can I refuse to put up Christmas decorations at work?

A reader writes:

My employer is asking all of us to decorate our offices/work areas for Christmas this year. The decorations are provided, and she thinks it will brighten up the office. I work as an administrative assistant in the front of the office. Because of some difficult personal reasons, I will not be celebrating Christmas this year, and honestly, the sight of anything holiday-related makes me sad. Would I be out of line if I refused to put up decorations?

If you wanted to refuse to decorate your own personal work space on religious grounds (such as being a different faith or belonging to a branch of Christianity that finds Santa frivolous or counter to the true meaning of the holiday, or so forth), you’d be well within your rights to decline to participate on those grounds.

However, it doesn’t sound like your objections are religious in nature, and because your desk is in the reception area (it sounds like), it’s a little different anyway. It’s reasonable for a business to decide it wants to decorate its front office for the holidays, and ultimately that area isn’t just your work space — it’s also their reception area where they greet visitors.

I suppose you could float the idea by saying something like, “I’m not participating in the holidays this year for personal reasons. Would you mind if I didn’t put up decorations in my area?” But a reasonable manager could certainly reply to that with, “It’s fine to keep them out of your immediate desk area, but we do want to decorate the reception area where you’re located.” If that’s the response, there’s not a lot you can do at that point, particularly not without pushing the issue further than will appear reasonable.

{ 424 comments… read them below }

  1. Helka*

    Coming at it as a flat refusal is probably the least effective way to handle this — if you came to your boss asking for understanding, instead, that working surrounded by abundant Christmas decorations when you’re facing a really tough and emotional time centered around the holiday is making that tough and emotional time even worse for you, you’re likely to get a better response.

    1. Helka*

      And FWIW, OP, I’ve been there too, and it was a tough December to get through. You have my sympathy.

    2. Lily in NYC*

      Yeah, I think this is the way to go. I’m in a similar situation – my dad died a couple of months ago and my family is not going to celebrate Xmas this year. I’m expected to decorate at work because of where I sit and people look forward to it because I usually go the super-tacky route. This year, I decided to half-ass it and I put up my ugly glitter tree and a few snowflakes and called it a day. That way, no one will ask me why I didn’t decorate and I won’t have to explain myself over and over.

    3. AVP*

      I wonder if, instead of a flat refusal, she can barter a bit on which decorations to use, and push them away from the holiday cliches to something more generic.

      Santa in my face all day would drive me crazy, and in this case sounds like a sad reminder of an unwelcome season of “cheer,” but some stars or bird ornament shapes might be okay.

      1. Green*

        I like this idea. Try, if you can, to find something that is soothing (or at least that doesn’t make you sad!) that doesn’t scream “CHRISTMAS” to you. Little woodland creatures, snowflakes/snowmen, branches, burlap and red ribbon, or a poinsettia if you can?

    4. NewishAnon*

      I had a death in the family around Christmas a few years ago. It’s tough and it’s harder to get through a holiday when you are terribly missing someone. But it’s always hard to lose someone or to go through any emotional turmoil, no matter what time of year it is and I really wonder whether putting up decorations actually makes it worse? Does it honestly make it that much more difficult to have decorations in your own area when you’re not really escaping them anyway since they are all over the rest of the office?

      I’m not saying OP shouldn’t ask the question. But I wonder if its really worth it. Bringing it up and separating yourself from everyone draws more attention and focus to the sad feelings. Just a thought OP, it may be easier to blend in and go along than have to talk about it and explain (possibly repeatedly) why you aren’t into the holiday this year. However, that is how I’d feel and I realize that everyone handles these things differently.

      In any case, I’m so sorry you’re having such a hard time right now, OP. I do hope things get better.

      1. Helka*

        I think it’s not hard to see how surrounded by aggressive messages of cheer and the associated paraphernalia could make a difficult time worse.

        1. NewishAnon*

          But my point was that OP is not escaping the “aggressive messages of cheer and the associated paraphernalia” by not putting them up around her desk and that not putting them up opens her up to even more aggressive questions as to why, including a difficult conversation with her manager, which may actually be more difficult.

          Of course, that is up to OP to decide, but it’s worth thinking about if its such a sensitive time.

      2. Not So NewReader*

        Great point. I remember sitting at a company Christmas party telling myself it was a double edge sword. Go- and feel sad about that. Don’t go – and feel sad about that. ugh. Tough stuff.

        OP, maybe one of your favorite people at work would give you a hand tossing up a few things. Maybe those things could be behind you or off to the side where you did not have to look at them every second of your work day. If someone I worked with felt that way, I would hope they would feel comfortable enough with me to ask. I would not mind.

        1. Jennifer*

          Yeah, try to put the decorations somewhere where you’ll see them less. Like on the front of your desk, which you don’t see because you’re sitting at it.

      3. OP*

        I completely understand that, and that’s how I sort of feel too. I hate drawing attention to myself, and talking about my loss makes everyone else sad. However, this is something that is particularly triggering for me and that’s why I decided to ask about it. Love all of the suggestions I have gotten from the comments!

        1. NewishAnon*

          Completely understandable. Whatever you decide to do I hope it helps you feel a bit better. Best wishes, OP.

      4. Bea W*

        If decorating was a tradition you shared with the person you lost, it can bring up a lot of that sadness or seeing them can trigger memories during a time when you’re most vulnerable or may trigger memories of the actual loss, the day. In general holidays and birthdays ate tough because those are the times people typically spend special time together exchanging gifts, sharing traditions, and when that person you shared that with is gone, it’s hard.

        I was surprised actually at the impact of the first holidays after my mother died. I normally limit my family time, and still I struggled. I didn’t know what to do with myself on NYE, and it had been years since I’d gone out with Mom for Chinese like we did for many years before she was ill. So it wasn’t odd to not have those plans, but I suddenly missed it and felt terrible. My mother died a couple days into Jan, but I don’t think it mattered.

        Other people I know with recent loss struggle over the holidays. It’s noticeable when someone you loved isn’t at the table…oh shit I just made myself tear up. (That’s what I mean! There’s just a hole.)

  2. Rebecca*

    The holidays can be hard on people for a variety of reasons. I am sorry for whatever it is you are going through right now. Is there a type of decoration that maybe would not be as difficult for you? Maybe you could add just some simple lights and greenery to give your area a wintery feel rather than christmas.

    1. Leah*

      I love this idea – hopefully a winter wonderland type of thing would not make you feel badly, but would still fill the criteria of decoration.

    2. Lizzie*

      I was also wondering if it’s possible to put up a limited number of decorations in such a way that the OP doesn’t actually have to *look* at them continuously throughout the day. The way my desk is arranged at work, I could easily put up some paper decorations on the front and sides of my desk which would be visible to others, but I wouldn’t be able to see them while sitting and working. Ditto for decorations above eye level on the walls next to and behind my desk.

  3. fposte*

    Would you mind the decoration less if somebody else did the installation? That’s the kind of thing somebody else might love doing, so long as you’re willing to hear their delight as they hang stuff up (or carefully time it so that it happens when you’re away from the desk).

    1. The Cosmic Avenger*

      That’s exactly what I was thinking! Ask your boss if it’s OK to send an email asking for volunteers, there are probably some people who will RUN to your desk for a chance to put up Xmas decorations! :D

      And if they say OK, just phrase it as “The front desk and lobby area is a common area, one we all see every day, so I’d like for anyone and everyone to come decorate!”

      1. Bea W*

        My mother (god rest her soul) lived for holiday decorating. People like this exist, and they will squee with joy for the chance to decorate. There was at least one year she wrapped her cube to look like a big present. There were often lights involved. Let’s not even discuss Halloween. :D

    2. Anon Accountant*

      That’s what I was thinking. Someone else who enjoys decorating can decorate the front while OP isn’t at the front desk. I like the idea of a “winter theme” that focuses on snowflakes, snowmen, etc. than just Christmas.

      1. chewbecca*

        This is what I do. I sit at the front desk and have a bunch of snowflakes on it. It’s fun and festive without being Christmasy.

    3. Bea W*

      Great idea! Having been in the tough space OP is in now, having to put up the decorations or actively participate in things was too much for me, and I was happy (relatively speaking since I was clearly not happy at all) to leave all of that stuff to other people. If the OP sits in a cube, the decorations can probably be hung on the outside, since the goal here seems to be to be customer facing festiveness.

  4. Zahra*

    Suggestion if you really can’t avoid it:

    Put the bulk of the decorations on the drop of your desk (that front part that hides your legs). It’ll be decorated, but you won’t have to look at it most of the time. Similarly, try to put all other decorations in areas that are visible to the clients, but less likely to be in your field of vision (behind you, on the upper part of the wall, for example).

    1. OhNo*

      Excellent idea.

      You might also see if they would be willing to substitute traditional “holiday” decorations (I’m assuming lights, evergreen garlands, etc.) for ones that are more seasonal – arrangements of pretty dried branches and berries, for instance – if that would be more comfortable for you.

  5. Pickles*

    On a similar note: I walked in this morning to find a nativity scene, in a government office, in a common area of a room shared between two departments. I think it belongs to a fellow minion, not leadership. The holly berries and garland are fine, but I don’t celebrate Christmas, and I don’t like seeing it every time I walk into the room. Am I justified in saying anything, and does anyone have suggestions on how? I don’t want to be passive aggressive by leaving a note for the unidentified owner, but the other option is probably to go to my boss, who is likely to think I’m making a big deal out of nothing.

    1. Felicia*

      Well it sounds like you’d be objecting on religious grounds, which you should mention as your reason. I also don’t think a symbol that explicitly religious belongs in a government building.

      1. Angora*

        I hate to say, but to me the nativity scene is religious.

        I had an office years ago where the policy we have to put up multiple religious items even if there was no one of the said faith in the office, if we chose to decorate. So we had decorations for three different religions in the front office, which was my space and it looked so tacky.

        Why don’t they do the lights and garland & forget it. To me those are decorative without the religious overtones. And I do not believe in putting up mistletoe at work.

        I admit … I’m a grump about this stuff. It’s not a big deal to me because I have gotten away from the commercialization of the holiday and I’m not religious. I view it as time to spend with my mother. We either rent movies or may go out to see one, fix a small meal at home or eat out. The most important thing is time with my family. I give small gifts to the students that work for me and leave it at that.

        I think it’s grown so out of portion with too much emphasis on the value and/or cost of the gift given someone. Next year Mom and I might go out of town for a few days instead.

        OK … my grumpiness about the holidays at work is over and done with.

        1. Chinook*

          “but to me the nativity scene is religious.”

          I don’t see how anyone can not see it as a religious symbol. This is not holly and berry or a decorated tree or colourful lights (which at any other time of year could be considered just a decoration). It plays out a very specific scene with religious significance and, if there are people who are made uncomfortable by it and the organization is not of a religious nature, I have no problem with said organization not providing one for decoration (just don’t ask me to provide the decorations as an employee).

          In a secular organization, I don’t see anything wrong with brightening up an office in the deep of winter with evergreens, bright plants and colourful lights and drawing a line that says “nothing religious.” Just do us the respect of not calling it “Christmas decorations” because those may just involve religious symbols.

          1. JoAnna*

            Well, it is historical *in addition to* being religious. It’s the historical origin as Christmas as a holiday as well as the religious Christian origin. You might as well try to ban the words Christmas and holiday as well, as they are derived from “Christ’s Mass” and “holy day.”

            1. Mpls*

              Yeah, but it’s significance is not related to being historical, it’s related to being religious. If JC wasn’t recognized as the Messiah, no one would be putting up a stable diorama just for fun. And no one would be decorating for Christmas either, come to think of it.

          2. Student*

            Well, the US Supreme Court ruled that crosses are not a symbol of Christianity fairly recently. I’m sure it’s only a matter of time before they rule that nativity scenes are also not symbols of Christianity, and thus allowed all over government property.

          3. Decimus*

            It actually can depend on how it’s displayed. A nativity scene by itself in a government office? Probably not allowed. A nativity scene next to a sign saying “The [government agency] Proudly Celebrates Religious Freedom To All Faiths In America” – possibly entirely allowable.

    2. illini02*

      I don’t know, I feel like that is a bit much really. I mean, we have a menorah decoration in our office, and we only have one half jewish (non-practicing) person. We have a lot of holiday’s represented. I think it would be one thing if you asked to put up something that represents your religion and were told no. But if someone else wants to put it up, I don’t think you should ask them to take it down.

      1. Steve G*

        I concur. I think worrying about some of this stuff detracts from people focusing on more serious issues, whatever they are in your life/company/circumstances.

        1. Natalie*

          If it doesn’t both you, fine. But it’s kind of rude to tell someone that they shouldn’t have asked about it here at all because it must be detracting focus from their more serious issues.

          1. Zillah*


            There’s way too much of “I don’t see this as a big deal, so you shouldn’t either!” in the world, and I’ve noticed it sneaking into the AAM comment sections lately, too. There are absolutely many things that people need to either learn how to live with or remove themselves from the situation, but that’s a very different conversation.

            1. Anonsie*

              Plus it’s not like feeling a nativity in a government office is inappropriate and worrying about other things are somehow mutually exclusive.

            2. AnonyMouse*

              Completely agree! I actually find it quite frustrating when people declare themselves the arbiters of what is or isn’t a big deal – people will naturally be upset by different things in life.

            3. AUB*

              I do feel that Christmas time is hard for many people especially with a loss. But I dont believe that our hurts and situations should be placed onto others when it comes to celebrating in a shared space. If I can’t get pregnant, do I insist that we don’t celebrate any coworkers showers at work and refuse to go to the party because it’s hard for me? I Could do that, but it is a reality of life in the end. Malls, banks, libraries, etc are decorated for Christmas and if you are out and about at all it’s hard to avoid. If you push back on this in the public entrance of the company as the op described, I think you could possibly run the risk of being seen as not being cooperative of shared space.

          2. Jillociraptor*

            Yes, exactly. Is this a hill you want to die on? Probably not, though maybe, depending on your perspective. But if it bothers you, why not mention it? There are always “more important” issues.

      2. NewishAnon*

        Yeah, I agree with you.

        Do we really want to move in a direction as a society where we are preventing others from sharing their personal beliefs? Isn’t the goal diversity and acceptance of all cultures and religions? How do we get there if we start asking to keep this kind of stuff hidden out of fear that others with different beliefs might see it?

        My only pause is that this is a government office, but this was put up by an employee and unless religious items are banned in their entirety for all employees all year long, I don’t see how he/she can be asked to remove it.

        1. Kelly L.*

          It being a government office is exactly why.

          Nobody wants to ban religious decorations from your own house. The thing is that the government is supposed to not favor any religion over any other in its actions. Whether it really does or not, it can create the impression of favoritism if the government office is bedecked with the trappings of one religion. We’re not trying to stamp it out of “society” or make any kind of pronouncement about what you can decorate your home with, or your private business, etc.

          1. NewishAnon*

            I understand that the government is not supposed to favor any religion. I see what you are saying about the impression of favoritism and it’s a valid point. However, this is an employee if they are going to ask a christian person to remove their religious decorations then there should be no religious decorations at all, from any employee.

