’.

    Perhaps a better solution would be to celebrate everybody’s traditions and customs… that’s truly opening your mind to diversity.

    This, in fact, is exactly what an old public school teacher of mine did–we learned about christmas, hanukah, yom kippur, ramadan, etc. The experience was much more successful at helping kids relate to each other than banning celebration or learning about each others’ cultures and traditions.

    Also, I feel the workplace is a place where conversations and decorations about religious holidays should be welcome. Saying those conversations aren’t “professional” is disingenuous. The concept of “professionalism” is overrated–it’s far too often a shield that people hide behind, and people still talk about sex, drugs, religion, politics, etc anyways.

    A more successful strategy for your workplace is to make it more human… I wrote about this a couple weeks back, you might be interested:

    Great blog, btw. Subscribed.


    * * * * * * * *

    Hi, Kareem.
    Minorities do not want to celebrate their holidays with the majority. It is uncomfortable. Only people in the majority at work would suggest that the minority also join in and bring their holidays to work.

    But, aside from that, I really like the link you posted up there in the comment. It is not particularly related to minorities and Christmas in the workplace, but your post does list some really good, innovative ways to create a positive workplace.

    Your comment is actually a great example of why diversity is important. You have a different perspective on Christmas than I do — and it bugs me. But I like having your dissenting opinion here because you introduced me to the new ideas that you linked to.

    Thank you, Kareem.


  28. kareem
    kareem says:

    Hi Penelope,

    Thanks for the reply. I think it’s dangerous to generalize like you did here: “Minorities do not want to celebrate their holidays with the majority.”

    I was raised in a Muslim and Catholic household growing up, and had no qualms about sharing either religions’ celebrations with friends at my largely jewish and buddhist school, just like I enjoyed experiencing seders and bar/bat mitzvahs growing up (I’m now agnostic). But then, I grew up in Canada where the political and religious climate is significantly different from the US (I’ve been living in the US for 5+ years).

    I think my larger point still stands, however: hiding peoples’ differences rather than sharing and celebrating them only serves to increase divisiveness, resentment, and ultimately, fear. It’s only through shared experience and communication can we learn to understand each other to truly be comfortable with diversity.

    I love how you moderate the discussion here, btw. Some really thoughtful comments and a really low a$$hole factor! :)


  29. maria
    maria says:

    As in rome do what the romans do. Christmas is a time to reflect on Christs birth. If you do not like it then dont get involved. When we go to your country we dont expect change. Happy Christmas not happy holidays what a load of do gooders / pc people you all are. This is a Christian county lets keep it that way. If you dont like it leave.

  30. Caitlin
    Caitlin says:

    Hmmm… not sure if I entirely agree with this. I understand that this may be the way you feel but I think everyone reacts differently. I also don’t think you can talk about “minorities” as if they are all one. Kareem’s comments above reinforce my existing beliefs.

    Firstly, you talk about non-Christians as if everyone who is not Christian is therefore a member of another religion. This is probably more true in the US, which is an exceptionally religious society compared to Europe or Australia, but it’s not particularly true elsewhere and it’s not true all of the time in the US.

    I know a lot of people who are atheists or agnostics, and while more militant atheists probably make a point of not celebrating Christmas, others celebrate it, not unwillingly to “fit in”, but proactively because it’s part of our cultural heritage and tradition.

    Other monotheistic religions (ie Judaism and Islam) might have stronger objections to Christmas but that’s not true of all religions and it’s not true all the time. I know liberal Jews who celebrate Christmas (and technically Christ is a prophet in Islam though I don’t know any Muslims who acknowledge the holiday). I also know Buddhists who celebrate Christmas. Again, because it’s a cultural festival and part of our heritage.

    Even in non-Anglo / non-European cultures this can be true. You say that “the minority does not want to celebrate with the majority”, why then does Japan decorate itself with Christmas parapernalia when only about one million out of 130 million Japanese are Christian? It’s partly because the mainstream Japanese religious beliefs are capable of absorbing Christmas and making it part of their culture.

    I also know a lot of non-Christians who embrace this “happy holidays” idea. I think in the States maybe that’s used mainly as a euphemism for Christmas with a nod in the direction of Hanukkah. But to me, as an Australian living in London, it encompasses not only Christmas and Hanukkah but also the Summer/Winter Solstice (depending on your hemisphere) and New Year’s Eve (which is a really big deal in some cultures eg. Scotland). And for Europeans it would also encompass St Nicholas’ Day (which has some religious connections but they’re quite obscure).

