heading off pregnancy talk at work, my office thinks the Christmas party is secular, and more

It’s five answers to five questions. Here we go…

1. How can I head off pregnancy talk at work?

I’m a sales executive in a small department of about 20 people in a larger organization. My spouse is also in the same firm. We have recently found out I am pregnant and are very happy about it. A few of our friends and immediate superiors know. They have been wonderful and supportive. I have efficiently received the accommodations I need.

However, I don’t really want to discuss my pregnancy beyond this at work. My department is filled with many people who talk incessantly about their children and childbirth experiences. We also sometimes see them outside work, where I have seen them pester various other colleagues about reproductive or marriage plans. I know this makes me and several other colleagues uncomfortable but no one says anything because it is allegedly “well intentioned.” Is there a way I can manage how much attention is drawn to my pregnancy, especially when I become visibly pregnant? I don’t want to become The Pregnant Lady and I don’t want my condition to be an occasion for other colleagues to face a barrage of inappropriate inquiries.

You can definitely set boundaries. You should also be prepared for people to try to ignore those boundaries, because that’s what they do. (Horrifying example: An upcoming podcast episode has a question from a pregnant woman who had to tell a coworker she barely knows to stop calling her “Mom.”) But you can calmly restate those boundaries when that happens.

One option is to say relatively early on when people start chatting about your pregnancy, “I’d actually like to avoid talking about it too much at work. Work is my space away from pregnancy talk. Thanks for understanding!” But then you’ll still need to be prepared for people to forget/ignore that. When that happens you can say some variation of “You’d be surprised by how much everyone wants to talk about pregnancy to a pregnant person — I’d be grateful if we could ignore it entirely.” If you reinforce that boundary, it’s likely that most people will respect it, or at least that you can short-circuit when they don’t. But you may still get some people who determinedly plow through your boundaries, because there are a lot of those people out there and pregnancy is like a homing signal to them.

2. My office thinks its Christmas party is secular

I work for a company that employs people from all around the world and of all religions. We’re based in a non-religious country that has adopted Christmas as a sort of secular party time.

My company is hosting a fancy Christmas lunch during work hours. It’s called a Christmas party specifically, not a holiday party. Employees can choose to skip work, go to the party for a few hours, then go home, or go in for a full day of work. Obviously the party is the fun choice – but as a Jew with complicated feelings about Christmas, I feel sick at the thought of going to a Christmas party. I have casually brought up my concerns to a few people, but I’ve been told that it’s a secular event, so I shouldn’t worry. I don’t think anything involving Christmas can rightfully be called secular.

I want to say something to my company, but I’m I having doubts. Am I reacting too strongly, or is it weird that we’re essentially being offered the day off– so long as we celebrate Christmas first? Is there anything I can say to help them see the awkward place this puts non-Christians into?

Yeah, Christmas is not secular, and it’s extremely disturbing to many people of non-Christian faiths when people try to argue that it is.

It’s true that many offices let people leave early after attending the holiday party but don’t allow that if they didn’t attend. And that would be fine for your office to do, except for the fact that they’ve chosen to make the event an explicitly Christian one. They absolutely should not be telling people that the only way to get that day off of work is to attend an event that’s explicitly for Christmas.

My hunch is that they’re figuring the party won’t have hymns or prayer or a creche, so what’s the problem? And they’re welcome to have that party! But they’re calling it a Christmas party, and thus they need to respect that not everyone may feel comfortable attending, and those people should not be expected to work a full day when others aren’t.

You could talk to either your manager or someone else in a position of authority to change this and say something like, “As a Jew, I feel strongly that Christmas is not secular. I’m not comfortable attending a Christmas party, and I’m concerned that we’re making a perk — a shortened work day — dependent on people choosing to attend an event that’s rooted in religious celebration. Would you consider giving everyone the same amount of time off, regardless of whether they attend the party?”

I do think there’s some risk here of them thinking you’re coming down to hard on this, but you’re right on the principle and if you feel strongly about it, you’re entitled to take that stance.

3. My old boss wants me to send her confidential documents — that she created

I am having an ongoing issue for the past few months that has left me feeling really uncomfortable. My former supervisor (who hired me) left the company about nine months ago. Since then, we have remained friendly and often chat about how things are going at her new job and in my office, since I still occupy the same role she hired me for. Several times, though, she has asked me to send her documentation she created or contributed to while she was here at my company. In a few cases, the documentation is explicitly labeled as “confidential” or “for internal use only.” I feel uncomfortable for obvious reasons: even though this former supervisor developed the documents, they technically “belong” to my company and her ownership over the documents ended when her employment ended. At least, this is my opinion. I know she does not feel the same way, however.

I have been able to put her off so far by telling her I couldn’t find the documents or just flat out ignoring her requests, but lately her requests for one specific document have become even more urgent and persistent; I can’t seem to put her off. How do I make my stance on this clear to her without ending our friendship?

Yeah, even though she created those documents, it might not be cool for you to send them to her. If you really want to verify that, you could check with your current manager. It’s possible that you’ll hear that it’s fine, but without that kind of explicit confirmation, you shouldn’t send them on.

It’s okay to just explain that to her! She may not be thinking in those terms at all and will understand when you explain it. And you not wanting to get in trouble is not something that should end the friendship! Just say something like, ““These are marked ‘for internal use’ only and I don’t think I’m allowed to send them outside the company, even though you created them. I’m sorry about that!”

4. I asked a hiring manager for feedback after a rejection and she invited me to coffee

I’ve started asking all hiring managers for feedback on my job applications if they reject me, regardless if we actually meet/interview (i.e., even if they just reject my written application, I politely ask for feedback). Like at this point, what have I got to lose? They can just ignore the email. But actually, I’ve been getting some really comprehensive feedback, with hiring managers really going out of their way to giving me some pointers. I’m continuously surprised and very grateful.

So today I just got an email to meet a hiring manager next week for a coffee to discuss my application they rejected and for them to get to know me. They are actually willing to take time out of their day to chat to me about my application. They maybe don’t have enough work to do but more importantly are incredibly generous!

I should treat this like a job interview in terms of formality/professionalism right? And if you were in my position, what sort of questions would you be asking? Can you give me some advice to best make use of this very rare/special opportunity?

Yes, treat it like a job interview in terms of professionalism (dress nicely, don’t badmouth previous employers, etc.). What to ask really depends on what you want to get out of these meetings, but it sounds like it would be helpful to ask things like whether they have advice on how you might come across as a stronger candidate in interviews or in your application materials, if there are particular skills they think you should build up, and what types of jobs they might recommend you target. I’d open the conversation with something like, “I’m so appreciative that you offered to meet. I have questions I’d love to ask you, but mainly I’m just really interested in working (in this field/as an X/etc.) and I’d be grateful for any advice you’re willing to share.”

5. Update: my boss goes overboard for Halloween

Thanks for quoting me in your Halloween article on Monday! I was the person working for the boss who goes way over the top for Halloween. Here’s an update.

Last year and previously, he put most of the decorations up himself with one or two colleagues helping, so it was only 1-1/2 weeks because that’s when he had time. This year he invited several of the professionals in our department to help in early October and ordered pizza, and we’ve had the dungeon and noisy toys for a month. Apparently there are other people who like it, since they helped.

Luckily someone turned off the soundtrack after about 10 days, which helped a lot. Today it’s back on. I’m using earplugs to cope with that. I didn’t realize how much the soundtrack was affecting me. It’s mostly sinister orchestral music in minor keys. Apparently we really are hard-wired to respond in certain ways to music.

{ 651 comments… read them below }

  1. phira*

    #2: I’m another Jew with complicated feelings about Christmas, and I think that commenters who are all, “But there’s no prayer or anything!” or, “But it’s explicitly adopted as a secular holiday!” need to spend a little more time listening.

    Assimilation is one of the major ways that Jews are erased. It’s often not a choice for us, but an expectation. Most jobs do not accommodate observing the sabbath; most restaurants don’t serve kosher food or they don’t serve it in a kosher manner; most workplaces and schools don’t close for our holidays. Asking for an accommodation often seems like we’re being difficult, especially for those of us who aren’t especially observant–when my boss hemmed and hawed over finding a substitute for me when my course was scheduled to meet on Yom Kippur, I caved and showed up to teach while fasting.