            I really wasn’t trying to imply that anyone was trying to stamp it out of society as a whole or in homes or private businesses. Even employees of government offices should be free to express their beliefs, without it being presumed that they represent the beliefs of the government. In fact, I would argue that the government allowing employees to represent their religious beliefs openly gives the impression that they don’t favor any particular religion.

            I can see an argument for it not being put in the lobby, but I can also see an argument for adding the decorations of other religions to the lobby to make it more inclusive.

            1. Ethyl*

              “However, this is an employee if they are going to ask a christian person to remove their religious decorations then there should be no religious decorations at all, from any employee.”

              That is correct.

              “Even employees of government offices should be free to express their beliefs, without it being presumed that they represent the beliefs of the government. ”

              Well too bad. There’s no way to separate the two when you are *on the grounds of a government building.*

              1. Kelly L.*

                This. My job is civil service and there are all kinds of rules about what I can and can’t do on the property. I think it would be considered OK for me to wear, say, a pendant related to my religion around my neck, though I generally don’t. But I’m not allowed, for example, to do any political activity on campus (I had to re-look this up recently as I wanted to join in a protest), and I’m pretty sure it would not go over well if I slathered the office in religious decorations.

            2. Observer*

              Even employees of government offices should be free to express their beliefs, without it being presumed that they represent the beliefs of the government.

              On their own time, out of the office, they are free to decorate how they please and share in any other way they please (as long as it’s not otherwise illegal.) Possibly in their PERSONAL space. But in a lobby or any other shared spaces? NO.

              However, this is an employee if they are going to ask a christian person to remove their religious decorations then there should be no religious decorations at all, from any employee.

              Of course.

        2. veggie*

          “Do we really want to move in a direction as a society where we are preventing others from sharing their personal beliefs? Isn’t the goal diversity and acceptance of all cultures and religions? How do we get there if we start asking to keep this kind of stuff hidden out of fear that others with different beliefs might see it?”

          Sorry, I don’t think this works when you are the (by far) majority religion.

          1. NewishAnon*

            Freedom of religion applies to all religions, not just minority religions.

            I say this as someone who is half christian and half jewish so it’s not as if I am coming at this with some heavy christian perspective. I’ve spent more days in temple than I have in church.

          2. AUB*

            If there’s no ability to have protected expression your point is null whether you are the majority religion or not. I take offense to this comment and frankly do not find it fair or rational.

            1. AUB*

              I looked back at the op’s writing and the note does not site religion as the reason for not decorating (the phrase personal reasons is used) nor is there any word of working in a government building. The turn of the conversation focusing critically on nativity scenes and Christianity feels biased. What gives?!

              1. OP*

                No, it wasn’t about religion. I lost my son in August and Christmas stuff is a trigger for me.

                Funny enough though, I do work for the government, but I never mentioned that.

        3. My two cents...*

          it’d be a different story if someone had set the nativity scene up in their own cube, instead of in the lobby/common area/etc.

          though, there’s a chance it was just placed in the common area because someone had it and there was space to fill.

          my coworker usually has her bible next to her while she processes boards, so she can keep up with her bible study. no problemo. but, i’d be really irritated if someone started hanging verses around the office or adding verses to their email sigs.

          1. NewishAnon*

            I agree, it’s a problem in the lobby. I still think that unless they are banning all religious items that employees of any religion should be able to display what they want (in their cubes).

        4. Pennalynn Lott*

          Then I’m sure you won’t mind if my friends who belong to the Satanic Temple place statues of Baphomet in the lobbies of government buildings, will you? Or if members of the Santeria faith slice open the neck of a goat in front of you while you’re taking care of business at City Hall?

          The problem with allowing one religion some real estate on government property is that you then are required to allow ALL religions the same right. I imagine the lobbies of government buildings would get pretty damned crowded with religious doodads if citizens of all faiths [and non-faith!] exercised their right to display their own symbols alongside those of Christianity.

          Seems like the solution that works best for everyone is to keep religion out of government.

        5. Observer*

          My only pause is that this is a government office, but this was put up by an employee and unless religious items are banned in their entirety for all employees all year long, I don’t see how he/she can be asked to remove it

          Of course a person could – and SHOULD -be asked to remove this. This is a GOVERNMENT office that is supposed to be totally secular in operation, whatever the religious beliefs of the employees. Therefore individuals have no more business putting their religious symbols in a shared / common space than they would have in putting up election signs for a particular candidate. Remember, this display was in a common space, NOT the employee’s personal cubicle.

    3. BethRA*

      You could always declare yourself a pastafarian and put a bowl of spaghetti and meatballs out next to the manger.

      1. De Minimis*

        We tend to get close to the line on that, and I’m not sure if it’s due to where we’re located [a federal facility but located on tribal property, which is kind of in a legal limbo] or just because no one has ever complained.

        We also have very Christian-specific prayers prior to birthday meals, holiday meals, etc…

        1. Nerd Girl*

          “We also have very Christian-specific prayers prior to birthday meals, holiday meals, etc…”

          This would make me veeeeeery uncomfortable. I have friends who are pentecostal and they pray out loud which, as a quiet praying Catholic, is weird to me. It makes me cringe and squirm and feel like I’m watching a bad audition on American Idol. If it’s anything like that I have to say, I’d be avoiding meals at your workplace. LOL!

          1. De Minimis*

            It’s really bad….even as someone who grew up Pentecostal, I think the prayers go a little overboard, way beyond a simple “bless this food and our time together.” I think it would be a huge mess though if someone did decide to complain or make an issue of it.

            The thing that probably prevents it from causing more discord is the way our common area is set up, only people in the very front of the line can even hear the prayer.

            1. Kelly L.*

              For starters, you don’t have enough “justs” in there. “Lord, just bless this food, and just, Lord, just bless our time together…”

          2. AnonyMouse*

            Yeah, Christmas decorations are one thing but I would be *wildly* uncomfortable if I was asked to participate in a Christian-specific prayer at work! I guess if you know everyone’s Christian, maaaybe…but even then I imagine some people would take issue with it for various other reasons.

    4. DP*

      Come visit Denver this time of year…there is a GIANT nativity on the steps of the city and county building. I’m Christian and even I find it a bit offensive. Somehow though it falls under one of the exceptions referenced in the article Alison posted.

      1. Adam*

        As a fellow Christian, that would make me a bit squirmy too. Someday I may own a nativity scene to decorate my own house with, but I would never advocate for one on government property. Separation of church and state being one thing, and the fact that such a display would be guaranteed to invite strife that would sour the spirit of the season, religious or not.

        1. sunny-dee*

          Well, except the spirit of the season is …. kind of only religious. The season is either for Christmas or Hanukkah. That’s it. There were very small minorities celebrating other religious festivals (Diwali and Eid), but even then, it’s still a religious season.

          I get that some people aren’t religious but to take an explicitly religious holiday (ahem, holy day), which has a purpose of goodwill and joy and giving and then say you like the outcome and not the reason — it’s a garbled message.

          I am going to say this — I work in a multinational company. I work with people who celebrate a lot of days that have nothing to do with me either religiously or culturally. If someone wishes me or my group a happy Diwali, I say it back. I accept it in the spirit it was intended — someone who is enjoying their own beautiful time and who wanted to extend that to me. If you get seriously upset at someone wishing you a merry Christmas or putting out a small nativity on a table in a reception area, that has nothing to do with them and everything to do with you.

          1. Anonsie*

            Well, except the spirit of the season is …. kind of only religious. The season is either for Christmas or Hanukkah. That’s it.

            Well, for one, I don’t think Adam means that the season is somehow not religious at all and the nativity is bringing it in appropriately, but rather that it’s going to be an issue with people due to religious and non-religious beliefs.

            But second, there are a ton of holidays around the end of fall/beginning of winter, many religious and many not. It’s not Christmas/Hanukkah/other with no wiggle. And it’s perfectly reasonable to say you are uncomfortable with large religious displays by government agencies regardless of your own beliefs. This isn’t “oh no, someone said merry Christmas to me, I must clutch at my pearls” here.

            1. Adam*

              Right. For many people “spirit of the season” means bright decorations, gifts, too many festive desserts, snow, hot cocoa, good will towards others, and all sorts of other holiday trappings that don’t have to be explicitly religious. I know someone who loves Christmas for all these things and is about as non-religious as you can get, and I know he’s not the only one.

              1. Erin*

                I am in a Denver suburb. I love all the lights downtown and that they stay up until the stock show. I hate the nativity scene. I celebrate Christmas but am very definitely not Christian. I don’t have a problem with religious people celebrating their own beliefs, but find it out of place in government settings.

              2. Bunny*

                Guy I know from my commute is militant atheist – he spent all of our commute today grinning excitedly over the Real Tree OMG that he and his wife decorated over the weekend, and about how they got married close to Christmas because they love the holiday, and how he always makes sure the flowers he buys her for their anniversary match that year’s festive decor.

                There is Christmas, the religious holiday. And then there is Christmas, the holiday massive swathes of people with no religious affiliation continue to celebrate because – as the literally DOZENS of religious and secular holidays timed around the Winter Solstice will attest – the long, dark, cold part of the year goes a lot easier with a bit of feasting, charity, gift-giving and bright decorations.

                Anecdotal comment is anecdotal, but in my experience the people who are the most offended at being asked not to use blatantly religious symbols for workplace decorations tend to be the least concerned for allowing for diversity, when it comes to making space for depictions of literally any religion that is not their own in that same space. They also tend not to be the same people as the ones still facing risks such as losing their jobs or custody of their children simply for being out about their faith. Or, in my country, not being able to have a legally binding religious marriage.

                1. Melissa*

                  “There is Christmas, the religious holiday. And then there is Christmas, the holiday massive swathes of people with no religious affiliation continue to celebrate because – as the literally DOZENS of religious and secular holidays timed around the Winter Solstice will attest – the long, dark, cold part of the year goes a lot easier with a bit of feasting, charity, gift-giving and bright decorations.”

                  I love this very cultural explanation for the number of winter holidays! I am pretty sure that Diwali is explicitly celebrated as the triumph of light over darkness, and so is Hanukkah. And I know they all have different reasons, but pretty much every winter holiday has light(s) as a symbolic feature.

          2. Observer*

            If you get seriously upset at someone wishing you a merry Christmas or putting out a small nativity on a table in a reception area, that has nothing to do with them and everything to do with you.

            If you don’t see the difference between the two, that’s a major problem. What someone says to you is about their personal observances, and hopefully has nothing to do with how they decide to allocate resources, who to serve and how to relate to people’s needs. A decoration in a public space is, intentionally or not, about the identity of the organization, which is inappropriate for a government agency.

      2. Chinook*

        There is a giant nativity scene at our provincial legislature, but that is a legacy from our settlers (which included nuns, priests and brothers who founded our first hospitals and schools) and is proably set up not far from the statue honouring their service.

        The compromise that was made a few decades ago was to add a permanent menorah on the same grounds and have a proper lighting of it for the 8 days of Hanakuah which the premier has been known to participate in. I think that any other cultural group could make a proposal to add a visual sign of their faith if they can figure out a way to do it a tasteful way that doesn’t destroy what is already there.

        1. Pickles*

          OP here. I wasn’t clear in my original post where I stated that I don’t celebrate Christmas. In fact, I am not Christian.

          I don’t think any faiths mix well with most workplaces, at least in the US.

          1. Natalie*

            I think that comment was a reply to a different comment, about the giant nativity scene in Denver.

            1. Pickles*

              Oops. Thanks for clarifying. I should have put “commenter that unintentionally hijacked this thread” rather than OP anyway.

    5. NomdeGuerre*

      Out of all the things to be offended by, you choose a nativity scene? I’m for the separation of church and state, but I find something like this to be pretty insignificant (especially given the current political scene.)

        1. JoAnna*

          The word Christmas is derived from “Christ’s Mass,” so… shouldn’t that entire word be banned from the government lexicon as well? Same with holiday, which is derived from “holy day”? And should Christmas be removed as a federal holiday since it is religious in nature? I’m not trying to be snarky, I’m honestly curious as to your opinion.

          I’m not offended by a government display of a Nativity scene as the Nativity can be considered an historical event. Reputable historians agree that a man named Jesus did exist in 1st century Palestine, and this is the birth narrative that ancient historical documents contain about his birth. Whether or not he is God is a religious belief, but the fact that he was born and existed is historical.

          Now, if government officers were trying to *force* people to worship the nativity scene, or refused to allow a Hanukkah display, then I could see getting offended, as that would imply that the government was trying to establish an official religion. But simply displaying a popular representation of an historical event doesn’t carry that connotation, just as all of the religious imagery carved into the decor of various government buildings in Washington D.C. does not.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            But court rulings disagree with you there :) Courts have repeatedly banned nativity displays from public spaces (in some but not all circumstances).

          2. Kelly L.*

            If the Nativity scene were meant as a secular historical diorama, there wouldn’t be angels hovering around and halos on people’s heads.

          3. Ellie A.*

            Seriously? I think arguing that a nativity scene is a “historical event” and not primarily religious is deeply disingenuous.

          4. Mango Hulk*

            If the manger is supposed to be historically accurate, can we make sure the figures are Middle Eastern? Make sure everyone calls the baby Yehoshua ben Yoseph?

            Historical accuracy or nuthin’:)

          5. some1*

            Reputable historians agree that a lot of people were born — that’s not why Jesus’ birth is celebrated.

            1. L Veen*

              Thank you for sending me into a fit of silent, helpless laughter with “Reputable historians agree that a lot of people were born.”

              1. Kelly L.*

                Oooh, we can do a nativity scene of me. We have to have accurately hideous 70s clothes on all the adults. I had red hair at the time.

              2. AnonyMouse*

                I’m picturing this along the lines of toothpaste advertising (9 out of 10 dentists) for some reason…9 out of 10 reputable historians agree that a lot of people have been born!

          6. Anna*

            It’s not even a verified historical event, so I feel like you may be clutching at straws with that argument.

          7. Observer*

            The nativity is scene is about as ahistorical as you can get. There are no “ancient historical records” about the matter – there are religious texts about the matter. In other words, religious texts about a birth that is celebrated only because of its religious significance.

            And while lots of people use the word Christmas without ever thinking about the origins of the word, that is totally not true of the nativity scene.

      1. some1*

        If you were for the separation of church and state, you would see why a blatantly religious symbol doesn’t belong on public property. It’s not about being “offended” by a Nativity scene in particular.

        1. sunny-dee*

          Actually, that is not what separation of church and state means, for a lot of reasons. 1) The state doesn’t mandate either the display or participation. 2) It doesn’t require observance or action on your part. 3) It does not provide preference over or exclusion of another faith.

          Honestly, you are getting twitchy about seeing something. That’s it. You saw something in public and it is so upsetting that you want to stop someone from even putting out an image. That is extreme.

          1. Helka*

            It’s pretty hard to separate “putting up a giant religious display” from “therefore tacitly (or not so tacitly) endorsing that religion.”

            1. JoAnna*

              The Establishment/Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment says the following:

              “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…”

              A government display of a nativity scene, which arguably is a historical event according to ancient documents as well as the basis for a federal holiday, does not establish Christianity as an official religion or prohibit anyone from engaging in the free exercise of their favored religion. The First Amendment doesn’t actually say that the government or government entity can’t endorse a particular religion. It just says that Congress cannot establish an official religion (unlike England, which legally has the Church of England as their official state church) and/or force people to participate in religious beliefs (or, conversely, prohibit people from exercising religious beliefs).