    For example, I know a Buddhist in Australia – a very active, practising Buddhist who is ordained as a Buddhist nun/priestess – and every December she mixes up a batch of what she calls Festive Cakes (following an old family recipe for Christmas cakes) and gives them to friends and family of all religious backgrounds as gifts and sells them in the market as a fundraiser. This is hardly token involvement – she really likes the idea of “happy holidays”.

    I think “happy holidays” is a good compromise. I think society should be respectful of minorities and their beliefs and traditions but equally the majority should not have to give up or obviate their own beliefs and traditions. These traditions include a public dimension such as office parties. Tolerance goes both ways.

  31. Caitlin
    Caitlin says:

    PS I know that was a very long comment but I did forget to add two additional, important points.

    1. North America has a sectarian holiday – Thanksgiving – and maybe for that reason Christmas is less of a big deal for non-Christians. In Europe and Australia, Thanksgiving does not exist so Christmas is a bigger deal as a cultural festival (separate from being a commercial one and a Christian one).

    2. I’m appalled that you have to take vacation time for Yom Kippur. Workplace law in Australia means every employee is entitled to a paid day off on the significant religious days of their religion. They can be asked to work Christmas instead or, if the office is closed on Christmas Day, then it’s just a bonus day off. But then we get at least twice as many holidays as Americans too (four weeks per year plus public holidays, mandated by law – and in Europe it’s usually 5-6 weeks).

  32. David
    David says:

    Penelope – Oh my … since you enjoy my anecdotes, here's one:

    During my extended period of underemployment, I accepted a position in Retail at Crate & Barrel. When gift wrapping during the holidays for Caucasian females, I’d always ask, “Blue tissue or Green/Red.” However, I’d never state, “Green/Red or Blue.” It was a loaded question, I was pretty certain the customer was of the Jewish faith, as well as ethnically Jewish. But, what I was really demonstrating was an acknowledgement of their faith, good customer service, etc.

    As a Christian who is African-American (though I prefer the term “Black”), my race will always precede me in terms of the perceptions of others. These perception(s) will largely determine how our interaction will commence. I have learned during my 43 years, that how the interaction will end, is largely determined by whether I respond in kind (if the interaction isn’t a positive one) or rely upon my faith, to be the bigger person (as I’m unable achieve this on my own strength).

    Moral being that this being a country, largely founded on a Judeo-Christian ethos (allegedly), it stands to reason that society is going to celebrate Christian holidays. But in the same way, I’m pretty sure that in Israel, the same holds true for Judaism. I’ll sum it up this way; a former classmate (whom I had not corresponded with in over a decade) is now an expatriate practicing law in Kuwait. He said, Dave, I know you, you’d love it here. I responded I’m a Black Christian; I’m staying right here in the United States, meaning I wouldn’t integrate into their society, as I am a Christian.

    I believe that any business, which is closed open on a national holiday, is a disgrace. So, let's take up the issue of Businesses which choose not to close on the King Holiday. Fortunately, having been employed in government, I received the day off. However, in private industry, I believe an African-American may be viewed somewhat of a “pariah” for even asserting oneself in taking the day off.

    This whole issue really raises much larger questions when we all reside within a heterogeneous society. But, Penelope, I do not believe your being forced to “observe” Christmas, I would view it as my employer’s “not open” today.

    And for “My name is Matt” atheism, by definition, must be a “faith” as you cannot prove that God does not exist – chew on that for awhile.

  33. Will
    Will says:

    “So with all this talk about diversity, why are we still hanging Christmas wreaths at work?”

    Just how stupid is this woman? She advocates diversity in the workplace then immediately criticizes one element of it.

    What the hell are trying to achieve with “diversity” anyway?

    Surely it is the awareness and participation in each other’s cultures, so why does the Christian culture have to be suppressed?

    In the interests of your alleged goal of diversity shouldn’t all the other cultures be exposed to Christmas so they can develop tolerance towards Christians? Or is it just a one way street where the cultures of “minorities” are rammed down the white Christian’s throats?

  34. Disgusted in CA
    Disgusted in CA says:

    Go to work if you want. Ignore it if you want. But by all means let the rest of us do what we want too. Your inflammatory blaming is a bore.

  35. Andy
    Andy says:

    I can and do see your view and perspective. Being a second generation immigrant who is a Jewish born Christian makes it easy for me to see both sides.

    I do feel compelled to inquire, during August, how do you conduct business in Europe?

    Also, I will take down my wreath. Would you mind taking down your Star of David? It sort of impedes on me.