    It might seem small and unimportant in the grand scheme of things, but the ubiquity of Christmas and its designation as a secular holiday can put a lot of pressure on Jews to further assimilate. Christmas’ origins are religious, and many people around the world observe it as a religious holiday; treating it like a secular holiday that everyone can celebrate actually carries with it the implicit demand that it be celebrated (“Oh, that’s okay that you’re Jewish, you can still celebrate!” is the rejection of a soft “no” and makes it clear that “This isn’t my holiday” is not an acceptable reason).

    Celebrating Christmas is something that some Jews do for various reasons–my sister loves having a little fake Christmas tree and decorates it every year. But for many of us, Christmas can feel like one more step towards assimilation and erasure; it’s one of the reasons I am deeply uncomfortable celebrating Christmas even though I married someone who absolutely LOVES it. I can’t speak for the OP, and their specific reasons for being uncomfortable with it, but I would similarly be uncomfortable.

    Especially since the office could have avoided this problem by just calling it a holiday party. Like, nearly every holiday party I’ve been to has been a thinly veiled Christmas party, but at least they know not to call it a Christmas party.

    1. J*

      Thank you for this comment. I hope readers who think the OP’s concerns are overblown and that her feelings are unusual all read it.

      1. phira*

        I’m glad I was able to articulate it! It’s taken me a very long time to be able to figure out a lot of it; I didn’t start examining it until I met my husband (who absolutely LOVES Christmas) and he was upset and a little aggressive about me kind of hating it.

    2. Heat*

      The thing is, it’s not possible to give state wide holidays for every minority religion in a country. Muslims and Hindus in the US, for example, don’t have their big holidays off either. I know that in some countries in Eastern Europe there are laws that workers are entitled to get the biggest religious holidays off (not part of regular paid vacation) as long as they are a member of the religion and the holiday is registered by the religious authorities with the state.

      Also, intent matters greatly. Just because someone calls it a Christmas party, doesn’t mean that it’s a Christian based party. If they just chose the name because it’s popular and they themselves are not even Christian, then it’s just a party. And going to actual work party is not the same as celebrating Christmas.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        The OP hasn’t requested statewide holidays.

        Per the rule at the top of the page, please stop arguing that this is secular. You’ve violated that request a couple of times already (and I’ve removed them); if you continue doing that, I will need to set your comments to moderation.

        1. Detective Amy Santiago*

          Would it be possible for you to move phira’s comment to the top of the page, right under yours? I think it’s important for people to read.

          1. a1*

            While this is important, I’m not sure how it changes the advice to the OP? Or why the OP’s post below clarifying some things, like this being in Japan, was not pinned or moved up as well. That’s really important information to have and does change the approach at least, imo. OP is right to feel uncomfortable with a Christmas party, and it is unfair to not let everyone have the day off, and should approach her boss about that. But how to approach and expected reactions are very important, I’d think.

            1. Detective Amy Santiago*

              Because there are far too many people in this comment section who are undermining the experience of Jewish people and considering the attack this weekend, it is time for people to shut up and listen.

      2. AvonLady Barksdale*

        Your response to phira’s very thoughtful comment– one which explains the issue very well, in my opinion, because I agree with all of it– is where a lot of this problem lies. Please do not try to “explain” to us how “secular” Christmas is to you. It’s not to many of us. We hear the argument but we do not agree, and it’s something that many of us feel at the very core of our identities. Continuing the argument makes me want to bang my head on my desk.

        1. Michaela Westen*

          So annoying when people won’t accept you don’t agree with them! I had that happen on a non-religious FB debate recently. I decided not to waste time with those people anymore.

          1. AnnaBananna*

            That’s because FB is the tool of the devil. (says a totally rational non religious person who happens to loathe FB’s penchant to drastically increase negativity amongst it’s audience through sometimes nefarious ways. And sometimes through sheer stupidity on the part of humans everywhere. Ahem.)

            1. Michaela Westen*

              Facebook is wonderful for keeping in touch with my friends and organizing social events.
              And it also provides a forum for people who like to spend their time in unproductive arguments. I am not one. :)

      3. Holly*

        > The thing is, it’s not possible to give state wide holidays for every minority religion in a country
        Actually, NYC schools close for certain major (not all) Jewish, Christian, Muslim, and Hindu holidays. The NYC school district is the largest in the United States with 1.1 million students taught in more than 1,800 separate schools. So it certainly is possible. If not workable for certain employers, they should be letting their employees take off separately.

        It’s exhausting to have a well written comment by phira be totally ignored. Intent doesn’t matter here. Christmas celebrates Jesus’ birthday. Jewish people do not believe that Jesus was the messiah. Plenty of Jewish people happily enjoy participating in Christmas festivities (including me sometimes!), but the root of the holiday is literally a celebration of a figure Jews do not believe in. You are rejecting a very valid reason not to want to partake.

      4. Indigo a la mode*

        The US is not a Christian country–we don’t have a state religion–so theoretically, no national holidays would fall on religious ones. What a happy and strange coincidence that school’s winter and spring breaks, and corresponding work holidays, typically surround the major Christian holidays.

        And we wonder why people of “minority” faiths feel othered.

      5. RNL*

        Of course it’s a Christmas party if it’s a “Christmas party”. Goodness. Names matter. If it’s not a Christmas party why call it one? Call it a holiday party, then, and then you’re not excluding people.

        1. AnnaBananna*

          Or…a winter celebration. Like, did they happen to buy a crap ton of discount Santa decorations so it HAD to be Christmas regardless?

        1. phira*

          Mine actually did, too, but I was in a different school system for K through 8 and had to miss school every year. And even in high school, a ton of teachers would say, “Since you have an extra day off, you’ll have more time to do this extra homework!” Like … I don’t have a day off! My holiday starts tonight after school and then I’m in services all day and then observing the holiday with my family after–I barely have time to do my regular homework!

    3. Bobstinacy*

      Yes! As a goy I was having a hard time articulating my feelings and I just want to underline everything in this comment. We need to do better and part of that is recognizing that our experience isn’t the universal default.

      Thank you for taking the time and energy to write this comment, I hope people listen.

      1. Frankie Bergstein*

        “recognizing that our experience isn’t the universal default”

        I think you solved about 10,000 work and non-work issues with that line!

      2. church lady*

        Another goy here: phira explained it beautifully. As a once upon a time practicing Catholic with many Jewish friends, it always bothered me that so many American Jews feel/felt pressured to participate in what is undeniably a Christian holiday (and subordinate to Easter, which celebrates the Resurrection) by having a “Hannukah Bush” or putting up a wreath to avoid feeling like “the other.”

    4. Ehhhh*

      In kindergarten, me and one other girl were Jewish. Our public (US) school had a big Christmas pageant, full of religious symbolism. I went home and told my mom all about it. She was less than pleased. Easter rolls around, and my fellow Jew and I were not “allowed” to go to the school celebration cause our moms spoke up. We had to sit in the classroom with the teacher’s aide who complained to us — 5 year olds — that she was missing the fun because of us. That’s my first, of many, memories of being ashamed or shamed or alienated or excluded or held out, for being Jewish. Now that I’m an adult, do I want to go to your “secular” Christmas party? Yea, not so much. I don’t want your pity. I don’t want you to have a menorah over there in the corner to represent me. I just want to observe my religious and cultural traditions on my own time and on my own terms, and never again be told that I’m spoiling someone else’s fun.

      1. kilika*

        Holy moly, this.
        Last year a non-Jewish friend of mine invited me to an “ugly sweater party”. We talked about it ahead of time, and I understood that there would be some Christmas symbolism, but no religious stuff. I debated, and decided eventually to go and see how I felt.
        My friend went to a lot of trouble to make sure I had kosher food – not just one dish of my own, but made multiple dishes in large quantities kosher, so I was eating the same as everyone else (just not from everything). I wore a dramatically Jewish sweater with Stars of David all over it.
        She asked me if I would like some kind of Jewish symbol or something there, or to call it a “holidays party” or something, and I thought about it and realized that no, that would be worse. You can’t take a Christmas party and pretend it’s “also Hannukah” by tacking something on.
        And you know what, after all that? I’m not sure I would go to another party like that. Because at the end of the day I STILL felt like it wasn’t “my” thing to celebrate, and couldn’t help but remember that historically a lot of Christians celebrated by killing a lot of Jews. It’s not something I can just shake off.