              1. Elizabeth West*

                Then ideally, I could put a snowflake-decorated pentagram or the aforementioned bowl of pasta next to it without fear of reprisals. All hail His Noodly Appendages.

              2. fposte*

                That’s some people’s interpretation, but ultimately interpreting the constitution’s meaning is not an individual sport, and courts have often found differently; their vote counts where individual opinion does not.

              3. Zillah*

                Yeah, the nativity scene is not a depiction of a historical event. It just isn’t. Jesus was born, sure, but there’s no more historical basis behind the nativity scene than there is behind my saying that William the Conqueror was born in a tower room covered in blue tapestries and with five priests, his father, and two castle cats in attendance.

              4. Mpls*

                The 1st Amendment might not explicitly prohibit the endorsement of one religion, but I’m pretty sure there is contemperaneous document that the intent was for the federal government to not sanction (legally or by implicit means) the preference of one religion over the other.

                There’s also a fair amount of Supreme Court interpretation that you are ignoring by focusing on the text.

              5. AvonLady Barksdale*

                Then great, I want a diorama of my own birth displayed all over the city, and in government buildings, because that’s an historical event too.

                I think you’re being really obtuse with this argument.

          2. Ask a Manager* Post author

            But there have been clear court rulings forbidding the display of nativity scenes on public property in certain circumstances. This is a widely agreed-upon principle. It’s not about getting twitchy (!) or extreme.

          3. Kelly L.*

            No one wants to stop you from putting out an image on your house, or even on your business*. Just don’t put it up at a government establishment.

            *(The businesses who’ve done the “holiday tree”-type stuff did it of their own volition because they thought it was a good business idea, and some switched back after getting negative reactions, because they thought that was a good business idea.)

          4. CA Admin*

            SCOTUS uses what’s called the Lemon Test to determine if a government action violates the Establishment Clause in the 1st Amendment. It has 3 prongs and all 3 must be met:

            1. The statute must not result in an “excessive government entanglement” with religious affairs. (also known as the Entanglement Prong)
            2. The statute must not advance or inhibit religious practice (also known as the Effect Prong)
            3. The statute must have a secular legislative purpose. (also known as the Purpose Prong)

            I’d say that putting up a Nativity Scene on government property clearly violates both prong #2 and #3.

      2. NotMyRealName*

        For those of us who are non-Christian, having overtly Christian decorations in government spaces (especially without any other belief systems represented) can bring home the point that you are an outsider. It’s a pretty uncomfortable feeling.

        1. Pickles*

          Especially as a non-Christian in an area bordering on the edge of the Bible Belt. This isn’t the first time. We have invocations for major events. I’ve been asked if I’m “a believer” or some variation multiple times. I’ve been told that I’ll convert once I “grow up” or “learn more.” We had a choir (who sang religious songs) in the building for years. I even had to go on a business trip years ago with someone who flat out told me I should be at home procreating rather than working.

          Since this is a closed-off, internal-only area – albeit the high-trafficked entrance to it – it seems borderline to me. I think the way I’ll quietly handle this is to bring in some more inclusive and non-denominational decorations and place them around the nativity scene tomorrow morning.

          1. Artemesia*

            I find this totally inappropriate and don’t blame you for feeling annoyed by this. But this is the sort of thing, I would let go. I can’t think of any good outcome for you about making a fuss. If you can sneak in a Menorah or something that reflects a different solstice tradition without making a show of it — go for it. (and where are the Satanists when we need them)

        2. NoPantsFridays*

          Yeah, but we *are* outsiders. As a non-Christian, I’ve also learned that part of the price of being a non-Christian in a Christian nation is that we are in second, third, fourth, last place when it comes ot religion. It sucks even worse for atheists who people claim have “no beliefs” and can thus be forced to celebrate any holiday. When there are laws made based on Christianity, or one specific stripe/interpretation of Christianity, that don’t comport with my faith or with other branches of Christianity, that’s certainly offensive. I’m not saying we can’t be offended, but I don’t think we can do anything about it; after all, we do choose to live in a Christian nation (I was born here but I’ve chosen not to run far and fast, so).

          1. NoPantsFridays*

            Sorry, that was a US-centric post — by “Christian nation” and “here” I mean the US.

          2. Zillah*

            So to a certain extent, I agree with you. For many organizations, there’s no getting around your business being closed on Christmas – that’s just the way it is, whether you celebrate it or not. Similarly, there’s no getting away from Christmas-y songs on the radio, or Christmas specials on tv – like it or not, it is what it is.

            However, I think it’s important to draw a line between “Some Christian stuff is the cost of admission” and “well, we’re the minority, so sucks to be us.”

            Because this country is not a Christian nation. In fact, it’s very specifically not a Christian nation. It has deep roots in Christianity, certainly, and the population has always skewed heavily Christian, but we are not a Christian nation. We have never been a Christian nation. And I don’t think it’s out of line or futile to draw certain lines. If everyone just shrugged their shoulders when it came to Christianity because oh well, we wouldn’t have some of the very important boundaries that exist today.

          3. NotMyRealName*

            This is NOT a Christian nation. The Constitution specifically says that and the Supreme Court has ruled on it multiple times.

          4. Jennifer*

            It’s not officially Christian, but Christians are the vast majority of the founded-by-Puritans nation.

            1. Melissa*

              The U.S. wasn’t exclusively founded by Puritans, or even majority founded by Puritans. Obviously the first people who were here and whose cultures, political organizations, and languages contributed significantly to the development of the nation – Native Americans – were not Puritans or Christians at all. *Some* of the first settlers who came here in the early 1600s were from a variety of dissenting Christian groups that included the Puritans as well as a lot of other groups. Most early U.S. colonies were actually founded by non-Puritans (Anglicans, Calvinists, Quakers, and Catholics also established several colonies). And many of the people brought here were also African slaves with decidedly non-Christian religious and spiritual beliefs, and their presence influenced the country as well. Many of the earliest settlers were Puritans, but I would definitely not say that our country was founded by Puritans.

              Not only that but many of the men considered founding fathers of the U.S. were explicitly not Christian and/or their religious beliefs were not well known. Thomas Jefferson, the man who originated the phrase “separation of church and state,” had rejected most of Christianity by the time he got involved in shaping the young nation.

              I think there’s a difference between having a country that is majority Christian and having a “Christian nation.”

        3. NomdeGuerre*

          Would you be offended if this took place in a country where the majority of people were of a different religion other than Christianity?

          1. Andy*

            I don’t know. Maybe. Sometimes I get offended on behalf of people…even if I should stick my big nose out of it.

          2. Treena Kravm*

            I would maybe be offended if it was a country that didn’t have an official religion. But I think it’s culturally dependent. Even though it’s not official, Christian culture dominates in every way in the US. Is there a country that is officially religion-less with a huge majority that doesn’t dominate culturally? I don’t know, but if there is, then I wouldn’t be offended in that case.

    6. SJP*

      I’d maybe try and identify the owner of it and just say something like “Just wanted to make you aware that the nativity scene is a very Christian scene (obvious I know but) and that people from other religions work here/visit here and for our company to be a government organisation I think it may be best to keep any religious scenes at home rather than the work place” or something like that..
      Im sure someone will write this much better than I could but hopefully you get the jist

      1. NoPantsFridays*

        A statement like that would hold a lot more water coming from a Christian; so if Pickles could find a Christian coworker to say this instead, it might help. I find that if you preface something with “As a Christian,” it magically becomes truer.

        1. Chinook*

          “A statement like that would hold a lot more water coming from a Christian;”

          I support this 100% and would be willing to act as the “Christian spokesperson” for Pickles. It is sort of like how, when there are wardrobe issues, a woman is more than likely to be open to another woman saying that you can see her bra whereas a man pointing that out may get a completly different reaction.

          Of course, depending on who set it up, my opinion may also be dismissed as I am only a Catholic, which in some groups eyes means I am not really a Christian either.

          1. ThursdaysGeek*

            I’ll take Chinook’s place, if a Protestant is really necessary, although I’d rather that we just stand together.

        2. Parcae*

          Like Chinook, I’m a Christian and would be happy to deploy the “as a Christian” bomb on behalf of the greater good. A few jobs ago, I spotted a crèche on the list of planned decorations for the office. All it took was a casual “actually, as a Christian I consider that a holy symbol and I’m a little uncomfortable with it in this context” and the higher-ups broke the land speed record for reversing a decision.

    7. Katie the Fed*

      At the risk of hijacking this thread further, last year our government agency sent out guidance about holiday decorations to the effect of “religions and traditions must be represented equally – for example, if you have a Christmas tree up you should also have a menorah and Ramadan decorations” and we all had a great laugh about it – Ramadan is in no way a winter holiday – it’s based on a lunar calendar and last year was in July. But sure, we’ll put up a crescent moon or something if it makes everyone feel better. And something for Diwali which was a few months earlier.

      1. jhhj*

        This is what bothers me about so-called holiday decorations. Chanukah is just not an important holiday. If you want to represent religions equally, why not just put up displays for the appropriate time? It’s this weird blindness that late December is THE holiday season for everyone; it isn’t.

        1. Adam*

          One of my favorite jokes by the comedian Lewis Black (who was raised Jewish but I think is more atheist now) is how for many non-Jewish people Hanukkah is the only holiday of the faith they could name and thus they added much more significance to it, particularly with its proximity to Christmas, but with actually Jewish practitioners it’s a casual “back to school” sort of holiday.

        2. BRR*

          -It’s this weird blindness that late December is THE holiday season for everyone; it isn’t.

          Exactly, when holiday is spelled out in red and green. Having secret Santa for the holidays. Who knows what would happen if the 25th wasn’t a holiday. Please don’t take that as an assault on Christmas or anyone’s beliefs, but as Alison posted below, “it can be considered kind of secular or universal simply because it has the privilege of dominance.” Just don’t try and convince me the old man with the white beard on the cabinet across from me is a holiday statue. It’s obviously Santa, not a hasidic Jew.

        3. Natalie*

          I don’t think the blindness is weird at all – if you are going to acknowledge the important holidays of another religion, that means you actually care to find out what those important holidays are and possibly begin to understand that other religions aren’t just “Christianity in a different language and with funny food”.

          The over-emphasis on Hanukkah* is just tokenism.

          * By people trying to do the bare minimum to seem “inclusive”. Jewish people obviously may or may not choose to emphasize Hanukkah a lot, and that’s their prerogative.

          1. Katie the Fed*

            Exactly. My husband and I actually travel a lot and do enjoy various cultural celebrations – so for Diwali we try to find Indian restaurants doing celebrations, for Eid al-Fitr we head to a local Lebanese place that does a feast, etc.

        4. The IT Manager*

          Well when it comes down to it, for Christians Easter is more important religious holiay than Christmas, but that’s not obvious to outsiders either.

        5. Felicia*

          As far as I know, December (in terms of religious holidays) is only THE holiday season for Christians, not for any other religions. From my understanding many non-Christian religions have the important holidays in Fall, and of course Ramadan, moves around any year because it’s based on the lunar calendar. I believe Ramadan starts like 2 weeks earlier every year, so it’s sometimes in December, but it’ll currently be summer for the next few years

          1. Felicia*

            A lot of holidays? Yes. A lot of holidays that are religiously major holidays to non Christians – no. All other religions have their more major holidays at other times of the year. I believe teh major Buddhist holiday is in May.

        1. Chinook*

          “And why not think ahead and throw in something for St. Patric’s Day ? :)”

          Only if we can also have a day for St. George where we can cover everything in orange too. :)

          (for the non-Irish – because there are 2 types of Irishmen and not all of them are of the green Catholic variety)

      2. PEBCAK*

        The Florida statehouse now has a display by the Church of Satan for this very reason…they fought so hard to leave the Christmas decorations up that the courts said they have to let everyone put up decorations.

        1. PEBCAK*

          Sorry, it’s actually the Satanic Temple. It’s worth googling; the actual display is like a shitty fourth-grade diorama, but I had a pretty good laugh.

          1. Oh Anon*

            Did you see the rest of the displays? The Festivus and Flying Spaghetti Monster displays are even more poorly done. Furthermore, besides the figurines of the nativity scene, which were probably mass produced, being well done, it too, is nothing to gush about.

            1. PEBCAK*

              Sadly, I’m nowhere near Florida, but you’ve sent me off to the google to see if I can find more images.

    8. Artemesia*

      I find this totally inappropriate and don’t blame you for feeling annoyed by this. But this is the sort of thing, I would let go. I can’t think of any good outcome for you about making a fuss. If you can sneak in a Menorah or something that reflects a different solstice tradition without making a show of it — go for it. (and where are the Satanists when we need them)

    9. Mister Pickle*

      Personally, I’d carefully consider if I really wanted to become the “Office Grinch” over this. And if it was me, I’d ignore it because it’s not a big deal to me. If I wanted to be contrary, I might put up my own display for Newtonmas.

      What I find interesting about your situation is that – tell me if I’m wrong – the nativity scene is located in a non-public room in a government office? It seems like the vast majority of law on this topic focuses on public displays. I’m not a lawyer but if the scene is indeed in a non-public area? I haven’t seen anything that addresses that situation, it may or may not be significant. Again: I’m just saying I find this interesting. I wouldn’t take it to my management.

      1. Pickles*

        That’s why I threw it out here for suggestions – I accidentally got a joking reputation for not liking fun after declining to go for a beer with a colleague of the opposite sex (just my personal policy).

        To be clear, if this was at someone’s desk, I probably wouldn’t care (much). However, it’s in a communal area shared between departments and is quite visible. I see it every time I walk in the room or go to the printer. I’ve also heard a few other grumbles already, but no one else wants to say anything, either. So I’m going to quietly add a few items that are non-denominational and represent other religions over the next few days. I’m also going to ask for decorating guidelines – but I’m guessing we won’t get them if we haven’t by now.

        Great username, by the way. :)

        1. HeyNonnyNonny*

          This sounds like a good plan. It’s probably not a hill you want to die on, and you don’t want to up your Grinch factor by tracking down the culprit or escalating.

          Or you could always add to the scene– I’m sure Barbie and GI Joe would like to be present for the birth of Jesus…

            1. A Cita*

              I’m thinking something really science-y: Neil deGrasse Tyson cardboard cut-out, a dna model action figure, a T-Rex, Lucy, etc.

              1. fposte*

                Portrait of Galileo!

                BTW, the Mendeleyevskaya metro station in Moscow is awesomely decorated with light fixtures in the form of molecular structures.

    10. Chinook*

      “On a similar note: I walked in this morning to find a nativity scene, in a government office, in a common area of a room shared between two departments.”

      Then maybe the directions for decorating aren’t clear? If someone told me that I needed to decorate for Christmas, a nativity scene (I call it a creche) would absolutely be part of it because that is how I celebrate the holiday. In fact, I would find it very odd if I was told to decorate for Christmas but was explictly told that a creche wasn’t allowed, especialy if I am the one providing the decorations and not the company.

      Now, if the company gave me a bunch of decorations and I was told to put them up, I wouuld use what I have and not think twice about what is missing.