    Being that I am color blind I would like you to begin a campaign to have traffic lights be black and white. Not because those are 2 major races; they are easier for me and my fellow color blinderians to see.

    All that aside and akin to my seeing your point, I suggest you work 12/25 and take another day off. Tell your boss you are working then and they should give you comp time.
    But please, don’t force your believes on others. After all, isn’t that what you are asking others to stop doing to you?

    Oh, and I say “Happy Holidays” in order to ensure I include every possible holiday, religion or non-religion. I do not say it to mean “Merry Christmas”. After all, who wants to be merry anyway?

    If you made it this far, try to see my point of view. If you cannot step outside yourself…..

  36. Donna
    Donna says:

    I just suffered through a company Christmas party that I felt pressured into attending. I got to sit through 10 minutes of ‘Christian speak’ by a co-worked giving a speach/prayer before the meal. I guess I could have stood up and exited the room but then I really would have felt the spotlight of eyes of my co-workers following me with more then a tiny bit of scorn.
    Why pressure a Pagan into attending if you are going to make it a Christian event??? Do you really think that will in any way increase my productivity at work? It will more than likly do just the oposite.
    I have accepted that Christians simply do not understand how uncomfortable they make many of us feel with their assumption that we all celebrate this holiday, or that we should. They would have to experience the discomfort themselves, then they may realize that we are not whining, we are simply asking that they not assume that we are all happy to have thier religion in our faces all month long. Unless of course they would like me to answer my phone “Happy Solstice” and “Happy Beltaine”. I really doubt that would go over very well.

  37. MaryJ
    MaryJ says:

    I find it odd that the author would advocate “celebrating diversity” by squashing other peoples’ cherished cultural expressions. I am married to Jewish man and he has never had a problem with the office Christmas party etc. Christmas is a big part of our society’s culture and tearing it down is just mean-spirited and hateful. Shared, long-standing traditions are important for social stability and cohesion, as some guy named Robert Putnam recently acknowledged.

  38. Rod Brock
    Rod Brock says:

    On “diversity” – we are all much more like each other than we are different. Maybe being so hung up on the prepackaged diversity ethic has something to do with your being so embittered/isolated?

    And as for office productivity going up when the Christmas decorations go out, isn’t that pandering to the bean counters, i.e., providing a fiscal imperative for chopping out holly and the ivy? Isn’t that sort of shallow and disingenous? This sort of thing would reach the height of irony in the retail sector: there we have a business where the difference between red and black depends on the Christmas season…but heaven forbid Wally World should hang a garland.

    This comment from you shouts volumes: “And if you want your career to be upwardly mobile, you need to be able to manage diversity.” Two buzz-phrases (“upwardly mobile” and “manage diversity”) and pandering to personal ambition, in less than twenty words.

    Come to think of it, maybe retailers should put the Christmas section in the back, sort of like the adult section in a video store? Isn’t putting all that tinsel and trim out in plain sight damaging to diversity? We wouldn’t want to scar anyone for life, would we?

    Heavy sarcasm, I know. However, you should also know that if I was your boss, I would give you EVERY Jewish holiday off,with pay, for two reasons:

    1.) Fair is fair.

    2.) It might stop you from whining.

  39. John
    John says:

    I hope I’m not repeating someone as I tired of reading the comments but this is a perfect example of the crap that is taking over the world. Diversity is just the opposite of what you are suggesting. It is not doing nothing because something affends everyone, it is finding value in everything. Tough crap if you don’t enjoy Xmas. Tough crap if you don’t enjoy the 4th of July or Thanksgiving. The logical conclusion one might draw is the elimination of company holidays replaced with vacation days. Instead of complaining, why can’t you see this as a time when many people are happy (which is good for everyone) and a day off. Your like a vegetarian who gets pissed because people eat meat, suck it up and do your own thing. And no I wouldn’t mind getting vegetarian day off each year eventhough I eat meat at least 2X per day.

  40. Charlotte Babb
    Charlotte Babb says:

    It’s my task to create a winter holiday e-card for my college that would be appropriate for all the intended recipients–Jew and Gentile, Pagan and Christian, dove and hawk, Atheist and Vitalist, mixed and straight, etc, etc, etc.

    Personally as a pagan, Santa, reindeer and such are not religious, but secular symbols, not related to the winter solstice, but of the general madness of hallowthanksmasnewsuperday.

    I’d really like some suggestions that would be inclusive, diverse, appropriate, and for my personal taste, humorous.