      2. Holly*

        Thank you for sharing this. I’m sorry that happened. I for one still remember being six and having my friend call me on the phone and asking me why the Jews killed Jesus. I went crying to my parents, who were horrified, but explained to me that a lot of Christians think that despite it not being historically accurate. It was one of the first times I felt “othered” but definitely not the last.

        Recently, actually – so this is years later – at a conference I was asked why my necklace was of a “sheriff’s badge.” It was a Star of David.

        1. Adalind*

          I remember wearing my Star of David necklace in middle school maybe? And someone asked why I was wearing a pentagram. Sigh.

          And thank you Phira for the well thought out comment. I’m not religiously Jewish (and celebrate both holidays with family), but it doesn’t change how just thinking about this would help many people understand where others are coming from. It helps me better understand my mother’s feelings growing up for sure (and my mixed feelings around the holidays).

          With that being said, LW’s employer should at the very least call it a “holiday party.” Maybe they truly have no idea how it comes across and just an explanation of your feelings would make them realize they should offer an alternative to those who do not celebrate Christmas.

        2. Weyrwoman*

          I too had that experience as a kid! I even had a couple neighbourhood kids harass me for weeks around Christmas about how the Jews killed Jesus and since I was a Jewish kid I therefore was blame-worthy. Considering I was only in the public school system for first grade, I think it’s telling that the memory has stuck with me.

            1. Jennifer Thneed*

              It happened to my uncle too, when he was a kid. So, sometime in the 1940’s. (My cousin’s family was more religious/observant than mine, but that’s not saying a lot.) He told me about when I was in my 30’s I think? It was the first I’d heard of it, but neither he nor my mom talk about their childhoods much. Lots of sadness there. His parents (my grandparents) were first-generation immigrants in NYC.

      3. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        Thank you for sharing this, because I suspect those of us who identify as religious minorities and who see Christmas as non-secular have had a version of this happen, as well.

        When I was in (public) elementary school, I had the same experience. I was also routinely told that I was going to hell… and I grew up in a liberal part of the Bay Area.

      4. Osipova*

        I remember in middle school an evangelical church youth group came and gave a presentation to our homeroom. (It was a private, although not religious school.) Many in my grade joined and pressured me to join as well. I come from a mixed religious background and have pretty much always avoided organized religion. When I told my friends why I wasn’t joining I was told that it was just a youth group. “It only has a small prayer at the beginning.”

        Yeah…. that was kind of my point.

    5. Lilo*

      I come from a mixed background and find the while thing needlessly tiring. There’s this whole weird performance and expectations thing.

      It also leads to a weird emphasis on Hanukkah, which isn’t really a major Jewish holiday but gets shoved around as a “here, here’s your compromise” by the same people who couldn’t name a single high holy day.

      What we need to understand is that norm or default doesn’t mean okay. Just because your office has always done X and no one has objected doesn’t mean no one was annoyed or practices don’t require self reflection. Or that all people are the same. Your Jewish coworker may be fine with Christmas, but that doesn’t mean all people are.

      Even some Christians find the over emphasis on Christmas tiring and annoying. Especially since some people get weirdly aggressive about it.

      1. CommanderBanana*

        Right? Hanukkah just isn’t that big of a holiday in the Judaic tradition, but because it happens to coincide somewhat with Christmas, it gets treated as substitute-Christmas which is really annoying. We don’t celebrate it.

        I think every workplace that has a Christmas party should give people the option of paid leave instead of attending.

      2. Free Now (and forever)*

        In the late 1980’s, I went to work in a state courthouse clerk’s office. Christmas rolled around and the Christmas decorations came out of storage. A tree, fake wrapped presents, and other Christmas decor was distributed around the large office, including a nativity scene. I became a less-than-popular employee when I spoke to the Chief Clerk and insisted that the nativity scene had to go. My popularity didn’t improve when I turned down the green carnation corsages that an assistant clerk brought in for all the female employees on St. Patrick’s Day,

        1. Osipova*

          St Patrick’s Day has always made me really uncomfortable as well. Why are we nationally celebrating the religious persecution of another group?

          I get that it has become about Irish pride and the color green and leprechauns and gold. But as a non-Irish person, celebrating it makes me very uncomfortable.

    6. Rebecca Bunch*

      Thank you for this!

      I think some commenters aren’t thinking through the power dynamics that can make Christian holidays so frustrating for people from minority religious backgrounds. As a Canadian Jew, I will happily attend Anishinaabe sweats whenever I’m invited, because indigenous religions in Canada have been chronically devalued and nearly destroyed. (This is a much more normal work-affiliated practice in Canada than I believe it is in the US, by the way.) At a sweat, I don’t feel swept up in the same old religious hegemony that’s affected me all my life. Vaguely secularized Christmas parties, though? They usually leave me feeling invisible and exhausted, and they would especially have that effect this year.

    7. Trout 'Waver*

      I hear what you’re saying and your points are very valid. But I think you’re being overly dismissive of others. I think one key component is just how heavily Christmas is marketed, but without any mention of religion. Just count the number of commercials on TV with “Carol of the Bells” in the background. Or the ubiquitous displays of the pagan-y traditions and not the religious ones. Imagine if your holidays were marketed back at you, but stripped of any religious meaning.

      1. Positive Reframer*


        I know Christians who refused to celebrate Christmas and Easter because all of the religious significance has been overshadowed by commercialism mostly but also a nice helping of traditions from other religions. So for them they would authentically see a Christmas party as a non-religious secular affair.

        Honestly, as other commenters have suggested, the why doesn’t everyone get part of the day off angle is probably the more effective. People should be allowed to opt out of parties for whatever reasons they have.

      2. Clay on My Apron*

        “Imagine if your holidays were marketed back at you, but stripped of any religious meaning.”

        I’m sure this is a real concern for many Christians but it has absolutely nothing to do with the topic at hand.

        I’m also struggling to see how phira is dismissive of others when all they are doing is describing experience and feelings that many of us share.


      3. General Ginger*

        Yeah, except that the melody for Carol of the Bells is taken from a Ukrainian schedrivka, which is sung on New Year’s Eve, otherwise known as “Shchedri Vechir” (generous/bountiful evening) and contains wishes for a happy/healthy/bountiful new year. It didn’t have anything to do with Christmas before it was appropriated.

        1. Clorinda*

          If it’s called Christmas, even a little bit, it’s inherently religious, though. We can say “but Santa Claus!” all day long, and that doesn’t change it. It is not okay to enforce the majority religion on people, and it’s even less okay to force it and then claim not to be doing it.
          Also, “What Child Is This” was the Renaissance love song “Greensleeves” before it was appropriated. Both those tunes belong to Christmas carols now.

          1. General Ginger*

            I think you misunderstand me. I’m unhappy that a song used by my people in a non-Christmas tradition has become a Christmas staple.

      4. Kate R*

        I feel like this is exactly the type of erasure phira is talking about. Imagine walking into a store filled with aisles upon aisles of Christmas decorations because Christmas is the default, and maybe there’s one endcap of menorahs in some sad effort to be inclusive. I know many non-religious people who celebrate Christmas and consider it to be secular, but in most cases, those people tend to be ex-Christians or non-practicing Christians. They don’t have the same history of discrimination faced by Jewish people or people of other non-Christian faiths, so it’s easy to just let that holiday evolve into a joyous celebratory time because it’s always been that with or without Jesus. I didn’t interpret phira’s comment as dismissing people who feel that way, but rather sharing that for others, Christmas is symbolic of cultural oppression and to try and convince them otherwise is dismissive of those feelings.

        1. Geillis D*

          This, and phira’s beautifully put comment.

          To all those who insist on wishing everyone “merry Christmas” and bristle when the greeting is not reciprocated: the best way to describe how it feels to be on the receiving end as a non-Christian is “suppose someone came over to you, wishing you a very happy birthday! only it’s not your birthday, they know it, and it’s awkward”.