      As for Pickles not wanting to see a creche every time they walk into the office, I would first ask if there are any other religious symbols allowed in the office. If no, then I would bring it up with someoneo. But, if there are, then I think you have to just accept that this is part of the holiday and be glad that, at Easter time, one can very easily make the arguement for not decorating with Roman torture devices.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Maybe this is specific in some way to U.S. culture, but here nativity scenes are thought of particularly religious, to the extent that they’re not widely found inappropriate in some public spaces even when other xmas decorations would be fine. Sort of the difference between having school kids sing Jingle Bells versus Away in a Manger.

      2. Amtelope*

        I would hope people wouldn’t need to be told that explicitly religious decorations are inappropriate in a government office, no matter how people individually celebrate at home.

        1. Katie the Fed*

          Oh, you have NO idea. We also have to wrestle with the issue of people putting bible quotes in their signature blocks – CONSTANTLY.

          1. Elizabeth West*

            I live in the buckle of the Bible Belt, and this does not surprise me (headquarters for a particularly exclusive church that has its fingers in many pies all over town).

            1. De Minimis*

              Same deal here…I think there’s this underlying feeling of “no one minds because everyone has the same religious background.” I recently attended a meeting at our regional headquarters that opened with a prayer [though it was done by one of the guests in attendance, not a gov’t employee. But it was at the behest of the regional director.]

          2. RishaBree*

            There were people at my previous job that I actively avoided calling because their voicemail prompts included religious messages. It was bad enough that even the “Have a blessed day” people started to actively grate.

        2. Chinook*

          “I would hope people wouldn’t need to be told that explicitly religious decorations are inappropriate in a government office, no matter how people individually celebrate at home.”

          Oh, I agree that I would hope it would be obvious but this blog has proven that common sense is not that common. That is why I think that, if the office wants decorations put up, then they need to provide the decorations and then they can control what goes up without having to find the line between religious and non-religious (because angels are definitiely but what about stars?).

          But, if you are going to leave it up to individuals to supply their own decorations, don’t be surprised when someone doesn’t realize that what they are bringing in are religious because, in their mind, they just might see the items as what you put up at Christmas time.

          1. Joline*

            I actually didn’t realize until the last few years that the advent wreath that I set up every year (and light my candles on the four Sundays before Christmas) was as religion-connected as it is. In hindsight I should’ve figured it out since it’s based on Christmas and its Sundays, but I just didn’t put it together. It was just what we’d done since I was a child since my mom comes from a German Lutheran family (in tradition if not really in faith). Just a part of Christmas for me even if I don’t really know what the advents mean. Though North Americans seemed kind of horrified when I was looking for clips to clip candles into a wreath when I made my own – I ended up having to go to a German store.

            1. Chinook*

              “Though North Americans seemed kind of horrified when I was looking for clips to clip candles into a wreath when I made my own – I ended up having to go to a German store.”

              The other place to look for that type of thing is a Catholic book store (which also seems to be the only place to find the odd combination of 3 purple and one pink candle without having to buy enough for 4 years). Thoug, from my experience, forget the clips and do up your wreath in green floral foam. Not only does it give your candle a good base (if you put it in straight and don’t take it out or use a hot glue gun in the hole) but you can then keep the evergreens ever green by watering it regularly.

    11. Observer*

      Nativity scene in a government office? It sounds like someone didn’t think this through.

      Is this something that any outsiders would see? Are there any other non-Christian staff who either work in those departments or might visit?

      If the answer is yes to either question, I would bring it up as something that could cause trouble for the agency. Especially if you are in an area where a significant proportion of the population doesn’t see itself as “good churchgoing Christians”. I could just see the fun some news outlets would have with something like that here in NYC – and of course is would get magnified by all the indignant “war on Chrismas” people. So, of course someone is going to start looking for the possibility that government money was mis-spent (even if it all came out of some individual’s pocket) and there is going to be a hunt for a scapegoat, etc. In short, this could very easily turn into a time and energy wasting fiasco. And that assumes that no one sues, threatens to sue or files a complaint of discrimination somewhere.

  6. SJP*

    I think Alison is spot on with this.. unfortunately a lot of companies do like to decorate the front desk for the holidays and even though it is your working area, it is also the front of house/face of the business that visitors etc see and you do need to comply with them if they do want it decorated.
    If you would prefer not to decorate the area yourself then say that could someone else do it and hope that someone else can.. and then just try and not take too much notice of it..
    Im sorry you’re going through a tough time. Ultimately though if they do want it decorated it may be something you can try and ignore as pushing back too much would probably come across negatively

  7. De Minimis*

    I would probably just try to do a minimal amount of decoration to avoid conflict.

    I know it’s fun for some people, but I tend to get a little tired of a lot of the holiday observances in the office. A little here and there is fine, but I think some places tend to go overboard. We are in the habit of doing departmental birthday celebrations, and we have some December birthdays here so we’ve got the birthday celebration, the departmental Christmas celebration, and also the facility-wide Christmas celebration. I think it’s a little much.

    1. Nerd Girl*

      My office does lots of little celebrations in December as well but they do it well – there’s always food. We have bagels once a month to celebrate the birthdays for that month. Yesterday there was a breakfast buffet as a holiday gift from (not sure, company? Department? outside vendor?) Later this week we’re having a lunch buffet from the branch manager and then next week we’re having a pot luck / gift exchange. I love December just for the meals!!!

      1. De Minimis*

        We’re kind of limited on what we can do and how much time we can take out of the workday, so for us it’s usually potluck [though I hear the facility-wide celebration may be catered this time which would be great.] I have at least two potlucks over the next couple of weeks, and possibly three depending on if the facility one is catered…and one of them is on Christmas Eve.

        1. OP*

          Yes, so many potlucks! So many that they’re becoming a burden on everyone actually. I don’t know who sets up all of them, but I wish they would cut down a little. I don’t want to eat the potato salad that somebody made at home and left out on the counter all day…

          That said, I would not mind catered food or prepackaged foods.

        1. Nerd Girl*

          LOL! I have read it. My office has a full kitchen so people tend to bring the ingredients in and prepare here. The few that don’t cook here bring in the drinks, paper goods, and bagged chips. :)

        2. Elizabeth West*

          I love them and have never had a problem. Or perhaps I just have a high tolerance for dirty food, I don’t know.

          @Nerd Girl–oh, I wish we had a full kitchen. Then I could actually make actual breakfast every morning at work. :D

      2. ali*

        seriously, I only work in the office 2 days a week, but I haven’t had to bring lunch at all yet this month!

    2. Mike*

      > I would probably just try to do a minimal amount of decoration to avoid conflict.

      You only need 15 pieces of flair. You don’t need 37 like Brian.

  8. TotesMaGoats*

    We put up our office tree last week. It’s all gold ribbons and ornaments. Very secular but it does brighten up the area a lot. That and a wreath and lighted garland. A flat refusal won’t help you but there are a lot of good suggestions. I’m sorry for whatever you are going through.

    1. BRR*

      I think we’ve had this discussion on here before but there’s really no such thing as a secular tree.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Agreed — we were just having a similar one on the Sunday open thread about Santa, in fact. For many non-Christmas celebrators, a tree is very much a symbol of Christmas, which is a religious holiday we don’t observe. That people can find it secular is a reflection of how dominant Christianity is in the U.S.

        I’ll quote what I said Sunday:
        As a commenter here pointed out last year (very well, I thought), Christians (and Christmas celebrators) don’t have to think about how religious their holiday and its symbols is – it can be considered kind of secular or universal simply because it has the privilege of dominance. But trust me, for those who don’t celebrate it, it’s not secular and it’s not universal, and we don’t use its symbols. Please be careful about recognizing that, since not tends to irritate/offend/exasperate (depending on who you’re talking to) those of us who are in the non-Christian minority in the U.S.

        1. BRR*

          ^ What they said. As someone who is agnostic and was raised Jewish if I put a menorah out what would you associate it with? To me Hanukkah is no more religions than Thanksgiving but I doubt for non-Jewish people it’s different.

          1. PEBCAK*

            And most of us don’t mind the tree at all, but we want to be clear that it does not represent us; it’s not some inclusive symbol of the holiday season. That’s not to say I need the company to put up a token menorah, only that “a Christmas tree represents us all” is really a form of erasure.

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              Yes. Well said. (And in fact, many Jews really don’t want the token menorah, particularly since Hanukkah is a very minor Jewish holiday and equating it to a major Christian one like Christmas is weird.)

              1. Jaimie*

                For the sake of clarity (and not because I’m offended, because I’m absolutely not), Hanukkah is a minor Jewish holiday from a religious perspective, in that it’s not a “high” holiday, and people don’t tend to skip work or spend time praying, as with Yom Kippur, for example. But it’s an important holiday in many cultural ways. For my family, and for my Reform congregation, it is not minor at all. It’s a big deal, and I promise it’s just as important to me as Christmas is to a lot of people.

                1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  Yes, certainly culturally important to many of us. But I’ve noticed many non-Jews assume it’s as big a deal religiously as Christmas is, which it’s not.

                2. Observer*

                  I think that the cultural importance is a direct reflection of its proximity to Christmas. How important is Purim in your congregation? And how much is it presented as a “Jewish Halloween without the trick part”?

                3. Jaimie*

                  There’s no reply button for Observer’s post, so I’ll reply here, I suppose.

                  I don’t think it matters why there is cultural significance for Hanukkah. The fact is, there is cultural significance.

                  I’m not sure that I understand the point of the post (I’m reading it to say that Jewish holidays all stand in competition with non-Jewish holidays, and that they are knock-offs. This hopefully is a misinterpretation on my part).

                  But if you’re going to draw a parallel between holidays, then more likely you would equate Purim to Easter. And it’s huge for our congregation, probably more so than Hannukah, there’s a “spiel” for the story with noisemakers, and a carnival. Yes, all the kids dress in costumes, and some adults, too. Nobody presents it as an alternative to Halloween. This is because it isn’t.

                4. Observer*

                  I don’t think it matters why there is cultural significance for Hanukkah. The fact is, there is cultural significance.

                  In one sense, you are completely correct. In another, I think it’s significant, if correct (And I think it is) because it speaks to the dominance of the majority religion and the fact that Christmas IS, in fact, religious.

                  I’m reading it to say that Jewish holidays all stand in competition with non-Jewish holidays, and that they are knock-offs.

                  Of course they aren’t. If nothing else, most of the Jewish holidays predate the Christian ones (at least the Christian versions.)

                  Not that that’s the point either. The Jewish holidays stand on their own very nicely, thank you. ESPECIALLY when taken in the context of the whole religion rather than the context of Christian / Western religious holidays.

                  But if you’re going to draw a parallel between holidays, then more likely you would equate Purim to Easter

                  Why? This is the first time I’m seeing this parallel, and I’m curious what it’s based on.

                  Nobody presents it as an alternative to Halloween. This is because it isn’t.

                  Oh, I totally agree with you that Purim is absolutely NOT an alternative to Halloween. But, it’s a very common comparison. I’ve been asked about this, and every person I know who works in Jewish outreach has had to deal with this question. It’s not for nothing that probably the two largest English language Jewish outreach web sites have more than one piece on this. (Check and for Halloween to see how many articles they have. They are responding to the things people send them and what people out in the field are reporting.) Your congregations is ahead of the game here.

                  In a way it’s not surprising. Just as people look at Christmas and Chanuka and just look at some very superficial similarities and decide that they must be versions of the same holiday as celebrated by the respective religions, they do that with Purim and Halloween. Here it’s costumes! candy! and even noise. But, as you know, totally different holidays.

              2. Jillociraptor*

                And also…the Chanukah story is about resisting the oppressive demand to assimilate. So the idea of putting a Chanukiyah/Menorah next to a Christmas tree personally rubs me the wrong way.

                1. Jaimie*

                  Yeah, people don’t really know the story. Nor does the average non-Jewish person understand the delight of Hanukkah donuts. Both of which make me sad.

                  The next time I have a grumpy day I am changing my name to Antiochus.

                2. Kelly L.*

                  I only know about the donuts because of Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab. They sound like the yummiest tradition ever.

                3. Melissa*

                  I’m not Jewish but I was actually going to try to make sufiganiyot this year, because one of my friends is having a soiree during Hanukkah and I like to bake. They look delicious and also not super difficult (more like…medium difficulty…)

              3. Felicia*

                Yeah my problem with that is a lot of non-Christians view Hanukkah as “Jewish Christmas” in that they assume that it’s a super important religious holiday to Jews, in the way that Christmas is to them. Generally it’s Christians who grew up somewhere with few Jewish people that believe that – because that’s how it’s portrayed in the media. Like on Hanukkah going to work is not a big deal. And yet they have never heard of Rosh Hashannah or Yom Kipur. Like people can be a Christmas and Easter Christian in terms of church attendance, synagogue attendance for a lot of people can be limited to the High Holidays, maybe sometimes Passover, and no Hanukkah.

                1. fposte*

                  I think the “Jewish Christmas” phrase is also really good for illuminating an problem–it suggests that the Christmas-type holiday slot is the default slot and that other religions just slot other holidays in there.

                2. Natalie*

                  It’s interesting – even with a couple of Jewish family members, and living in a pretty multicultural city, I didn’t become terribly familiar with the Jewish calendar until I moved to an apartment 1 block away from the largest temple in the area. I always know it’s an important holiday when I see dozens of teenagers and young adults, looking awfully uncomfortable in a suit and walking with their parents and grandparents since all of the parking is full for blocks. (Reform temple, so people generally drive.)

                3. Melissa*

                  I learned about Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur as a child in the New York school system. We got days off for High Holidays in New York and my teacher was Jewish, so she taught us about what they were and why we were going to be off. (We also usually but not always got our winter holiday break off earlier than the beginning of Hanukkah, although sometimes that simply wasn’t possible depending on when it fell.)

                  She was pretty awesome, that teacher.

            2. BRR*

              Yeah I don’t mind a little. It’s not the hill I want to die on. But I have a coworker who not only looks like the dollar store Christmas section exploded in her cube but it spilled out about 20 feet in all directions.

              When will it become acceptable to passive-aggressively leave printouts of AAM on people’s chair?

            3. jhhj*

              Hah, should have scrolled down.

              Yeah, I like pretty Christmas trees and light displays. I don’t care that they aren’t inclusive (well, I could make an argument about lights), because I think they’re pretty. I just wish people would say, yes, these are related to a religious tradition (or two, depending on which Pagans you speak to).

        2. Ezri*

          ” it can be considered kind of secular or universal simply because it has the privilege of dominance”

          This is very well said! Every December I get to listen to my in-laws complain about Christmas and Christianity being ‘attacked’ when an organization removes their religious symbols or someone says ‘happy holidays’ to them. But the fact is, in the US Christmas is a big hairy deal, and people spreading ‘the Christmas spirit’ can be very exclusive to other religious beliefs.

          I’m getting to be a grinch about Christmas, though, despite being Christian. The consumerism that goes on between Thanksgiving and New Years has just gotten silly.

          1. Elizabeth West*

            The consumerism that goes on between Thanksgiving and New Years has just gotten silly.

            I agree, and now it’s spreading to other places. The UK just did Black Friday and I nearly cried. Stop it!!

            1. Colette*

              Canada had Black Friday as well – it’s been growing over the past few years – but since people have to work on Friday, it tends to last all weekend.