  41. Holly Orvin
    Holly Orvin says:

    I dont understand if we are creating “diversity” int he workplace, why that means those of us that DO celebrate Christmas have to give up our traditions in favor of those who don’t. There has to be a happy medium in every facet of diversity – not just at work but everywhere. Don’t take down the wreaths, instead put up diverse decorations to make everyone feel included. As for those that don’t, then don’t celebrate – noone is saying you have to – but don’t ask me to take down my wreath because you don’t. that would be dicrimination against me …wouldn’t it?

  42. RICO
    RICO says:


  43. Sam Disegno
    Sam Disegno says:

    Not quite sure how to comment on this:
    I see your point of view – the personal view that you find these parties boring because you feel out of place due to the religious significance of the occasion but still feel the need to attend to it out of an obligation to your career. And the (professional?) view that religious expression at the work place isn’t conducive to both the workers and the business.

    I am sure everyone can relate to your frustration of having to attend something you don’t want to, especially at the work place. But more on this later …

    I’ve got something very interesting to tell you about the latter point of view – in India, in Government offices, both religious and POLITICAL expressions are allowed.

    See, the employees are legally allowed to form unions, and most often then not, it is the political parties themselves that organize these unions. You might think it’s a sure fire recipe for disaster. But everyone still gets along for (what I think) are three major reasons – (1) the act of joining and being a member of a union is itself a very loud expression of your political view, so there is no need to bring it to work (2) The government employees understand that they are public servants and while they can have public political views, they know that the public does not appreciate not being served; so if they don’t get along professionally they know they’ll face public ire which could cause them their job. (3) The employees also learn fast that while they can have political views, paying public patronage to them isn’t very conducive to their career as governments and political views often change in a democratic system.

    Religion – well, unlike western countries that define secularism as creating a wall between the state and the church, we in India define it more in terms of religious freedom, inclusiveness and understanding. So you can sport religious symbols freely, even in private firms. And westerners might be really surprised on finding idols, pictures or even religious ceremonies (in some cases) at work places reflecting on the religious beliefs of the owner of the firm. (Ofcourse, expression of political belief at private firms are frowned upon – and sometimes harshly opposed, but expressions of religious beliefs by the employees are allowed).

    (In fact, while most of the western world struggles with keeping the church separate from the political state, in India the struggle is between the secular and the communal. More on indian secularism – – and if you read the wikipedia article on the same subject ( ) written and edited by right-wingers, and compare the two article you’ll understand what I mean that the struggle is between the secular and the communal in India.)

    Ok, back to your first point – perhaps it is more about your values and beliefs. One – you are quite religious and any religious person would find the in-you-face-salvation-from-christ-only type of christianity increasingly being practiced by Christians to be quite disconcerting (to be impolite, repulsive).

    Two – The emphasis you place on your career and your “obligation” to your career. Is it realistic? Would it really harm your career if you don’t attend one party? Is there an alternative to attending the party (I can think of one – buy gifts and card and wish your Christian co-workers a merry Christmas. Don’t attend the party, when asked make an excuse. Trust me, a good gift is sometimes more welcomed then the company of the giftee ;), so people won’t mind it much). You may need to re-evaluate this belief – perhaps you may find that paying a little less emphasis on your work and career might make you a little more happier (wow shocking, I know! :) … I just feel that you equate your self-worth too much with being productive (and not just at work).

    Final thoughts – if you can’t change facts, the only thing you can do is change your attitude. My motto – Life’s hard, if you aren’t flexible, it’ll break you.

    (God that’s long, no time to review for grammar or typos – so don’t judge all you language fanatics :).

  44. Sam
    Sam says:

    Dang! I think this is grammatical more accurate –
    “Life’s hard, if you aren’t flexible it’ll break you.”

  45. pentamom
    pentamom says:

    Wait….allowing people to engage in minor expressions of a holiday “undermines diversity” and discouraging them from doing so “encourages diversity?”

    I’m curious about what definition of diversity you’re using, if you think that allowing people to express themselves according to their own culture and beliefs “undermines” it, and discouraging them from doing so “encourages” it.

    I understand that you feel that people who don’t celebrate Christmas might on some level feel “left out,” but that’s a different issue from diversity. If you really are trying to promote diversity, it shouldn’t matter that some people’s diversity is more or less diverse than others’. If what you’re really concerned with is consideration for the feelings of those who have long been in the minority with respect to these issues, then call it that — don’t call it a concern for “diversity,” because it’s really a desire to limit some expressions of diversity (albeit for arguably good reasons.)