          1. whingedrinking*

            What irks me is the people who say, “It’s just a nice greeting, why can’t you take it in the spirit it was offered even if you don’t celebrate?” Because it isn’t just a nice greeting any more. There are actual people out there who rage about “the war on Christmas” and will say “merry Christmas” with malice aforethought, in the hopes of starting a fight or “offending” someone. I don’t know if it’s possible to make that particular phrase innocuous, but if that’s what you want, start by telling the assholes who’ve weaponized it to shut the hell up already.

      5. OyHiOh*

        When Hanukkah is marketed (outside of major cities with significant Jewish populations) it absolutely IS stripped down and devoid of religious meaning.

        Look, Trout ‘Waver, You have good intentions. I know you do. There’s a saying about good intentions though and right now, Jews and Muslims in the U.S. are fighting for bare recognition and the right to exist alive rather than dead. Saying “I hear you, but” doesn’t help. To quote a Smithsonian article referred to much further down (Becoming Anne Frank), “the world likes dead Jews . . . . . German Jews for whom the price of admission to Western society was assimilation, hiding what made them different by accommodating and ingratiating themselves to the culture that had ultimately sought to destroy them. That price lies at the heart of Anne Frank’s endless appeal. After all, Anne Frank had to hide her identity so much that she was forced to spend two years in a closet rather than breathe in public. And that closet, hiding place for a dead Jewish girl, is what millions of visitors want to see.”

        Please, just stop. I’ve spent the weekend with torn shirt sleeves and boxes of tissues, morning the death of a man who I credit with being instrumental in the development of my adult ethics (Dr Rabinowitz). When a religious, non Christian person says “look, this is how we feel about X,” please, just listen. Don’t talk. Please just listen.

      6. phira*

        I … don’t think you really do hear what I’m saying. Having holidays be heavily commercialized is not an oppression.

        And what you’re bringing up–the ubiquity of Christmas–is something I also brought up as a key pressure on non-Christians to assimilate. It’s born of the assumption that this is something everyone celebrates, so it perpetuates that assumption among people who for whatever reason don’t know any better. And it can often make non-Christians feel like this is something they’re supposed to be participating in.

        Thanks to Christmas being so heavily commercialized, I felt like a weirdo and an outsider when I was a kid because I didn’t celebrate it. My siblings and I begged our parents to let us so we could be like other kids. I dread my son getting older and deciding that being Jewish is less fun than being not-Jewish because Christmas is the best holiday ever.

        So yeah, what you’re saying is actually a part of the problem I was describing earlier.

    8. Smarty Boots*

      Thank you, Phira, so well stated. Especially given the violent way Jews are erased — accommodation seems different, but it’s only in degree. The message is the same: stop being a Jew. Or even, stop being.

      1. phira*

        “The message is the same: stop being a Jew. Or even, stop being.”

        Exactly. It’s why assimilation is, to me, something I feel obligated to resist. This is very well put, thank you.

    9. BlueWolf*

      The letter writer could request a religious accommodation. I think one could make a good case for religious discrimination if the company chooses to dig their heels in about it being a Christmas party. They are giving people different paid leave based on attendance at the party, which the letter writer has said they are not comfortable attending due to their religion. If the company wants to be inclusive, they should just call it a year-end celebration or something.

    10. BlueWolf*

      I just realized after my previous comment that the letter writer may not be in the U.S. so religious discrimination laws may be different or non-existent.

    11. Emily K*

      Yes, there’s a reason the Christian missionaries were so willing and happy to just dress up pagan holidays with Christian imagery/pantheon when they were trying to convert the pagans. Eventually most of those Celtic pagans became Irish Catholics. Going through the motions of Christianity as a non-Christian eventually became practicing Christianity as a Christian.

    12. MassMatt*

      This is one of the best comments I have read on this subject, or for that matter, or the site. Well done.

      If it’s not “really” a Christmas party, why is it so important that it be called one, as opposed to a “holiday party”? Either it’s a Christmas party, with all that entails, religious and cultural baggage included, or it’s a holiday party.

    13. JM60*

      Out of curiosity, do you have similar feelings about All Hallows’ Eve (aka Halloween) being a religious holiday? Both Halloween and Christmas use to be Pagan holidays, which became Christian holidays. In the case of Halloween, it seems that enough people celebrate it for secular reasons, even if they are Christian themselves. From my point-of-view as a former Christian (now atheist), it seems like Christmas has been on that path for a while, and I personally celebrate Christmas as a secular holiday. I’m curious how much further it would need to go in that direction for people from other religions to be comfortable considering Christmas as a secular holiday.

      Regardless, I do agree that the employer should call the party something like a ‘holiday party’ instead of a Christmas party.

      1. LilySparrow*

        I can’t speak for religious minorities, but I can venture a guess that the “Birth of Jesus” thing is why Christmas is more uncomfortable.

        All Saints’ Day is observed by the church, but it’s not connected to any Bible story or unique piece of Christian theology. Remembering those who have died is not and never was specifically Christian in the same way as Christmas or Easter.

      2. Weyrwoman*

        I will point out that Halloween, IME, is not considered a Christian holiday in the slightest. Many hard-line Christians that I knew growing up would keep their children at home because Halloween was so blatantly pagan that it was unpalatable to them. Honestly, I think you’d be hard pressed to find a religious Christian who will agree about Halloween being a holiday for them.

      3. OyHiOh*

        My family don’t generally dress up or attend Halloween events. But we do practice hospitality and welcoming the stranger by handing out candy.

        We live in an area with a strong Day of the Dead tradition and people are routinely shocked, SHOCKED I tell you, that we don’t remember our ancestors in the same way. We have our remembrance traditions but we’re not going to observe Dios de Muertos just because that’s what “everyone” here does.

      4. phira*

        I don’t have similar feelings about Halloween or Valentine’s Day, and I have yet to figure out why I don’t. I think that both are so utterly divorced from their origins that the way they’re celebrated is entirely unrelated to religion. But I don’t think that really covers it. Like I said, still trying to figure it out.

      5. Hannah*

        I agree I participate also. I think workplaces should be aware of how they come across using such terms such as Christmas Party – should say Holiday Party or End of Year Party. For me I’m in no way religious and never ever have been, but really enjoy Christmas carols and religious symbolism such as the manger and the 3 wise men. I also love how shops are decked out. But I have no further link than personally admiring these things. I’m really mindful though not to privately enjoy these and not advertise at work as I would hate to think it it would offend others.
        I hope more workplaces apply correct terms to these work events.

    14. a good mouse*

      Agreed so hard.

      I always point out to people that Christmas is commercialized, it is not secularized. Those are different. It may feel less “religious” to you because of the commercialization, but that absolutely does not make it a secular holiday.

      Also there’s always something icky about the majority telling the minority how to feel about something they have valid concerns about.

      1. Delightful Daisy*

        Thank you, Phira, for your very eloquent and thoughtful explanation to those of us who are not a minority religion and don’t share your experiences although we can empathize with them by being aware of the matter and being thoughtful about recognizing when we are participating in this type of behavior. As I’m reading all of the experiences that people are sharing, my heart is hurting. I am also frantically trying to remember what we call our annual staff get-together that serves both as our employee recognition event for years of service and an opportunity for myself and my AD to thank staff for their service by paying for the meal. I think we generally refer to it as a holiday party but I will make certain that we do from hear on out. Last year we played a game with Christmas music, and although I chose non-religious songs, it never occurred to me that I might be offending someone or making someone uncomfortable with what I saw as light-hearted fun.

        Thank you, good mouse, for pointing out that commercialization does not mean secularizing because, as a Catholic, I struggle with the commercialization of Christmas. It’s important to recognize thought that it is very different.

        OP, if you’re comfortable enough to request that the part be called and implemented as a holiday party I encourage you to do so. If you’ve already done that or aren’t comfortable doing that, I think that those who’ve suggested that you request a religious accommodation make sense. You shouldn’t have to do that, your company should recognize the unfairness and disparity of what they are doing, but you may have to. Good luck and please do send in an update.

      2. Crooked Bird*

        Yes, this. I am a Christian who doesn’t appreciate the commercialization, but how on earth should that make a difference to the feelings of a Jewish person who’s made uncomfortable by the history of Christmas? These IS bad history there and it’s our duty to acknowledge it.
        Similarly, there are Christians whom I feel have watered down or altered the faith beyond what I feel is appropriate. Does that remove them from the category “Christians,” from the point of view of people from another religion, just because I say so? Heck no. But that’s unfortunately the point of view of many Christians. They don’t agree with the medieval Catholics who persecuted Jews so they deny the shared history. It’s an American tendency to figure history means nothing compared to the present, and many American Christians have incorporated it into their faith… but it’s just not true.