        3. Morag*

          Not disagreeing with Alison here in any way, but just as a point of interest or semantics, for many Christians, so-called Christmas trees are non-Christian objects that happen to have become popularly associated with the secular celebration of a Christian holiday. From their point of view, trees, Santa, elves, Rudolph are all secular, pop-cultural traditions and have no intrinsic relationship to their religious holiday. Which doesn’t contradict Alison’s point, just adds another layer. We people are so complicated!

          1. Morag*

            I guess the point I didn’t quite make is that these Christians can feel as put off by the dominant culture as non-Christians do.

            1. Evan Þ*

              Exactly. I’m a Christian, and I don’t view any of these things as related to Christmas-the-religious-holiday. To me, they’re parts of Christmas-the-cultural-institution, which is a totally different thing. (C. S. Lewis wrote a very funny essay once about the three different holidays that all happen to be called Christmas and celebrated on the same day, but still remaining completely different.)

              I don’t object to or feel left out by Christmas-the-cultural-institution, but if someone’s putting up decorations for various actual religious holidays, I don’t consider trees, Santa, and such to actually represent Christmas-the-religious-holiday.

              1. Not So NewReader*

                This is true from where I am sitting. As kids we had it drilled into our heads that all these things were secular and had nothing to do with Christian religion. Matter of fact, we were told, if these things “went away” that would be good.

                As an adult, I tend to view them as an extension of a religious holiday. There would be no point to having a talking reindeer with a red nose, if there were no such thing as Christmas Day. The story line would be lost.

                Personally, I love Rudolph and I love Christmas, but I do think about the interconnections going on here and how the holiday seems to swallow up everything in sight. Hundreds of years ago, Christmas was a VERY somber event. Even smiling would be totally inappropriate.

                1. fposte*

                  But that somberness wasn’t original to the holiday either–it was itself a pushback, a reaction to the notion that Christmas had become too much of a big party-down. And if by putting a red nose on a reindeer I can annoy Oliver Cromwell and Cotton Mather in some way, that’s icing on the cake to me.

          2. Natalie*

            This is exactly how I misunderstood the OP originally and I couldn’t figure out how to explain it. A certain variety of Christian is very bothered by cultural celebrations of Christmas, especially from non-Christians.

            1. Judy*

              I certainly don’t care who celebrates the cultural holiday, but as a Christian, I think and see many of us try to move toward more celebration of the religious holiday. That’s part of the point of the Advent Conspiracy with its principles: Worship Fully, Spend Less, Give More, Love All.

              As someone said in here, CS Lewis said in an essay that there were 3 holidays called Christmas celebrated on the same day: the religious one, the cultural one (trees, Santa, cocoa, etc), and the commercial one (spend, spend, spend).

              1. Natalie*

                Oh, certainly – there are many Christians trying to move towards a more religious, less cultural or commercial Christmas for themselves and their churches and families. Totally cool – you do you. I am thinking more of the “War on Christmas” types that basically want it both ways – everyone acknowledge Christmas, but as a religious holiday only.

            1. Emily, admin extraordinaire*

              I’m a Christian (well, I’m a Mormon, so many Christians would disagree with that claim, but I digress) and I totally don’t buy into the whole “War on Christians/Christmas” thing–after all, the “Happy Holidays” expression started way before the so-called War on Christmas, and referred to Christmas and New Year’s as “the Holidays”– but it did bug me when stores started selling “holiday trees.” Because no, they’re not. They’re Christmas trees. We don’t bring trees, real or fake, into the house and decorate them for any other holiday but Christmas. They’re not a religious symbol per se, and are certainly more associated with the cultural Christmas rather than the religious Christmas (although the two do often coincide). But they’re still for Christmas and Christmas alone. We don’t call menorahs “holiday candelabras” or chocolate Easter bunnies “holiday rabbits” or shamrocks “holiday clovers” for heaven’s sake. They’re Christmas trees, they’re associated with Christmas, and it’s not appropriate (as one of my friends’ workplaces did) to decorate them with dreidels and Stars of David to make her, the only Jewish employee, feel “included.” No.

              1. Beezus*

                “We don’t call menorahs “holiday candelabras” or chocolate Easter bunnies “holiday rabbits” or shamrocks “holiday clovers” for heaven’s sake. “

                Well, I do, now! This appeals to the contrarian in me SO MUCH!

                Oooh, if I’m being non-specific about it, can things from one holiday carry over to another? Do you think I could get away with saying “Happy Holiday!” to someone on Feb 14th and hand them a egg-decorated baggie full of pumpkin-shaped chocolates? The candy, especially – I have a little one, so I tend to have candy from one holiday or another in my house year round.

                1. Emily, admin extraordinaire*

                  Go for it! Sparklers are now “holiday handheld combustibles” and Halloween costumes are “holiday dress-ups” and Thanksgiving turkeys can be “holiday flightless birds.”

                2. Gracefully Bowing Out*

                  “Do you think I could get away with saying “Happy Holiday!” to someone on Feb 14th and hand them a egg-decorated baggie full of pumpkin-shaped chocolates?”

                  I would say… No !

                  Clearly you are in jest, since doing such a thing would be *cue the sharp intake of breath …*

                  “Seasonally Inappropriate.”

                  Guess which country I just came from! I honestly didn’t even know that was a thing, much less a crime. One crosses the line somewhere in the world!

                3. ThursdaysGeek*

                  I’m a bit slow to eat candy: pretty sure some of my Easter candy has been eaten in February.

              2. Cath in Canada*

                We don’t bring trees, real or fake, into the house and decorate them for any other holiday but Christmas.

                When we lived in Germany, people would bring tree branches into the house for Easter and decorate them with brightly painted wooden rabbits and chicks. My parents bought a load of the ornaments and continued the tradition when we moved back to England – I used to love it! My Sikh best friend always got way more Easter eggs than I did, which I always found very unfair, but at least we were the only house with decorated Easter branches :)

                1. Kelly L.*

                  And actually, I’ve started noticing Halloween trees, Easter trees, etc. in the US the last few years. Lights too.

            2. AUB*

              There are some that don’t want it both way. I won’t insist you celebrate anything. If you’d like, Take the word ‘holiday’ to describe your hot cocoa, tree, and Santa celebrations. Let me use the name of my lord to describe my celebration. I have no problem with this. Take the nativity down at the state building? Fine. There is freedom of religion and persecution in America. Have ongoing threads talking gleefully about adding Barbie or a t-Rex to what some consider holy and might I add an accurate event? Please don’t. Hopefully people won’t take something serious you care about and treat it in that manner. At work or anywhere else.

        4. Bea W*

          Yes, even though the tree is not Biblical, it has been incorporated into Christianity as a symbol for Christmas, and you can find them in many churches. I had no idea it was regarded as secular by some people until I was an adult, and that still seems weird to me – well the whole idea of Christmas as a secular holiday seems weird, and speaking as a someone who is Christian, I also get irritated/offended/exasperated at the same suggestions foisting a Christian tradition on non-Christians and people who don’t observe it. If non-Christians want to participate in all or some Christmas traditions, have at it, but Christmas is not secular holiday, no matter what all the stores want people to think.

          To complicate matters, not all Christians celebrate or celebrate in the same way or don’t observe at all (Jehovah’s Witnesses are one example. I am sure there are others). I really wish people would take these differences at face value and accept them instead of insisting X, Y, and Z are really okay because they are “secular”.

          Fun fact – if I remember my US History correctly, the tradition of the Christmas tree was brought to us by German immigrants early 1800s? I’m not sure when it became wide-spread in the US, but it is a fairly recent addition to American Christian tradition. The common public displays of trees we take for granted today really didn’t appear until the early 20th century.

          1. Melissa*

            I come from the Bible belt and frankly, I think the number of Christians, even serious Christians, who would consider Christmas a secular holiday is actually quite small.

            And yes, the tradition of the Christmas tree was brought to the U.S. by Germans in the 19th century…but the Christmas tree has origins in original pagan European nature worship. Early Christians actually co-opted it to aid in converting the heathens* to Christianity.


        5. Chinook*

          AAM, I understand where you are coming from but I also remeber spending two Christmases in Japan (which is very non-Christian) and seeing all sorts of Santas and lights (but no Christmas trees) which made me begin to wonder if there are two holidays wrapped in one – a Christian religious one and a more secular one that encourages gift giving.

          Don’t get me wrong – I personally would prefer not to have to decorate my office for any holiday and absolutely appreciate working with colleagues who can cover my holy days because they are of a different faith (and I am willing to return the favour), but is there a point where we can see that there is a time in December where people put up bright lights and greenery (very important to those of us in the middle of the cold and dark of winter), make sure they give gifts to people they appreciate and have an excuse to visit family and that we do it because it is part of the N. American culture? Or will it always be seen as a Christian holiday that is just annoying to non-Christians?

          (this isn’t me being snarky, just curious)

            1. Anony Reindeer*

              I spent a while living in Japan a while ago – Christmas trees/santa/etc are pure secular traditions there. There are some Japanese Christians, but not enough for most people to associate it with them. I was given a “traditional” Christmas Cake (sponge cake of some sort). Oh, and I was met with lots of surprise when I told people that fried chicken is not actually the normal holiday fare in the US for Christmas.

              That experience is partly why I divorce some of the winter festival items (Trees, lights, gift-giving old man) from religious icons (nativity scene, menorah, etc)

          1. Zillah*

            I’d speculate that in Japan things are different precisely because Christianity is not as common there, so it’s easier to separate cultural Christmas from religious Christmas. Here, I don’t think there’s any way to societally separate them in the way that you’re suggesting.

            1. fposte*

              Right, same way when USAns grab stuff from other cultures it’s often without bringing the context–think all those faux-Asian tattoos, or those in the Chinese “alphabet.”

          2. Elsajeni*

            I think there are multiple layers. Christians might celebrate both Religious Christmas (nativity scenes, church services, hymns) and Mostly-Secular Cultural Christmas (Santa, snowmen, candy canes, trees, lights, presents). People who aren’t religious at all aren’t likely to celebrate Religious Christmas, but they may celebrate Cultural Christmas, especially if they live in a Christian-dominant society or were raised in a Christian household — it does fill some useful cultural niches (exchange of gifts, family gathering, welcoming/hoping for the return of the sun after a long winter, etc.) that would otherwise go unfilled. And people who actively practice a religion other than Christianity aren’t likely to celebrate even the most secular version of Cultural Christmas, because even at its most secular, it’s still related to a religion that isn’t theirs.

          3. LizB*

            As a non-Christian, I’m never going to be able to think of Christmas as a secular holiday, because the only reason the “secular” celebration exists is because the majority of the people in the U.S. are Christian. If that weren’t the case, we would probably have some other winter celebration — there’s a direct causal link between Christianity being the dominant religion and Christmas being the holiday that everyone is supposed to celebrate. That doesn’t mean it’s always going to be annoying, and I have nothing against lights or greenery (I live in a very cold, dark place, and they’re pretty!), but for me, there’s no separating the two.

            1. Not So NewReader*

              Annnd… it’s a big money maker. Don’t forget that part.
              Growing up Halloween just was not that big a deal. You put together a costume out of what you had on hand. If you were lucky enough to have a mother that sewed you might have a decent costume. Now, it almost rivals Christmas in driving sales.

              1. LizB*

                True! The commercial benefits of the season have definitely played a part in the evolution of the holiday. But while commercialism may be one of the major reasons why the change occurred, the origin of the holiday is still religious. (And I’m not a big fan of commercialism, either, so that doesn’t exactly make me less likely to be annoyed. My eventual kids are going to have thrifted or homemade Halloween costumes, end of discussion.)

                1. Nerd Girl*

                  “My eventual kids are going to have thrifted or homemade Halloween costumes, end of discussion.”

                  I make my kids costume every year (excluding this year only). A piece of advice…set a deadline several weeks before Halloween and tell your kids whatever costume they’ve chosen by that date is THE costume you’re making. Every kid I know changes their mind every week and if you don’t set a deadline you risk making yourself crazy trying to keep up with their demands. :) I love making their costumes. It’s my favorite thing about Halloween. My daughter has been Princess Peach (from the SuperMario game), Three Musketeer Barbie, a vampire witch, and Taylor Swift. My son was Pikachu (the pokemon), UnderDog, Thomas the train…and my very favorite costumes: they went as Fire and Ice. They loved those costumes!!!

                2. LizB*

                  @Nerd Girl: Yep, that’s how my mom did it when I was growing up! She’d take us to the fabric store several weeks before Halloween (sometimes as much as a month, since there are four of us kids) to pick out a pattern and fabric, and from that point on the costume was set in stone. It never even crossed my mind as a child to want to be something else, because mom already had the pattern, so how could I be anything else?

      2. Adam*

        Yeah, it’s another example of how the origins of something can be muddied or completely lost to where the initial meaning is lost. Many people know Christmas Trees were actually Pagan in origin best we know, and many non-religious people put up trees every year, with or without religious ornaments as it suits them. But in the end does it matter? The holiday and Christmas Trees are pretty much a package deal at this point and separating any sort of religious leanings from the decoration can be pretty difficult.

        1. Bea W*

          Thank you! I couldn’t remember if the tree actually went back to pagan practices, but I know it didn’t start out Christian. You’re right – either way you slice it, no matter which holidays you are celebrating – Pagan or Christian, it has some kind of religiously associated meaning.

        2. NoPantsFridays*

          On this note, I remember being taught at my Christian high school that Jesus was actually born in the spring, and that Christmas is an adopted Pagan winter solstice festival. It made sense to me at the time with all the lights and all… but I don’t know if this is true.

          1. Cath in Canada*

            “oh, you guys have a huge winter solstice festival? It just so happens that our lord and saviour was born on that very same day! Let’s combine the two celebrations!” always seemed to me like a feasible way to convert nations to a given religion… ;)

            1. Chinook*

              “Let’s combine the two celebrations!” always seemed to me like a feasible way to convert nations to a given religion… ;)”

              Yup – and competely how the Catholic missionaries did it. They looked for ways to express their religious truth by using the cultural reality of the people they are talking to and goes way back to Paul (who was able to argue that circumsion was not a nessary part of Christianity even if that was Jesus and all the apostles had done. Funnily, the Greek converts wanted a decision on that before fully commiting).

            2. erehwon*

              I attempted to do some more research and was unable to find anything definitive. I had thought Emperor Constantine of Ancient Rome, the first Christian Roman Emperor, had incorporated the Pagan Winter Solstice with a Christian holiday that celebrated the birth of Christ in the hopes to prevent what appeared was a coming CIVIL WAR. I had read that before “Christmas” there was growing civil unrest between Christians and Pagans and to try and appease both sides the incorporation had occurred to settle the masses.

              And yes by all accounts that I have read Christ was born in the spring.

          2. Student*

            A lot of the “pagan” Christmas traditions (not all of it) came from the Roman Empire holiday of Saturnalia. It was a big festival in December that was essentially a temporary role-reversal of slaves and masters (slavery was not necessarily a permanent condition in Rome, so this is somewhat less weird than it seems to Americans). A chance for the slaves to party, a chance to get really drunk and eat a ton, and a chance to wear brightly colored hats. When the earlier Christian Roman emperors came to power, they rolled Saturnalia into Christmas in order to help smoothly convert the empire – all y’all peasants still get to get drunk, it’s just in some other god’s name now!