  46. Charlotte Babb
    Charlotte Babb says:

    I am so burned out on Christmas. I’m sick of carols and trees and people who are so X-massed out. I am pagan/new age Wiccan/heathen by choice, and I find myself wanting to express my spirituality on the Solstices and the Equinoxes and cross-quarter days at work as well as at home. But why bother? I’m certainly not trying to evangelize anyone. That’s rude.

  47. DrewGriz
    DrewGriz says:

    First off, as a Christian, I get a little annoyed when non-Christians–as well as some people calling themselves Christians–think that Christmas is the most important Christian holiday, much the same way I’m sure Jews are annoyed when people wish them a happy Chanukah yet have no idea when Yom Kippur is. While it is important, it has nowhere near the religious significance of Easter, and you don’t see many companies having Easter parties. (Not to mention that historically, its placement on the calendar is religiously meaningless and likely inaccurate, a friendly reminder that even the early church had to reach a diverse audience for success.)

    Part of the reason for this misconception, though, is that these days, there are two different Christmases: one that involves readings from the book of Luke, nativity scenes, and choruses from Handel’s Messiah; and another (which, to borrow a page from Homestar Runner’s book, I’ll call Decemberween) that involves Santa Claus, reindeer, evergreen trees, and presents, as well as countless commercials and sales. While Christmas is very much a Christian holiday, and has no place in the office (especially not in a party obligatory for all employees), Decemberween has become mostly an American holiday, created by businesses, like a more successful Valentine’s Day. The Bible has no account of Santa Claus, nor instructions for gift-giving, and it is in this sense that I think it’s fair to say that Christmas, in the form celebrated by most businesses, is not a Christian holiday.

    It is Decemberween, not Christmas, that we are really talking about when we throw Christmas parties, wish people “Happy Holidays” (Chanukah, by the way, has been similarly warped into a gift-giving holiday, because Jews’ money is just as good as Christians’ at Best Buy), and try to get people to do their Christmas shopping at our store. Decemberween, it must be remembered, has become an essential part of the American business cycle, with many companies doing more business in the month of December than the rest of the year combined. Decemberween, when not rolled together with Christmas (as most companies are careful to make sure of), should not be any more offensive to anyone than Thanksgiving and the 4th of July (and I don’t think it’s overly nativist of me to say if you don’t like Thanksgiving you can get the hell out).Point being, I think a friendly Decemberween party can be a perfectly acceptable part of a diverse workplace.

    Furthermore, I disagree with the point that religion and politics are divisive. I think the way to encourage diversity is to bring more of people’s differences into the workplace for discussion and appreciation, not push it out. Taking such a synthetic, sanitary approach to diversity results in a workplace of people who, even if they aren’t all the same, all act the same, thereby defeating the point.

    PS-I think it’s both presumptuous and inaccurate to say that all non-Christians “don’t do Christmas” and “do not want to celebrate their holidays with the majority”. I have Jewish friends that both love Christmas and love sharing Passover and Rosh Hashanah with me.

    PPS-from a Christian point of view, while I’m okay with Decemberween and Christmas coexisting, I’m not altogether comfortable with the way they’ve been rolled together–even if done as adorably as in “A Charlie Brown Christmas”–and think we could do with still more secularization of Christmas, i.e. separation of Christmas and Decemberween.

  48. scrooge
    scrooge says:

    The way that most people celebrate Christmas these days makes the holiday to me seem idiotic. I do not celebrate Christmas because the whole idea of buying gifts for people (a lot out of obligation) just doesn’t seem right if the point is to celebrate Christ. You would think all the money spent on people who already have enough would be used to help the needy. And I don’t mean donating a toy or a couple of canned goods. It is annoying at work to be assigned the task of decorating the office Christmas tree or taking it down. Whoever’s idea it was to put it up should do all of the work. Another issue for me is being forced to celebrate workplace birthdays. I do not want a card passed to me on my desk where I am supposed to write something in it for a coworker I don’t even know or care for. One time all of us were asked to bring a gift for a baby shower so that it could be mailed in a box to an executive’s wife. Here I am making $12 an hour and I am supposed to spend my money on an executive who is making six figures. Now I did like this particular person but the principle of it was all wrong. Because if you don’t participate then you are treated like an outsider. Employers really do need to keep religion and birthdays etc. out of the workplace. Are we still little kids that we have to have everyone know it is my birthday today? Nobody cares.

Newer Comments »

Comments are closed.