    15. chi type*

      I’m sorry your boss did that to you, phira.
      Your comment has inspired me to push back on my department’s holiday decorations. They have been putting up the same old Christmas crap for years. Does anyone (especially non-Christians) have a good recommendation for an alternative? If you just try to throw in every holiday you run into the “Hanukkah=Junior Christmas” thing others have brought up but I feel like some kind of decoration is helpful to lighten the dark, cold season that is winter in Chicago. Ideas?
      (Feel free to delete if too OT.)

      1. IndoorCat*

        It can be tough because, for many non-Christians, there simply isn’t a December holiday. For example, my area has a lot of Hindu and Jain people, but their big holiday seasons (Tihar / Deepawali and New Year) usually wrap-up mid-November. Some temple leaders and families want to make a bigger deal out of Pausha Dashmi, because it falls in December / January. But, one, that’s not relevant to everyone’s denomination, and two, it’s not really about giving gifts traditionally, nor are there any decorations that would be appropriate for an office, in the way that setting up a crucifix wouldn’t be appropriate for an office.

        And deepawali is amazing! I’m not from that culture, but I’ve been invited to the local deepawali festivals by some of my friends, and they’re so exciting. Trying to mash them up with Christmas would mess them up (kind-of the way Jack Skellington messed up Christmas when he tried to make it fit with Halloween).

        And, heck, nobody wants to leave anybody out. But, maybe, I dunno, it’s better to include people when their holidays happen, rather than try to celebrate everybody at Christmas. Like, I work for the county, and our public-facing office has a rotating banner with greetings: Happy Tihar in Nepali on Nov 7th-9th, Happy Thanksgiving, Happy Hanukkah, Happy Winter Solstice, Purim Sameach in March, Happy Mahavir Jayanti in April, Happy Easter, Happy Halloween! As well as “_____Month” celebrations.

        YMMV, but recognizing people’s own holidays, giving them cards or gifts as appropriate / relevant, goes a long way to helping them not feel excluded during Christmas. Also! Make sure to respect people whose religion prohibits holidays, or at least certain holidays, so they can easily excuse themselves.

        1. Kat Em*

          Yes! As a Baha’i I have no holidays between November and late February, and people always get seriously weirded out that I don’t have some winter celebration they can tack on to feel “diverse.”

          I don’t actually mind participating in most Christmas stuff (there are seven different religions represented in my extended family, so all major gatherings are exceedingly interfaith), but I prefer it when things are openly religious to commercialized/let’s-pretend-it’s-secular. It seems more honest to just admit you’re throwing Jesus a birthday party, so people can opt in or out based on that.

        1. chi type*

          I think this is the best bet. Candles would not be allowed and little lights are just going to look like Christmas lights!
          It’s really hard to think of anything actually- a snow covered tree would just look like a Xmas tree, fire in any form isn’t practical and even snowflakes seem a little Christmasy…

      2. Miri*

        I’m Jewish, and actively dislike some of the December decorations. The ones I like most are generally generically winter themed, and use white light strings instead of multicolored ones. Snowflakes, snowdrifts, even snowmen and snowwomen. Just avoid the trees or evergreen boughs, for some reason they tend to shift the theme of the decorations. Winter is pretty! Just please, please don’t do a tree and a Santa and then have a corner for Hanukkah, that makes some of us feel more othered.

    16. SJ*

      Thank you for taking the time to explain this from the ‘other’ perspective. Was really looking at this from the, “but I wouldn’t think twice if it were a Jewish holiday so why is this different…” viewpoint. I never realized that there was a lot more to it than just whatever name we attached to it. I’m not particularly religious so it never seemed an issue to me even while I tried very hard to be sensitive to others and their traditions.

    17. Heather*

      #2, I am in the same boat, a Jew who always felt like Christmas was being shoved down my throat. Thanks for articulating this perspective, phira, I feel like I’m taking crazy pills when trying to explain my discomfort with Christmas to others when they say “But whyyyyy” or “Calling it a holiday party is ruining Christmas!” and I’ve basically given up saying anything. I grew up and live in the US, but I spent a few years living in the UK, and I did perceive a legit difference in how the culture does Christmas in the UK versus in the US. For what it’s worth, the UK brand of Christmas did feel secular to me, and I felt more comfortable participating. Perhaps because the cold/wet misery wore me down into partaking in festive cheer, perhaps because my husband is a British non-Jew who foisted his traditions on me. Probably mostly because more people were openly secular in the UK than in the US (so I did not feel like it was getting shoved down my throat there). Good luck and hopefully you can just take the day off if you like!

    18. Bulbasaur*

      Thanks – that’s helpful.

      Personally I think that the religious element of Christmas is pretty minimal these days but it would be fair to describe it as a cultural holiday with a religious origin (and of course in this case the culture is not your culture). Having spent a significant amount of time living in a different country where my culture was a minority, I can understand the feeling of erasure and the need to assert your own identity.

      Sometimes I think that focusing on the religious aspect of these things is missing the point. I imagine it’s still quite possible to feel erased or assimilated by Christmas even if you are a non-religious Jew (assuming such a concept exists, and I suspect it does).

    19. pancakes*

      “Most jobs do not accommodate observing the sabbath; most restaurants don’t serve kosher food or they don’t serve it in a kosher manner; most workplaces and schools don’t close for our holidays.”

      This varies regionally. In NYC it’s standard for workplaces & schools to accommodate Jewish holidays, and at just about every job I’ve had, there’s at least one person who observes the sabbath. Schools here have been closed on Rosh Hashanah & Yom Kippur since the 1960s.


      1. phira*

        When I was figuring out how to phrase my post, I did think about NYC (and there are a few communities in my area that also have large-ish Jewish populations). But I think that since NYC is such an exception (and since NYC still operates with Christianity as the majority religion–it’s not like schools are closed on High Holy days but not Christmas, etc), it’s not hugely relevant.

    20. Pescadero*

      “But for many of us, Christmas can feel like one more step towards assimilation and erasure;”

      Absolutely… and those feelings need to be considered by management in these sorts of things.

      Interestingly enough – your comment above also echos the feeling of a lot of devout Christians about the secularization of Christmas.

      Christmas origins are religious (from multiple religions, not just Christianity)… but then, so are the origins of the US Thanksgiving holiday – and I never seem to hear any issues with the secularization of that holiday.

      As an atheist – I find the history of holiday creation, co-option, and secularization highly interesting.

    21. Lady Whackamole*

      Phira, you have said this so well.

      Why, oh why don’t companies just have a “year-end party” and make the celebration about New Year’s? Bring in all the winter-themed decorations, streamers, lights, and sparkling drinks they want. Hand out bonuses. :) Make it about remembering the past year and celebrating the one coming up. That actually would be work-appropriate, and something that everyone can celebrate equally.

      Another plus would be no pressure about office gift-giving. No secret santa stuff.

  2. Ask a Manager* Post author

    A note about letter #2 — I want to head off discussion about whether individual commenters personally find Christmas or Christmas parties secular, because that’s not the question. The relevant question is not “Do you personally find Christmas secular?” but rather is “Are there large numbers of non-Christians who are offended and feel erased by treating Christmas and symbols of Christmas as universal and secular things?” And the answer to that is yes. So this is a preemptive request not to derail on that. Thanks.

    Updated to add: This request is being widely ignored so all comments on this post are now going to moderation.

    1. Io*

      As a Jew I don’t see how this erases any person’s identity. It’s an office party, and presumably there isn’t going to be any praying, creches, etc. You could easily apply the same logic to demanding the 4th of July and Christmas lose holiday status because there are non-cituzens and non-Christians in the office.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        It’s fine that you don’t feel that way. Many Jews and others do. Per the note above, we’re not debating it here. (And she’s not objecting to them having the party; she’s objecting to being required to attend in order to receive the same perk as others.)