            There is also a Roman Empire spring festival that originates some of the unusual Easter traditions. I think it was floral-related, don’t remember the name of that one.

            1. Maggie*

              This is so true. You can also throw in the old North European Yuletide customs too, such as Yule logs, berries, holly and winter greenery. Christmas has become a real cultural mix of customs, even in churches.

            2. Melissa*

              I looked it up and you might be thinking of Floralia, which took place in early May. Hares and goats were associated with the holiday; the crowds were pelted with beans (jellybeans?), and people brought wheat ears into shrines (sounds like bring palms into the church).

              But Easter is a mish mash of a bunch of different ancient spring equinox traditions. Many classical cultures had resurrection stories quite similar to that of Jesus, so the name actually originates from Eostre, a fertility goddess, and elements were brought in from the celebrations of sun and/or fertility deities across cultures – Horus, Inanna/Ishtar, Mithras, Dionysus, etc. One writer amusedly pointed out that many churches have sunrise services on Easter, which kind of harkens back to the sun worship.

      3. Natalie*

        How so? The tree has a non-Christian origin, and plenty of people celebrate Christmas as a secular holiday. My city has a lot of Somalian immigrants, who are generally Muslims but celebrate Christmas as an American cultural holiday a la Thanksgiving. I’m an atheist with a tree.

  9. Paul*

    At the end of the day, they are just decorations. I suspect that whatever is bothering you outside of work will be on your mind anyway, regardless of whether there are decorations or not. Perhaps you can reach out to your coworkers and friends at this time of year to keep you active, and perhaps help improve your situation.

    1. Anonnynanny*

      At the end of the day, they are just decorations.

      Yes, but these decorations could also be triggers, so I think it’s understandable to want to minimize exposure to them where possible, if possible.

        1. OhNo*

          Very true. I’m sorry for anyone who tries to avoid decorations for any reason this time of year – they seem to be absolutely everywhere!

          1. Natalie*

            Or terrible Christmas music (and there is so much of it). One of my bosses insists on playing it in the office, despite the fact that we have to hear it everywhere else.

            1. Nerd Girl*

              I love Christmas music – but only the versions I grew up with. I literally grimace and moan when I hear songs I love butchered by artists who have to put their creative spin on it. I know that this is the case for a lot of people and refuse to force my beloved Christmas tunes on others because I would feel a bit destroyed if I witnessed a co-worker reacting that way to one of my favorite songs. Put the headphones on and keep the holly jolly feeling close.

        2. Kyrielle*

          It is, but the office is normally one place where you could, if not completely avoid them, at least not be hammered by them. It’s possible to reduce exposure to other sources by limiting where you go.

          I had a very rough Christmas time one year (and a few years following), and I was not so very seasonally merry. I’m not sure having my actual workspace (as opposed to others’ workspaces) festooned with decorations wouldn’t have been the thing to make it hard to get any work done or to cope in general. It didn’t happen, since decorating was up to my personal desires, so I never found out. (Luckily.)

      1. Bea W*

        Try telling people the American flag is just a decoration. Certain items are symbolic and meaningful to people, and saying “At the end of the day, they are just decorations.” at best is not helpful and at worst offensive. I have totally done this myself, highly offended people by even suggesting a non-Christian origin of the Christmas tree. In the end it doesn’t matter if that’s actually a historical fact, because the meaning people attribute to these objects is what matters.

        1. fposte*

          That’s a really good analogy, Bea W; I haven’t heard it before and I think it’s quite illuminating.

          Culture is like etymology; where the word came from doesn’t prove much about what it means now and whether it’s offensive or inoffensive.

        2. Jillociraptor*

          Yes, this is great! And if they’re just decorations, what does it matter if you don’t have them? Obviously they have a special import if people are so committed to having them even though they know it makes some others uncomfortable.

    2. Chinook*

      the holidays can very much be a trigger if someone has had a recent death. I liked the Japanese tradition of those who had had a family member die near the New Year celebration actually put a symbol on their door that was short hand for “we are in mourning and won’t necessarily feel like celebrating or rememebr to send you a new year’s postcard.” It acknowledged the fact that celebrating a tradition without a key family member or friend can actually make it painful to do.

  10. Rebecca*

    I just wish things like this would be truly voluntary. I was in a meeting this morning, and now I notice there’s a live Christmas tree set up in the lobby. So, now I can dread the forced fun time having to put a set number of decorations on the tree during my unpaid lunch break. Oh joy.

    1. Anon Accountant*

      Will your coworkers disagree over how the tree is decorated? Or have 1 that follows behind others redoing what they just put on the tree so it suits them?

      We had similar events here so I have to ask. :)

      1. Rebecca*

        We can’t really disagree, because we use company supplied decorations. Last year we had one of the fussbudgets standing back and saying “no, move that candy cane over there, next to the blue ornament” or “too much tinsel here, not enough there”. And it was fun trying to eat and keep the glitter out of the food and off our fingers. I did not enjoy it. At All.

        1. Anon Accountant*

          That’s us! “No! That red ornament is too close to the gold one! I’ll move it” and “that ribbon needs redone” etc. it was a great feeling when it was over.

    2. Natalie*

      Oh, bleh, I would not want to decorate a tree with my co-workers. The only thing that makes it fun to me is a bourbon cocktail and the walk down memory lane. Otherwise it’s hanging stuff on other stuff and getting poked by needles repeatedly.

      1. Ezri*

        Tree decorating is exciting at my house because cats. We can’t put any ornaments on the bottom half of the tree or they’ll get batted off.

        1. Natalie*

          My friend’s cat has some compulsion to start eating or chewing literally all plants that she comes across. They bought a fake tree because of this, and sure enough the minute they set it up she went right for one of the lower branches and started trying to eat it.

          She apparently doesn’t care for the texture of plastic because she stopped within seconds.

          1. chewbecca*

            I’ve caught my cat chewing on our fake tree a couple times already. I don’t get it, but he lurves him some plants. I had to rub chili oil on one of my old roommate’s plants because he kept eating the leaves (with her permission, of course).

            1. Monodon monoceros*

              I never have houseplants because of cats. An old roommate bought a plant and I warned her to keep it in her room. One of the cats discovered it one day and from then on his main goal in life was to get into her room. We called it the crack plant.

              1. Natalie*

                That sounds exactly like my friend’s cat.

                She first got the cat because someone abandoned it at her store (a pet store) so she just randomly brought it home one evening when we had plans to drink beer and hang out on the porch. The cat immediately went for this large corn plant and attempted to walk on the leaves. Well, of course, she fell immediately. And then did it again and again and again until she had broken most of the leaves off.

                She is not right in the head. But she’s damn entertaining.

        2. Chinook*

          I have the same issue in my house. Instead, I put candy canes on which magically disappear while I am gone (though the dog and cat both have minty fresh breath all season long).

    3. Nerd Girl*

      I like Christmas decorations. I like seeing them in the stores, decorating peoples homes, on the street posts in my town. That being said – I hate decorating! Loathe it. My husband and kids do all of the decorating in my home while I sit there, listening to Christmas tunes, watching them do the heavy lifting. I would not welcome my workplace trying to get me to do something I won’t even do in my own home.

      1. Arbynka*

        I like decorating. My problem with holiday/seasonal decorations is that they have to be taken down at some point and that is the part I really don’t care for.

      2. Elizabeth West*

        I used to like it, but I’m not bothering because I’ll be alone at Christmas, and if I were going somewhere, again, why bother? I’m really busy, I don’t care this year, and I’m just waiting for it to be over (and for the work potluck, which I’m hoping will be as huge and nomulicious as it was last year). Last year, we had a huge decorating contest that our section of our floor won (!), but I haven’t heard anything about this year.

        My workplace also has a nice tree in the lobby under which people place donated items that will go to charity. It’s very pretty. I’ll just let that be my tree this year.

    4. Not So NewReader*

      “Forced”? “NOT paid”?

      Oh, this is wrong on so many levels. And it is this very type of thing that gets people reeeally upset.
      I am sorry this is happening to you and I believe this to be very far removed from anything that Christmas is about. [Kind of a worthless sentiment there, employers do not care what I think.]

      1. Rebecca*

        I just don’t want to participate, and I know I’ll be forced into it. The whole Christmas season makes me very sad, for a number of personal reasons, but no one wants to hear this.

        1. Not So NewReader*

          oh this just make it even more wrong, if that is even possible. This is so far removed from the meaning of Christmas. ugh.

    5. Hlyssande*

      Live tree? That’s a terrible idea.

      There are people who are allergic to various types of evergreens and having that in the lobby could trigger some nasty reactions, like hives and breathing issues. I have two friends who react badly to all sorts of evergreens.

      Double ick to having to decorate it yourself!

  11. Meg Murry*

    Another thought, if OP is willing to spend her own money and time – would you be willing to decorate with something more seasonal but not necessarily “holiday”? Our daycare just put up some really pretty sparkly snowflake decorations and some cute snowmen. Would that be a compromise that could work for you? Its very nice looking, but completely secular, and cheery without being “holiday”.

    1. Arbynka*

      I like this – and Zahra’s – idea a lot. I am in paricular a sucker for the winter scene decorations. We get snow down here about once every four years and it usually melts away pretty fast. But snow covered desert -it is pretty cool.

  12. YourCdnFriend*

    I love Christmas and the Holidays. I’m not religious but I love the carrols and the decorations and the gift giving. But, it’s notes like this that are a good reminder that not everyone feels the same way. I try to be sensitive to others and this is a nice reminder for me.

    I’m sorry things are so challenging for you this time of year and I hope that with Alison’s advice you can find some sort of solution.

        1. Cath in Canada*

          I do!

          Snowman noses, and reindeer snacks left out with Santa’s cookies and brandy on Christmas Eve. The carrots always had big bites taken out of them on Christmas morning in our house!

  13. Adam*

    I can understand the OP wanting to maintain a space relatively holiday free, since any time she goes out in public right about now she’s going to be bombarded with holiday imagery and sounds she can’t avoid or do anything about.

    So I think it might be best to see if she can meet her employers half-way and ask if someone else can put the decorations up and if they can be kept fairly muted and/or forward facing so they won’t dominate her vision. That seems like an ok compromise.

    1. OP*

      This is great advice and something I had not thought of before reading the comments. Part of my desk is client facing and I would be more than happy to have that area decorated. You are right that everything is so holiday-dominated during this time of year and it brings me to tears most of the time. I have to sit at my desk for 8 hours a day…I’d rather not have to stare at Christmas decorations during that time if I can help it. Obviously I cannot or would not want to prevent anyone else from decorating, but it’s different when it’s at my own desk.

  14. Gracefully Bowing Out*

    I will search for this in the open thread since it was mentioned, but how does one effectively but nicely object to decorating on religious grounds? I do not enjoy Christmas decorations but have learned they are something I have to put up with, mostly because my religious life is very personal to me and I have a major problem with people trying to debate me/flat-out harass me about it which inevitably happens (even with supervisors, when I was young and didn’t know I could do anything about it) if I mention it. However I will not put up Christmas decorations or T Day or Halloween Fourth of July etc. So far I have managed to stick my nose in work, and slip away unnoticed when it is time for “volunteers,” but I dread it each and every year, like I am going to be outed or something. Short of moving to Saudi Arabia what can I do? I don’t want want to make a stink, threaten action or anything like that, I just don’t want to participate.

    1. Adam*

      Would it be possible to say something like “Thank you for asking me to participate, but due to my own personal beliefs I would rather not?” It may depend on where you live how much push back you’d get, but I’d like to think most people would accept that and leave it be.

      1. Gracefully Bowing Out*

        Thank you for your reply Adam, I appreciate it.

        The times I encountered previously seemed to require a bit more stringency, as some seem to think that “personal beliefs” do not equate with “Religious Beliefs” and therefore people seem like they are not required to respect them.

        I tried the “personal beliefs” route with a boss once, which he took to mean “personally averse to doing your job.” When I explained to him it was a “Religious Belief” we then proceeded to have one of the most uncomfortable conversations I have ever had in the workplace where he decided to interrogate me to “judge” the veracity of my claim:

        “If this is truly a “Religious Belief” then why haven’t I seen you (insert religious custom) before (as if he knew anything about it)? Why is this only now coming up (as if I lied by ommision during the interview)? Why have you never mentioned this before (I did not think I was working in a religious institution where it would have possibly relevent)? Why are you so uncomfortable discussing this, if this is your bonifide religious belief? (Because I don’t care to share! Do I ask you about yours?) He decided let me “squirm out of my assigned duties” in the end, but treated with suspicion until I left that job.

        I dared not tell my parents, because I was terrified they would have forced me to quit or not be welcome in their home. My father owned his own business, and to me couldn’t have possibly known that not everyone luxury of declining work that violated their beliefs or dealing with people who did so. I figured their solution would have been to: “come work at Daddy’s, the world is just going to keep kicking your butt if you insist on working somewhere else.” Honestly I prefered the butt kicking to being the Spoiled Boss’s Daughter, so I never brought it up; looking back though, maybe I should have, my dad never stopped employees from decorating their personal workspaces during the holidays, and I am pretty sure he never had a conversation with his employees about it, not because of the law said he couldn’t, but because it was of no concern to him.

        (I mention this only because when I talk about my childhood some people seem to think I have been deprived, cloistered, or oppresed somehow, and that my parents must have had problems with people who held different beliefs than our family, which they didn’t at all, and why I didn’t want to discuss it with my boss.)

        Something about the term “Religious Beliefs” seems combatative and threatening to certain people, so I have done my best to fly under the radar year after year at my various jobs over the years (a valuable skill I might add) but I just never want to feel pushed around like that again should it ever become an “issue”.

        The subject had come up, so I thought I’d ask.

        1. Not So NewReader*

          Your boss was a jerk.

          I worked with a man who could not do X, Y and Z because his religion forbid it. (I don’t want to say too many identifying details here.) However, we all knew this was the case and we knew that he had told his boss. What happened next was nothing, no one got mad, no one said anything, and no one asked him to do these things.
          We did feel it was up to the boss to bring in someone who could do these things because we needed help- there was not enough of us to cover sometimes.

          I do agree that saying something up front is the best route to go. Bosses have to plan how to handle X, Y and Z without you. They need the task done. It might help you to think of this as a planning question. The boss needs to consider how badly he needs you to do these tasks and if can he find work-a-rounds.

          This seems unrelated but bear with me. The bones in my ears are not aligned correctly. This means I have bouts of vertigo. I took a job in retail one time that seemed to be going along okay. Then one day I refused to get on a ladder. (Who knew the job involved ladders?) Like you are saying here the boss went off on me. After that I was a little more careful on the interview to find out if ladder work was required. And as I age, I find there are a few other things I cannot do. Try digging a little deeper before you take a job and try finding out how the company handles a situation when a worker cannot perform a particular task.
          Overall, I find that the key is to tell people early on and not wait until you are in the moment to mention something. People can be really great about stuff. I know it is hard, but try not to assume everyone behaves poorly like your old boss did.

          1. Gracefully Bowing Out*

            I appreciate your post, especially your second half. I know now everyone behaves like my ex-boss now, I just remember it was my first not- at – Dad’s – company job and I was making more than most of the “kids my age” (I was 19) and I was trying hard to do everything right and not blow it. I really had no idea at the time that my personal beliefs would be an issue or ever even come up… why should it? Work was not home, work was not church; to me these things were generally immiscable.

            I am incensed at what happened to you, and also ask how were you to know you might be expected to climb a ladder one day?

            My brother and I were discussing the definition of “reasonable accomodation” this morning, as he is disabled, and seems to be expected to know every last contingency and scenario he might possibly face before a company can decide to hire him.

            I ask how was he supposed to know his first job out of college would transfer him to an area without timely bus service 3 months after he started? He was let go from this job because he could no longer arrive on time, as the first bus got him there 15 minutes late every day, and his job counselor (who was so proud of her placement) shamed him for coming back because he should have known he “would have difficulty commiting to this job”, and “had just wasted everyone’s time.”

            According to her, it was completely unreasonable to even request a different shift, start time or ask the company to keep him at the work center with bus service.

            I agree completely with your advice to: “Try digging a little deeper before you take a job and try finding out how the company handles a situation when a worker cannot perform a particular task.” and have learned to tread the ground carefully.

            But I am sorry that we should have to dig deeper.

    2. Gracefully Bowing Out*

      To clarify about my S.A. comment, most jobs I see there seem to send people back to their home countries during Ramadan. I am sure it is impossible to avoid everyday religious things like daily prayer etc. but as a woman I don’t think I would be expected to pray in public, so I don’t think anyone would question me. But who knows, I have never been there so I apologize if my previous remark offends anyone.

      1. Anony Reindeer*

        I have been to S.A., and I think the everyday misogyny experienced as a female would far dwarf any holiday issues. You can get away with more by being a visibly foreign woman, but not everything. Also them closing everything five times a day for daily prayer gets old very fast. You have to do everything between the prayer windows. Not a country I’d ever want to live in (outside of the Diplomatic Quarter anyway, it was bearable there).

    3. Kerry (Like The County in Ireland)*

      Hmmm. I would go for the dignified, “No, thank you.” No need to explain. I would also keep an eye out for non-religious curmudgeons who don’t think we need to be spending work time decorating a tree, like me. You could form a polite, non-participatory coalition.

      1. NoPantsFridays*

        I agree with withholding the explanation. IME if one lets on that one is of a different faith, conversion/hassling begins.

        1. Gracefully Bowing Out*

          So where is the line? To be honest I have never found it. Seems to me, people shouldn’t be hassling/coverting because that is impeding my religious freedoms, but when I mention something along those lines, it is apparently I who am impeding THEIR freedom of speech and THEIR right to express their religious beliefs…

          Can’t win for losing, and I am still convinced it doesn’t belong in the work place.

          1. fposte*

            To me, the line’s very clear–it’s just that a lot of people don’t observe it. In general, this thread is pretty much agreed that people shouldn’t be hassling/converting, so you’re not going to get much argument on that, but one reason why we feel that is because we personally know how often it happens :/.

            I think also people just get interested in something that’s out of their experience without realizing that they’re being obnoxious by turning somebody’s private beliefs into an on the spot interrogation. I have a good colleague whose faith traditions are focused on charitable works rather than celebration, and I do think that’s really interesting and have learned some interesting stuff from her over time, but the proper work-social response to “We don’t actually have a Christmas tree” isn’t “Why not?”, it’s just “Oh, okay” or “That’ll simplify needle cleanup.”

            1. Not So NewReader*

              I would fall into this pit, if someone was practicing a faith I was not familiar with, I would want to ask questions. I usually don’t but once in a while my curiosity gets the best of me and a question flies out of my mouth faster than I can stop it.

              Please know that not every question is an inquisition, some questions are purely based on wanting to learn more. It’s hard to tell sometimes which is happening, I can see that, too.

              1. Gracefully Bowing Out*

                “Please know that not every question is an inquisition, some questions are purely based on wanting to learn more. It’s hard to tell sometimes which is happening, I can see that, too.”

                You are also not in a position of power over me, nor to my knowledge, have ever accused me of “making up an excuse” to try to get out of doing “my job.”

                This boss could be very standoffish and did not like to be questioned, or wrong. With him you did what you were told to do, full stop. Any kind of push back or anything that smacked of “it’s not in my job description” could get you written up or fired since according to him, you were paid to do what you were told.

                In his case it was not curiousity, but it was most definitely hostile.

                1. Gracefully Bowing Out*

                  Sorry I also meant to mention that I am not generally unkind to people who ask me about my beliefs either, and will talk about it as long as I don’t anticipate it causing an unnecessary conflict with that person and always with the caveat that I am not speaking for anyone but myself. I am pretty sure I would not be upset with you as long as you were genuinely interested and not at the same time trying to tell me how my beliefs were “misguided”, “wrong”, or “stupid”.

  15. Jennifer R.*

    I agree with others that in the end they are just decorations. Some garland, shiny balls, etc. If decor is so tied to what you’re trying to avoid, I suggest seeing a therapist to talk through some of these issues. Avoidance is never a healthy solution. And it is more than reasonable for a business to want to decorate their common spaces (like the reception desk) this time of year and the request is not meant to upset you. You need to understand and separate the two, and work through the root issue instead of making a mountain out of a Menorah.

    My husband and I are agnostic and live in Alabama where it is assumed if you’re nice looking of course you’re a Christian. This time of year can be pretty irritating as we get our 100th invite to a nativity play. We celebrate Christmas and enjoy it as a time with family, nothing more. We put up a Christmas tree, exterior lights, exchange gifts, go to parties, etc. and don’t feel that these things go against our non-belief in Christianity. Christmas trees were a pagan tradition carried over after the spread of Christianity. Personally, I just enjoy the twinkly lights :)

    1. Judy*

      I think many of us are guessing this is more about grief than religion. I had a few years that if I hadn’t had kids, there would not have been any decorations. (Childhood friend in hospice, died on Dec 26, leaving a young child behind. That year and the next were very painful. I change the radio when that “Christmas Shoes” song come on.)

    2. CTO*

      I’m all about people seeking therapy when it’s helpful, but I don’t think it’s fair to label the OP as unhealthy or avoidant just because she doesn’t want to celebrate this one holiday in the way she’s being pressured to. I don’t think this is about being offended by Christmas decorations. This is about OP being in a painful time and maybe not feeling particularly joyous, or maybe having the holidays dredge up painful memories or remind her of a loss, or something equally challenging. I hope OP’s workplace can recognize and support her in this tough time, not tell her to stop being so sensitive and get over it.

      1. Chinook*

        I agree – wanting to avoid Christams decorations for one year is a way of being able to cope with immediate grief and probably quite healthy (especially if all you want to do is get through a work day without tears). Everyone grieves in their own way and time and we eventually move on, but the key word is “eventually.”

      2. OP*

        Thank you, CTO. I am in grief counseling and am, in fact, a therapist. My loss was just 3 months ago, so it is still very fresh in my mind. My co-workers and boss have been pretty supportive so far, but I was hesitant to mention the decorations thing because I don’t want to be a Negative Nancy.

        1. fposte*

          I’m sorry for your loss, OP, and I can certainly understand why celebration isn’t foremost in your mind right now.

          A tangent, but this kind of thing really makes me miss older mourning traditions, where you would have been still garbed in ways that signals your mourning or half-mourning and wouldn’t have been expected to celebrate anyway.

          1. Arbynka*

            We had something such as that when I was growing up. Person in mourning would wear a black stripe around their arm. I don’t think it is being done anymore, I can’t even remember last time I saw it.

            And I am sorry for your loss, OP.

        2. Not So NewReader*

          As a therapist you know that it takes a while to establish a pattern. One instance of saying “hey, dial back the decorations around me” is not a pattern. Of course, there are nicer, more explanatory ways of saying that, which helps also.

          So, just as I don’t see a pattern of avoidance behavior, I also don’t see a Negative Nancy pattern, either. FWIW. I am not a therapist but I have had a few losses in my life and I have spent time talking with people about their losses. Everything you are saying fits with everything I have heard or experienced myself. It just makes sense to me.

          One thing I have done with grief during the holidays is to skip decorating my home. The heck with what other people think. This gave me a time out, a sanctuary, from the invasive tidal wave we call The Holidays. I am sure you are aware there are other little things that you can do that will be of modest help. The year of “firsts” can really suck and Christmas is a really tough one.
          I wish you peace and calm this holiday season. I am sorry for your loss.

  16. miki*

    I was asked last Friday if I would decorate the tree this year as other two coworkers were out sick that day (the ones that volunteered to do it after the person doing it retired). My answer was it can wait until Monday when they return. I am sure I was asked as I am the youngest in the whole department, but I honestly didn’t feel like decorating it. The coworkers did it this Monday.

  17. a torn anon*

    I’m so torn on this one.

    I empathize 100% with the OP. I lost a young child 6 days before Christmas, and so the holiday season will forever suck, and I only go through the motions pretty much. But even in my darkest hours, I don’t believe I would have let my personal process bleed into my workplace practice. I dunno…this is so tough all around. I wouldn’t have even thought to have my workplace “accommodate” (for lack of a better word right now as I type) me. I wouldn’t have wanted to bring anyone else down…but that’s me. Please don’t think I’m bashing you, OP.

    However it goes in you case OP, I wish you peace of heart and mind.

    1. OP*

      I understand how you are torn because I am as well. I lost my son in August and this would have been his first Christmas. Of course my co-workers have been super supportive, but just like you said, I don’t want to bring anyone else down. The only reason I might mention the decoration thing is because they literally bring me to tears at times, and I think if I didn’t have to look at them in my specific work area, it would help. Thank you all for your support!

      1. fposte*

        Oh, OP, that’s so hard. I’m so sorry. Another thing I might do, if I’d been there a while, is enlist a kind office friend as a rep for me–as a co-worker, I’d be perfectly willing to poke my nose into the office manager’s and say “Hey, can we skip Lucinda’s area on the decorations this year but not make it a big deal? It’s not great for her.” I think that comes under the heading of appropriate bereavement communication, which it’s often easier to let somebody else do in an office.

        1. madge*

          Oh my goodness, OP, I’m so very sorry. Please, please take fposte’s suggestion, especially since you mentioned that your co-workers have already been supportive. They are not going to feel that you are bringing them down. I would bet they are far more concerned about being sensitive than you realize, they just don’t know how to react (if they ignore Christmas decorations for you, are they being patronizing? If they go ahead with Christmas decorations, are they being insensitive, or are they helping you by pretending things are normal?). They would probably welcome the direction from you. Lots and lots of hugs to you.

      2. a torn anon*

        Ah…the wound is still very fresh. I have a few years behind me now, but I spent that week and Christmas in a fog. Very little recollection of it.

        I promise you it will get better…I promise. So here’s a huge hug. You will get through this.

      3. Zahra*

        Oh, my. I can’t imagine the heartache and the sadness of losing one’s child. I hope you can find solace, comprehension and a listening ear among your family and friends. Have a quiet month of December and know you’re in my thoughts.

      4. Not So NewReader*

        oh dear. This breaks my heart.

        Can you ask for time off? Or can you ask to leave early on one or two well chosen days?

        Losing a child is a loss like NO other. I cannot imagine.

        Please consider using cry times. This is a time where I deliberately let myself cry- usually when I am at home and alone. Those tears have to come out of us. The idea being that maybe it might take the edge off that hair trigger that tears seem to have. I did this daily for 4 months after my father passed. I thought that was a long time, but apparently it was what I needed to do, so I did it. Everyone is different so what you need might be different from this.

  18. HR Manager*

    We read about so many bad manager/employer stories here, that I think they don’t get enough credit for being supportive and understanding. Unless you have reason to believe your manager won’t be sympathetic, I would always advise talking to your manager first and disclosing information that will give them perspective (even if not fully disclosed, if that makes you uncomfortable). I find managers more often than not being very reasonable.

    The front desk is a tough call, as many companies will want more decorations there to welcome guests. I wonder if it can be kept to a few pointesettias, or something mild and tasteful that won’t be too upsetting for you.

  19. Ask a Manager* Post author

    Now that I’ve posted my impassioned rant about how trees aren’t secular to (many of) those of us who don’t celebrate Christmas, I’m hopefully not going to undermine my whole argument by noting that personally I’ve found one of the greatest benefits of marriage to a (nominal) Christian to be the Christmas trees. I think Christmas trees are beautiful but would never have one of my own since I’m (nominally) Jewish … but it’s perfectly appropriate for him to have them. And thus we have two this year, and I am delighted by them.

    They aren’t mine. But they reside in our house, and I get to look at them.

    * Note: This would probably not be okay with a religious Jew, which I want to note here so that I don’t inadvertently mislead anyone about what Jews are and aren’t okay with, or lead anyone to think “ah, all Jews wish they could have trees.” This is just about me. I don’t speak for all Jews by any stretch, and I’m super non-religious. (By way of counterpoint, this would never fly with my sister.)

    1. just passing through*

      My Jewish mother in law goes crazy at her house with the Christmas decorations. Puts mine (shiksa here) to shame.

    2. Adam*

      It’s funny how the layers can just keep piling up over these sort of things. Growing up my family were lip-service sort of Christians (we only prayed before dinner on Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter), and otherwise Christmas was about as casually non-religious as you could get. I’m personally more committed to the faith now, but I still love many of the other non-religious parts of the Christmas holiday.

      I have many friends who are not particularly religious or even atheist and they all do trees. And I wouldn’t be surprised if some of them have decorations that looked like, say, angels on display. I would simply think they liked how they looked and considered them a part of the many other fantastical elements of the the holiday like Santa and flying reindeer.

      1. HR Manager*

        I am atheist but grew up with xmas trees (my parents never understood the fuss, but the kids insisted). Why? More because they were fun, and we associated them with having presents and toys underneath. I still do holiday decorations and cards, and I sing carols about baby mangers and such, but it’s all in the spirit of fun.

        The only thing that has limited my decorations the last few years are my cats. I now have a 3 ft fake tree with no tinsel or garland, and my cats still can’t keep away from it – chewing, sniffing, almost knocking over. :/ I’m at a loss.

        1. fposte*

          I love trees and decorations and lights, and as I grow older I realize it’s part of generally enjoying brightly colored displays overhead–I like fireworks and hot air balloons (and even those weird wind-dancer promotional guys), too.

        2. Erin*

          This is so random but do your cats hate the smell of mint? Mine does so I put some mint air freshener things and bags of mint tea by the tree and it keeps him away.

          1. Not So NewReader*

            Mint can be used as a rodent/bug repellent. Not a strong one,but I guess it is a mild irritant to them. I guess it bothers cats, too?

        3. Miss Chanandler Bong*

          I am an atheist who loves Xmas! Both of my parents were brought up in Christian households, but are now non-religious, so we have a lot of Christian decorations from the sixties. I love them unironically.

      2. Jen RO*

        I’m also an atheist who loves her tree! I don’t see it as particularly religious, although I obviously know I have it because of a religious holiday. To me, it’s more of a nostalgia thing – my not-really-religious parents put a tree up every year and I think it brightens up the house.

    3. Arbynka*

      Bit OT. My daughter adopted two kittens this year and the thing I am really looking forward to is seeing what they will think of the tree :) When our older cat were younger, they loved to climb the trunk. We would not see them, we would just see the tree shaking. Note to self : secure the tree from falling this year.