        1. Alice*

          Is it required to attend in order to get the PTO though?
          “Employees can choose to skip work, go to the party for a few hours, then go home, or go in for a full day of work”
          I read that as three options
          1 skip work
          2 party then home
          3 full day
          But it seems like everyone else is interpreting it as
          1 skip work, then party, then home
          2 full day

          1. SpecialK*

            Yes! This bit is the most important part of this letter. I scanned the comments looking for evidence that anyone—ANYONE—else caught this. I think it’s just you and me.
            I still think it’s a bit short-sighted and insensitive for this company to be having a Christmas party at all, but for some reason, everyone is choosing to ignore the best option available to the letter writer, which is to opt for the free day off work.

              1. Detective Amy Santiago*

                I assume that “skip the day of work” does not mean “a free day off” but rather “use PTO” or “miss out on a day of pay”.

          2. Shiara*

            “Am I reacting too strongly, or is it weird that we’re essentially being offered the day off– so long as we celebrate Christmas first? ” i think to a lot of us this quote from the letter supports the options being
            1. Skip work (by going to the party and then going home)
            2. Work all day

            1. Falling Diphthong*

              Yup. My initial read it came across as A, B, or C, but the next paragraph (and the fact that there’s a letter at all) makes it clear that the options are (A and B) or C.

            2. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

              That’s how I read it too – that they are only allowed to skip work if they go to the party.

            3. Madcap_Magician*

              This was what I thought, too, so I didn’t understand the issue – if people had the option to A) skip work, B) go in just for the party, or C) just go to work, I don’t see the problem.

              Frankly I personally strongly dislike all work social events anyway and do my best to avoid them, and I am an observant Christian. I like my coworkers, I just wouldn’t choose to socialize with them. I mean, if I’m socializing, I’d rather be socializing with people to whom I’m close. If I’m getting paid, I’d rather be making a dent in the stack that’s piling up whether I’m at my desk or at an office party.

              But I’m a curmudgeon, I guess.

          3. Yorick*

            Interesting, I thought that was “skip work and go to the party,” I didn’t read it as a separate option.

          4. MCMonkeyBean*

            I believe it is meant to be read like this:
            Employees can choose to
            1. [skip work, go to the party for a few hours, then go home,] OR
            2. [go in for a full day of work]

          5. schnauzerfan*

            I understand the point about being a member of a minority religion under the heel of the majority, but that doesn’t seem to be the case here as OP is in a “non-religious” country and has the option not to participate. So, a contrarian viewpoint from the US… I wonder why OP should get time off? She doesn’t want to go to a party that’s more of a “team building” event than a religious celebration but still wants time off even though it’s not her holiday? This sort of thing comes up on our campus a lot with both religious and secular things… You may go to the Homecoming Picnic, or stay in your office and continue to work. People who go to Homecoming festivities don’t come back to the office generally. It’s an afternoon off that the people who chose not to attend simply don’t get. You can go listen to x speak about y and have cookies and punch, or you can continue to work… You can go to the Parade of trees & Santa visit…. You can go to the Diwali events or… You can go to the Concrete Canoe race, or … and so on. I’d say there are a dozen or more such events each year, some of us don’t go to any, some go to all. And those of us who stay and work miss out on a chance to leave early. So? We didn’t have to socialize with that idiot from accounting.

            1. Emily K*

              I wonder why OP should get time off?

              Because access to an employment perk shouldn’t hinge on being willing to join a religious celebration.

              As Alison noted, it’d be one thing if they had this option for a secular party – join the team-building event or work. A lot of employers do that and it’s justifiable even if not the most generous option. But this isn’t just a “team-building event” – it’s an exclusionary, religiously-based event.

            2. Third Culture Kid*

              As a third culture kid from another secular country where Christmas (like other celebrations) is a mix of the newer Christian ideas and the older traditional beliefs, but who also has “celebrated” Christmas in China, I am willing to bet money that OP’s workplace has invested zero thought into these dynamics of religious cultural dominance for several reasons.

              First, you need extensive exposure to not just a few but whole groups of religious people to see any group dynamics. To then see groups interact with each other, to have the chance to hear perspectives like phira’s above, you need lots of differently religious people. You just don’t get that in secular countries – or at least not anywhere you just come across it without particularly looking. Living in the US as an adult has shown me what a religious country really is. I’ve met American Jews who know more about the Bible and Christianity than I do, and I was one of the most knowledgeable in my high school class on Christianity. For example, I knew off the top of my head that the Pope is Catholic. Please don’t laugh. (Or do.) I can see that the all-pervasive pressure of Christianity is a key feature of growing up here, to the point where Americans struggle to imagine life without it. But in secular countries it’s just not there, so you don’t really realize how brutal it can be, especially in a Western country.

              Second, the Japanese people at this company aren’t part of our old dynamics and history around the holiday anyway. When you start celebrating a holiday you learned about entirely from movies – which is likely the case for the vast majority of the planners and goers in this case even in a best-case scenario – you end up creating something slightly new and different simply because you’re not plugged into the original cultural context. I have seen this several times – what the original culture thinks is key and/or a core thing to do gets dropped, either because the movies don’t show it because they count on the audience to assume it’s happening even if not shown or because it’s too complicated to do/copy from just seeing bits of someone doing it. Or because it doesn’t jive with another value that the culture already had.

              So, OP needs some advice on how to convey the cheery topic of hundreds of years of religious oppression in a few professional sentences to help frame why they would want to turn down a free reason to party. I do not think I am the right person to help because I’m neither Jewish not well versed in the history of religious oppression of Jews by Christians. But I wanted to speak to the very key part of “secular country”, and even more key part of “country where Christmas is not traditionally celebrated”.

          6. Jewish OP*

            OP here. There is no option to skip work without going to the party. It’s either go to the party+skip work, or go to work.

        2. Database Developer Dude*

          So are we certain that she has to go to the party to be allowed to go home afterwards? If true, that’s messed up. I’ve witnessed a lot of situations like that, where an activity that’s not really work is semi-mandatory. It doesn’t even have to involve holidays and religion.

          I’m a baseball fan, not a football fan, but ONLY football fans, when I was stationed overseas when I was active duty in the Army, got the next half-day off after the SuperBowl, whether your team was in it or not. Baseball fans had to suck it up. That hardly seems equitable. I look at this situation the same way.

          1. Toads, Beetles, Bats*

            I have so many questions about this. Did you have to register your fan status in advance of the season? Could you same-day register for the Super Bowl? How were accommodations for the World Series handled, given that it produces 4-7 “morning afters”? So. Many. Questions.

            1. Allison*

              Well that’s just it, the Super Bowl only had one “morning after” so it was easy to accommodate. The World Series has a lot more, so it accommodating that means giving people 5-7 half days, that’s a lot!

              1. Database Developer Dude*

                Except it’s not 5-7 half days. It’s 1-4. Depending on how it goes, Game 4 could be the deciding game if the winning team sweeps, or game 7. Plus, there’s usually always a weekend in there, so Friday and Saturday night games don’t count, because you normally don’t have to go to work the next morning, so we’re talking potentially 2 at most.

            2. Database Developer Dude*

              No one had to register their fan status in advance of the season. No one had to same-day register for the Super Bowl. No accommodations were made for the World Series. EVERYONE got a half-day off after SuperBowl Sunday, regardless of fan status, including me.

            1. Yay commenting on AAM!*

              Yes but it shows how ridiculous such a policy is, because you can switch or fake sports fandom much faster than you can your faith, and interrogating someone over their sports fandom to see if they’re “truly qualified” for the day off is particularly petty and stupid.

          2. Jadelyn*

            I feel like you’re trying to empathize with OP here, but this still comes off like “hey let’s treat your religion as being equally as frivolous as a preference for one sport over another” – and especially with an ethnoreligion like Judaism, that’s just a Really Bad Look.

      2. zdoge*

        I was thinking about Halloween given the date. It would be sad if it was banned because some people thought it was inevitably tied to religion. I do think a general “Holiday Party” would be a better name for a December event though, and the attend-or-work-all-day is a bad move too.

        1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          Please forgive me for being extremely frustrated, but this is a straw man argument. OP is not advocating for the abolition of a Christmas party or the employer’s recognition of Christmas. They’re trying to figure out if they can get equitable treatment to leave early without having to participate in something they object to for personal reasons that are entirely valid, even if they aren’t shared by others.

        2. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

          To be fair, there are some religions that explicitly avoid “celebrating” Halloween. My organization goes ALL OUT on Halloween, and am very aware of at least one colleague who doesn’t celebrate for religious regions.

        3. King Friday XIII*

          As someone who does celebrate a religious holiday today, I’d love it if it was acknowledged as a religious celebration and I was able to get it off… Somehow my boss wearing a costume just doesn’t feel like the same level of perk Christmas is given. =P

      3. Artemesia*

        Religion unlike a July 4 celebration is about something fundamental to a person’s identity; many people are deeply offended to have to participate in other people’s religious celebrations. All those kids in the US south who were forced to bow their heads ‘in Jesus name’ every morning at public school were not having their identity erased either but they were being compelled to worship against their conscience. A Christmas party is not as bad as that, but the judge of whether it is ‘secular enough’ is on the person experiencing it and not for the boss to decide. Praying would offend me as an atheist but a Christmas party wouldn’t, but I don’t get to decide for someone else. The fact that this is in a country that is not predominantly Christian (if I read it right) makes it more a cultural thing like Cinco de Mayo or Diwali or Chinese New Year — to me. But not to the OP and the OP and others in her situation need to not be penalized for making a decision of conscience based on their religious commitments.

    2. JS*

      I have a question about that but more of a clarifying question to better understand, not a debate… do non-Christians find it non secular/alienating to have a party itself being called “Christmas” with no angels, carols, mention of Jesus, etc? Or is it the fear that if they attend a “Christmas” party that those symbols would automatically be there (fair assumption) which would then be alienating?

      I ask because there is no promise a “Holiday party” ran by a mostly Christian office (or just an overzealous busy body) wouldn’t have those symbols even with the non-secular name. It seems that OP is just put off by having “Christmas” in the name rather than if the actual party had those symbols or not.

      It’s curious to me as I am realizing majority of offices I have worked at have all been progressive enough to have them named “Holiday parties” but those Holiday parties are overwhelmingly Christian/Christmas themed. Even in offices (in NYC) that have had a lot of Jewish people in the office. Not out right manger of Jesus or prayer by any means, but Christmas trees, Christmas themed decorations (Rudolph, frosty the snowman, The Grinch, etc), one office even had Santa come in for parents to bring their kids.

      Then again as well I am in advertising so the promise of free catered food and an open bar is likely enough to sway anyone in my office favorably.

      1. Julia*

        I’m not sure if a snowman is necessarily Christmas-themed, but I think the timing of the party alone would exclude a lot of religions whose biggest celebration of the year is in a completely different month when the company doesn’t have any holiday at all.

        1. JS*

          I agree not a regular snowman but Frosty is pretty Christmas themed. I am thinking of all the claymation movies I grew up watching which were made by the same people as Rudolph. They even made Jack Frost about Christmas.

          I guess my point in mentioning that is there is a TON of little things that could be “Christmas themed” that people would include in a holiday party that they wouldn’t think would be secular but popular US culture has made it so which could also alienate people. I’m wracking my brain now trying to think about how secular our “non secular Holiday parties” actually were.

        2. jhjh*

          OTOH there is not an equal history of Jews trying to kill Christians, force them to convert, kick them out of their homes, etc.

          1. Lexi's Lynh*

            But is there this history in the secular country the OP lives in? In the US, I agree it makes a difference, but trying to explain this in a country without that history may be capital not worth expending.

            1. Detective Amy Santiago*

              Is there any country in the world that doesn’t have a history of persecuting the Jewish?

              1. Julia*

                Probably not. To be fair to Japan here, though (because there’s been a fair amount of valid criticism going on today), I am much more at ease telling a Japanese person that my grandfather was a Jewish holocaust survivor than I am ever saying that to my German friends. In fact, the only German friend of mine who knows that about me is here in Japan. Obviously, there are historical reasons and it’s still a very charged topic in Germany, but while Japanese people do tend to take issue with everyone who is different (although as a foreigner I already am), they mostly do so by saying “huh, that sounds bothersome” and then leaving it, they don’t get violent or try to kill you.

              2. Femme D'Afrique*

                “Is there any country in the world that doesn’t have a history of persecuting the Jewish?”

                Several, but I don’t know what this has to do with anything.

            2. jhjh*

              I was responding specifically to Blue Eagle saying that they would feel fine as a Christian living in Israel just going to Jewish religious parties. Which might very well be true, but is not even close to equivalent.

              1. Dragoning*

                Also, Israel is a pretty inherently religious country–a lot of countries like the US don’t have state religions.

            3. Observer*

              Any country in Europe has this history. Beyond that, it doesn’t really matter. Christmas is ABSOLUTELY tied to a history of oppression and attempted forced assimilation, both religious and secular.

              I’m not sure why this argument is even happening, given that Allison explicitly asked that we don’t try to litigate the “correctness” of the OP’s feelings.

        3. Clay on My Apron*

          > can the letter writer just change the name in their own mind to a “holiday” party rather than a “Christmas” party

          Why on earth should she have to do that?

        4. SpaceySteph*

          I think you might feel differently about this if you DID live in Israel. Imagine a December without the “secular” Christmas things like lights and trees and Christmas songs on the radio. Being a minority religion makes you feel erased. You might tire, after many years of living as the non-dominant culture, of just going along with their parties.

      2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        It varies widely among non-Christians, so I can’t speak on behalf of all non-Christians. But as a practicing member of a minority religion in the United States, a Christmas party is non-secular for me, even if people think it has no angels, carols, creches, or mentions of Jesus and is really a mislabeled holiday party.

        I personally think of Santa, Rudolph, Frosty, the Grinch, etc., as distinct from the religious symbolism and meaning of Christmas. They’re certainly Christmas-adjacent or Christmas-inspired, but the tree, for example, is one of many pre-Christianity, pagan practices that were coopted over time.

        1. Trout 'Waver*

          From what I understand, Christmas is traditionally celebrated between the winter solstice and the new year because people were in a festive mood and it had minimal impact on worker productivity to celebrate it then.

          Interestingly, some puritans in New England refused to celebrate Christmas specifically because it had co-opted pagan traditions. So, the debate over whether Christmas is secular or not predates the founding of the United States.

          1. Falling Diphthong*

            Basically, ancient people who lived in an area with cold dark winters usually came up with an event around the Solstice (the darkest time of the year) when you had some sort of gathering with light, evergreens, and food. The It Gets Better of seasonal acknowledgements.

            1. Submerged Tenths*

              Love this, may I borrow? “The It Gets Better of seasonal acknowledgements”. I’m already planning a winter party with an “It Gets Better” theme!

              1. Falling Diphthong*

                Absolutely. I live in New England, and in December the sun is starting to vanish at like 3:30 in the afternoon–you need to know it’s coming back!

          2. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

            Nah, the “Christmas is pagan!” thing is very much modern. The Puritan aversion to Christmas celebrations (and tbh lavish celebration in general) was a reaction to Catholic & Anglican traditions, not to pagan ones.

            1. Trout 'Waver*

              Nah, given the history of Christmas, it has always had some non-religious components tacked on to the religious meanings. But this is derailing into the territory we’re supposed to avoid so I’ll leave this here.

      3. Jess*

        It may be helpful to think of it as a spectrum of inclusion/alienation, and understand that individual levels of sensitivity may vary. If it’s in December, if the colors are red and green, then its roots are a Christmas party, no matter how secularized it is. Move it to February 2nd and trade the red and green for a picture of a groundhog, and suddenly it’s a whole different sort of welcoming.

        Christmas trees are religious symbols, wreaths are religious symbols, Saint Nick a.k.a. Santa Claus is religious. Some people are aware of that and some are oblivious, regardless of their religion. Personally, when I’m invited to a work party in December, I am aware of what it’s being called, I’m aware of the colors, I’m aware of the symbols, I’m aware of whether any symbols or colors or decorations are present representing holidays other than Christmas (and if so, which ones), I’m aware of when it’s being held in relation to Chanukah (very alienating if it is an after-work event on a Chanukah night)… basically, I walk in feeling like a Jew and look around and take a read of how much other people are aware that people like me are here, how much they care about me feeling welcome and comfortable, and how tuned in they are to actually making a comfortable space.

      4. Clay on My Apron*

        My personal view. Christmas is irrelevant to me as a non Christian. I don’t identify with it. It’s for other people, not for me.