      1. Judy*

        My husband made a nearly 4 foot round OSB base painted to match our tree skirt that our base is attached to. That one hasn’t fallen down.

      2. Tinker*

        I’m seriously pondering getting a tree for that exact purpose. Maybe even a real one, although I was raised in a firmly fake-tree family. Only trick is finding a place to put it, taking into account that it may at times be horizontal.

        1. Chinook*

          “Only trick is finding a place to put it, taking into account that it may at times be horizontal.”

          What, you don’t buy a house or rearrange furniture year round with the idea of where the Christmas tree will go? I swear when DH bought his place, one of the selling points was that a tree would look great in the window.

    4. Kerry (Like The County in Ireland)*

      This is like how I, the only commited atheist in my family, told the entire Christ story from Annunciation through arrival of the Three Kings at last year’s Christmas dinner. I’m the only one who knows it!

    5. Bea W*

      I think many non-Jewish people don’t realize that the practice of Judiasm is a spectrum and it also has its equivalent of what Christians are familiar with as “denominations”. I really had no clue how diverse practices among Jewish people were until I went to Israel. It was an eye-opener!

      1. NoPantsFridays*

        Yes…I think virtually every faith has denominations. My faith, practiced by a whopping 0.4% of the US population as of 2010, has hundreds of denominations within that 0.4%. I’m surprised when some folks seem to think only their faith has denominations and no other faith does. (Btw, I like your comment, I’m trying to agree with it — just in case that isn’t coming across right, haha :) )

      2. Adam*

        Indeed it really is a spectrum, not to mention I’ve found as I’ve met more people that quite a many Jewish people identify as Jewish ethnically (I think that’s the right term, but I could be wrong) without being in any way religious.

      3. LizB*

        As my rabbi always says, “Ask ten Jews, get eleven opinions.” :) We’re a diverse people, and even within one denomination, there are going to be widely varying opinions about basically everything. No group of people is a monolith.

    6. Nerd Girl*

      Last year my family was living with my mom. My mom is known around these parts as Ms. Scrooge. We weren’t able to decorate like we normally did, as it was her home and she refused. This year I had my family decorate the house the first week of November – much earlier than I have in previous years! – but I have to say that my tree with the ornaments I carefully add to every year, the pretty lights, and the strings of beads has made me so happy this year. One of my favorite things to do is to sit in the darkened living room with my tree all lit up and just marvel at how pretty it is.

    7. Jaimie*

      I would never have a Christmas tree in my house, and to be honest I could live without the holiday decorations that are all over my office (complete with the token Menorah that had the candle for the first night in the wrong place until I fixed it, gah). But every year my family eagerly goes to a friend’s house to celebrate Christmas Eve. They save each of our kids one ornament to hang on the tree. And Santa gets a special letter every year explaining our “extended family” that results in one present for each of the six kids mysteriously appearing on Christmas Eve. It’s a meaningful tradition to me that has all the right parts of the holiday (for me). Including cookie decorating.

      1. fposte*

        I think that is absolutely delightful. What a lovely tradition that negotiates difference to come up with something nice!

        1. Jaimie*

          : ). The oldest children involved just turned 8. I fear we are on borrowed time for the Santa part of it.

          This year, the same family will join us at our synagogue for Fifth Night. They have zero interest in organized religion for themselves, but want their kids to learn about diversity and also charitable giving (on Fifth Night, you give to charity, but accept nothing for yourself).

          1. fposte*

            Some of my nicest holiday memories are Hanukkahs with my best friend’s family in childhood. There’s something really special about being allowed in to the devotions of people you care about.

          2. Chinook*

            “: ). The oldest children involved just turned 8. I fear we are on borrowed time for the Santa part of it”

            Far from it. You are about to embark on the next step of the tradition where you bring the oldest in on the secret and remind him not to spoil it for the “little kids.” In my family, it even includes the unwritten rule that, if you know the truth about Santa, you have to help fill the stockings/buy the gift. It is actually a great way to teach kids how to give a gift without expecting something in return.

            1. ThursdaysGeek*

              Perhaps. I have to be careful who I sing it around, but when people ask what my favorite Christmas carol is, I usually start singing “you better not shout, better not cry, better not pout, I’m telling you why: Santa Claus is dead.” I try not to sing that around any little kids, but it shocks the adults, too.

            2. Jaimie*

              We do have two infants….. Funny you say this, because #1 kid outright lied to #2 kid, the other night, telling him Batman was definitely real. Pulled it off beautifully. And I thought, wow, she’s so big, what a great person she is, to do that.

    8. Anony Reindeer*

      I’m not a practicing Christian by any means, but I have a tree in my home this year. My fiance moved in with me a few months ago, and she was the one pushing for a tree to get and decorate. She came from a Buddhist background, and her parents/family never decorated their house. She loves trees and wanted one, so tree we got :). All for purely non-religious reasons.

    9. HannahS*

      As a more practicing Jew (and long-time lurker on this site), I find your comments to always be apt and respectful! I also think Christmas trees and lights are beautiful, even though my feelings on Christmas decorations are on the “on your own private property” side. I really appreciate the way you’ve been talking about non-Christians and Christmas over the last few days–I’ve gotten really sick of people thinking there’s a Christmas tree-shaped hole in my heart. There isn’t; I can decorate a Sukkah like nobody’s business!

      1. Gracefully Bowing Out*

        ” –I’ve gotten really sick of people thinking there’s a Christmas tree-shaped hole in my heart.”


        Don’t have a Sukkah though, but always thought that might be fun.

        1. AvonLady Barksdale*

          Ugh, yes! I have never had a Christmas tree. Don’t want one. It’s partly a statement of my Jewishness, and note that I say MY Jewishness– people can do whatever they want in their homes, fine by me, enjoy the pine in the air and all the pretty lights. But I won’t do it, for reasons both religious and, I suppose, political. And you know what? My life is not empty because there’s no tree in it, dammit! I see trees everywhere I go. People are mostly kind, they’re just… clueless.

    10. cuppa*

      I had a Jewish assistant once, and I was trying to be super careful with decorations and holiday wishes, until I noticed that she had a Santa and Mrs. Claus at her desk and asked to help put up the office Christmas tree. Turns out she converted when she got married and missed Christmas decorations, so she put them up at work so her family wouldn’t see.

  20. TheExchequer*

    As someone else in the “December is bittersweet” camp, I’d like to offer a virtual hug and some chocolate cookies with eggnog. I just want to curl up in a blanket, pretend it isn’t happening, and hunker down until the new year. Someone else in my family wants to festoon our living space with a minimum of three boxes of Christmas stuff. Having it in less obvious spaces is working out so far.

  21. Serin*

    Our company has lots of official festiveness planned — and all of it is called Winter Potluck or New Year Celebration. I like that a lot — I think we all need to get used to the fact that not everybody shares the same religious holidays.

    In a similar vein, my cousin the graphic designer used to send out really fancy greeting cards to clients every year — at Thanksgiving.

    1. cuppa*

      I knew someone who sent out New Year’s cards every year. It started with being behind on Christmas cards and grew from there. And didn’t Julia Child send Valentines instead of Christmas cards?

      1. Cath in Canada*

        I like that idea!

        I make my New Year’s resolutions at the spring equinox. It’s so much easier to keep them when it isn’t cold and dark outside, and the gym’s way less busy ;)

  22. yoyotan*

    This is just a work place christmas horror story but at this day hab studio I worked at as an assistant, every treatment studio and office (like the nurse’s station) had to decorate a tree by a specific theme, the decorations given by the owner, who had truly an insane and massive collection of ornaments given there were about 20 trees? Anyway this was like a week after I started, after the staff were done decorating their trees, the owner (who I assisted) essentially went to every tree to inspect how it was decorated, pretty much told over half the staff their trees were terrible, pulled off ornaments that didn’t fit the ‘theme’ (but it was given to them regardless??), made them redecorate it in front of her, meanwhile I’m standing in the back dying of second hand embarrassment because it was just a freaking tree man. Got out of there in like 3 months as my freebie.

  23. soitgoes*

    At my old job, the management were Christmas-happy to the point where it was offensive. They would play cds of overtly religious music, and they wouldn’t let me put up Hanukkah decorations. I got in mild trouble for making a Miley Cyrus “wrecking ball” ornament (google it and then do it, you guys). The whole thing was obnoxious, and it was the first time I was ever offended by that nonsense. Now I have a really low threshold for religion in the office, because I know that the first person to impose it probably isn’t going to respect my viewpoint.

  24. John*

    Funny holiday story:
    My father-in-law, who is not the brightest bulb, asked us to hold hands so he could say grace before the holiday meal. He started off, “Lord, we gather here as Christians…”

    Somewhere along the way he must have realized that my partner is Jewish. Suddenly, in the middle of the prayer, he said, “And Lord, we thank you for the Hanukkahs!” Well, my brother and partner each have one of my hands and they are now squeezing them like mad. I could feel the trembling; someone was about to burst into laughter but the prayer mercifully ended.

    My brother then turned and asked, “Who they hell are the Hanukkahs?”

    “Must be the Jewish family down the street…you know, the ones with the blue candles.”

    Our running joke is that this year we will invite the Hanukkahs to Christmas dinner.

    1. Zillah*

      I’m not sure what the point of this comment is. Christmas is identified as a Christian holiday because it is a widely celebrated Christian holiday – the origins don’t change that.

      1. fposte*

        And it’s not like the Pagans sat around and made it up one day, either. They’re all borrowings and transformations.

  25. beachlover*

    to everyone that identifies Christmas as a Christian holiday, it was mostly likely co-opted by the christians from the Pagans..As was Easter……

  26. Jillociraptor*

    OP, warm feelings your way. Christmas is rough. Both of my mother’s parents died around Christmas (which she celebrates), and now even almost 15 years later, it is still bittersweet and hard. You wouldn’t be out of line at all to say, “Hey, I’m struggling with Christmas this year and I’d really prefer not to put up any decorations. I hope that will be okay; it would really help me.” I would hope any manager/decorations-instigator would look past their own excitement at the season and be willing to support you.

    1. OP*

      Thank you. My supervisor and co-workers know of the loss and have been very supportive. However, I hate to be a downer on other people because of my situation. That’s why I originally asked.

      1. fposte*

        OP, I think you’re being very thoughtful, but I also think your co-workers are probably really eager to be kind to you on this, so I hope you’ll give them the chance. I think if another co-worker were in your place you’d be utterly willing to let them ease up on the decoration this year and would rather do that than let them get sadder without knowing about it.

  27. OP*

    Thanks all for the advice and support! My boss and co-workers know about my loss and are always supportive, but like I’ve said in other comments, I hate bringing other people down. Because of your suggestions, I think I’ve decided to add decorations to the front of my desk which is client facing and maybe some snowflakes on the outside of my cubicle wall.

    1. CTO*

      I’m so sorry for your loss, OP. Since your coworkers already know that you’re in a grieving period and have been really supportive so far, I would imagine that most/all of them would completely understand your desire to not to get all festive this year.

      People handle grief in very different ways; some people find solace in holidays and others find holidays really challenging. Your coworkers might not know which “camp” you fall into, but they want to do the right thing. They want to support you, grieve with you, and do what they can to ease your pain. I don’t think you’d be a downer by quietly saying once, “Given what’s happened in the past few months, Christmas just isn’t an easy occasion for me this year. I want everyone else to decorate and celebrate, of course, but could I keep the decorations in my area more toned-down? Could I ask for volunteers to help put them up while I’m away on lunch?”

      You will NOT be a downer by asking for this simple accommodation. You’re still fine with coworkers decorating other areas of the office and celebrating the holiday season. You’re not broadcasting your pain to every single person you speak to, every time, as a constant reminder that they are happy and you are mourning. You’re not imposing on them much at all, and not ruining their fun. Ask for the support you need; I think you’ll receive it from what sounds like a good group of people to work with.

    2. Not So NewReader*

      Ahh, you have said a couple times you hate bringing other people down.
      A few points to think about.

      1) No one can bring us down unless we agree to it. Likewise with you, you are not going to pull down anyone unless they agree to be pulled down.

      2) You are a grieving person, not a downer. There is a huge difference between to the two. I could work next to a person like you all day and I would be fine with it. Why. Because you are working at your concerns. And that is as good as good gets.

      3) It is good for grieving people to focus on others. Matter of fact, the grief course I took backed the idea of helping someone else with an unrelated problem as a means of processing grief. But the tricky part is to watch how you use that focus on others- be sure to balance that with focus on your own needs. So in your situation, you may need to step back from worrying about pulling everyone down, IF that could be time better spent dealing with your own grief.
      Notice, I am saying “may need to”. I don’t know anything for certain but I do know where some common pitfalls can be. Sometimes people become so involved in other people’s emotions/concerns that it becomes a barrier to processing their own.

      4) The best advice I got when my husband died was to be deliberate, make a plan for all the calendar days that are going to be a baseball bat to the knees. I have to say- this is a royal PITA. The planning alone was exhausting- that is when I learned keep the plans very simple, very doable and stick to the plans. So maybe one evening looks like “watch X movie and make popcorn”. That counts, that is a plan. The next step is stick to this plan- actually watch the movie and eat the popcorn.

      And lastly, for me the build up to the day is usually worse than the day itself. I hope that is what happens for you.

  28. Persephone Mulberry*

    I admit I collapsed comments and skimmed only the top-level ones, so if this was addressed, I apologize for the duplication. I would like to point out, though, that “my space is at the front of the office” doesn’t necessarily translate to “I work at the reception desk” or that decorating her space = decorating the lobby. The OP may just be concerned that it’s harder to get away with minimal decorations when everybody on staff walks by your cube everyday, than if he/she were tucked back in a corner somewhere.

  29. EvilQueenRegina*

    This reminded me so much of my situation two years ago. My friend had died in a freak accident, my aunt needed major surgery to her brain over Christmas and then my grandad was suddenly taken very ill as well, and when one thing happened I barely had time to process that before the next thing hit me. That was all over Christmas as well so I felt obliged to put on a happy face around everyone. I did try to keep all that out of work but because everything just piled on at once and I was also having to cover two jobs because my Bitch Eating Crackers had gone on sick leave and hadn’t been replaced, it did all end up spilling out to my work friends. They all understood and let me talk about it if I needed. Decorations weren’t an issue particularly, but this one person was trying to organise a potluck and was pretty insistent that I be there, and then organised another one for New Year, and I felt like I couldn’t say that I didn’t want to be at a celebration. Then BEC came back and got angry that I hadn’t replaced her stationery stock for her and it was the closest I came to losing my temper in the office.

    I’m thinking of you. Hope this Christmas isn’t too horrible for you and that it’s okay with the stuff in less visible spaces.

  30. Observer*

    You are dealing with something really huge. I can’t imagine how hard it would be to have to be looking at tons of decorations right now.

    In fact, I would think that what you are suggesting would make for a far more cheerful atmosphere than having the decorations where they are in your face. Let’s face it, this is not something totally in your control, and decorations right now is the kind of thing that’s likely to pull you down – or just exhaust you. That’s not cheerful either.

    Your workplace knows the background, so I would have to think that they would be very happy to accommodate.

Comments are closed.