        Imagine something that you have no affinity for, and then imagine that your company has decided that this will be the company party theme – every single year!

        Having a company party which is ostensibly for everyone, but is actually themed around something that’s NOT for everyone, is tone deaf. Whether there are or aren’t miniature Christmas trees on the tables isn’t the point, it’s the assumption that everyone is cool with celebrating Christmas and in fact would prefer it to a more inclusive theme.

        1. Zip Silver*

          It’s not as if your company is arbitrarily picking a Christmas theme, though. Christmas is a Federal holiday, and most Americans celebrate it.

          1. Slartibartfast*

            That’s the point, MOST celebrate it. Not all. I grew up in a Catholic household. I always felt like an outsider. I consider myself religiously unaffiliated, though I’m not quite an atheist, I don’t believe in any particular God(s) but I am spiritual in a lot of ways. Personally I celebrate with the non explicitly Christian parts, we have a tree and visit Santa and I enjoy looking at Christmas lights. Even so, Christmas is often uncomfortable for me and I can understand how it’s even more so for people who don’t come from a Christian background at all. It’s pervasive in ways other holidays are not. The stores sell merchandise months in advance, holiday themed music plays for weeks, I have to change my shopping habits, there is the political “war on Christmas” and debating stupid crap like Starbucks cups. It’s overwhelming and exhausting and no other holiday-not even Easter, which is arguably the more important day-is like this. So comparing it to Thanksgiving or 4th of July really is an apples-and-oranges argument.

          2. Detective Amy Santiago*

            Christmas is a Federal holiday because the US is a majority Christian nation.

            It would not surprise me if some families celebrated the secular aspects of it simply because it is impossible to avoid. That doesn’t make it okay.

            Also, the LW is not in the US, so it’s a moot point.

          3. pleaset*

            Yup. The majority. Not the “others” – the minority. Them. How nice of companies to drill this dichotomy into people.

          4. Nephron*

            So I grew up in Rhode Island, the last state to still officially have Victory in Japan Day be a thing. My school did not call it that, but I would get the day off pretty regularly. It is generally controversial because despite being a Federally recognized day you are celebrating Hiroshima and Nagasaki and some people point out that we keep celebrating the victory over the nonwhite opponents from WWII that we put in camps while dropping the celebration for victory in Europe. The car dealerships of Rhode Island do not have sales that day, it does not show up in advertisements, and I have never heard of an office party. This is because all those things could cost them talent and PR.

            Having a party is supposed to be about making your employees happy so you retain talent, if it is alienating a group of them then it is not making the employees happy and you are limiting your talent pool. You are no longer hiring the best accountant you are hiring the best accountant that is willing to put up with the religious thing, or loud Halloween music, or managers that scream at people.

            1. Yorick*

              I’m American and I have never head any mention of Victory in Japan Day. Is that the name you’re using for another major holiday, or am I under a rock, or what?

              1. Yorick*

                Oh, I misunderstood. I thought you said it was the last state to NOT have the day, but it’s the last state to get rid of it. Sorry.

            2. Jareth*

              Other Rhode Islander here. VJ day always made me uncomfortable, but I suspected they kept it around just for a spring/summer day off. I wish they’d get rid of it – I’d rather have everyone go to work than have my coworkers ever feel othered.

            3. Database Developer Dude*

              Nephron, I too grew up there. I remember getting the day off from school when I was a small boy.

          5. Clay on My Apron*

            I think it’s pretty clear that federal holiday ≠ inclusive and for everyone. It certainly doesn’t obligate me to feel excited about it.

            In fact what it mostly does is emphasise the fact that *almost everyone else* is celebrating, just not you.

            In any case the OP doesn’t seem to be in the US so that doesn’t apply.

        2. Falling Diphthong*

          Imagine something that you have no affinity for.

          I’m imagining the Richard Nixon football jersey potluck taking off, not just as a company wide oddball yearly event but as a nation-wide one.

      5. Stone Cold Bitch*

        As a practising Christian in a secular country (Sweden) I’ve had these discussions with secular Swedes a lot. The general response is “but why do you keep dragging religion into Christmas, it’s got nothing to do with that!” People who are proudly atheist do decorations, tree, Christmas music, food…. the works.

        There is a lot of partial blindness around this holiday.

        1. Zip Silver*

          Sweden’s a historically Christian country, though. It’s hard to erase all the holidays that have seeped into the culture, even if the country is mostly secular now.

          1. Jul*

            Christmas is much, much older than Christianity in all the Nordic countries, like in most of Europe (even the name doesn’t refer to Christianity in any of Nordic languages). No need to erase the holiday for the culture to be secular, in Sweden Christmas is a really old traditional folk holiday Christians actually appropriated. Most of the symbols like the tree, santa, gifts all pre-date Christianity, the church just gave them Christian meanings to suppress the old folk faith and traditions. Same happened with Easter and Halloween to a degree.

            Christians had already appropriated the holiday and symbols when they took it to the US, so there it doesn’t have similar secular (or at least non-Christian) history and tradition.

            1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

              I agree, Christmas has strong pagan roots. But then why call it Christmas? If they want to send the message that this is just an old-time Solstice party, then call it a Solstice party, not something with the word “Christ” in it.

              1. Third Culture Kid*

                Like someone already pointed out, there is no “Christ in Christmas” in the Nordic languages. I celebrate jul – yule – linguistically. I bake saffron buns to bring back the sun, as people have for a thousand years. I drink beer. You can absolutely remove Christ from yule. In fact, please do.

            2. Observer*

              That really doesn’t help a lot of people. I can’t speak for others, but for most Orthodox Jews, pagan religious traditions are no better than Christian ones.

            3. Stone Cold Bitch*

              Actually, we imported the trees from Germany in the 19th century.

              But we’re getting off topic.

            4. Quickbeam*

              I celebrate Yule But I don’t want my office to put a log in the corner by the tree. And I don’t want to celebrate Samhain by my coworkers dressing up as Cher. I just avoid holiday office celebrations as they seem always to reflect a faith tradition that is not mine.

        2. Cruciatus*

          There’s a funny line in original recipe Roseanne where they are discussing death and God and Jackie, exasperated, yells “Why are we talking about this? God and heaven and everything? It’s Christmas!”

        3. Detective Amy Santiago*

          It’s not accurate to say that Christmas used to be a heathen holiday. In fact, it’s rather insulting.

          Christians appropriated a lot of cultural traditions from the Pagan celebrations of Solstice/Yule. That doesn’t mean those holidays ‘became’ Christmas.

          1. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

            That’s not really an accurate representation. The holidays stayed in the same cultural groups that always celebrated them; when those groups converted to Christianity, they kept their same traditions with new names.

            They became Christian holidays in the sense that they became holidays that Christian people celebrated.

      6. Database Developer Dude*

        You had me at ‘open bar’. Having said that, I would probably avoid it anyway. Alcohol loosens my tongue, and if someone’s acted unprofessionally or tried to bully me in the past, a drunk me would probably let them know in no uncertain terms. Not a good career move.

      7. Triplestep*

        I will answer with my own Jewish perspective: many people celebrate Christmas irreligiously, but that does not make it a secular holiday. The vast majority of people celebrating it in a way they call secular are from backgrounds that at some point would have celebrated it as a religious holiday. Whether they did that in their family of origin or generations back is irrelevant. They grew up celebrating it so it’s nostalgic for them in a way it’s not for we non-celebrants.

        THAT SAID, OP: I prefer that holiday parties held in winter be called “Christmas Parties” because that is what they are. Not every religion has a major winter holiday, and as a Jew, I would rather that Hanukkah not be made into one by Christmas celebrants wanting to be inclusive. So I go to these parties no matter what they are called and tell myself I am there to wish others well for their big time of year.

        Often someone will say something like “Oh but you have Hanukkah, right?” And I will answer something like “Yeah but Hanukkah isn’t a major holiday. Our big holidays are in the Fall and and one in the Spring.” Some folks will be interested and ask, others will drop it, and I don’t have to feel erased in the way some here have described.

        Would either of these things work for you?

        1. RUKiddingMe*

          I like this approach. Personally I am an atheist. My husband however is an observant Muslim. When we are in his home country with his family around holidays, particularly Ramadan I will observe it with them because I know it’s important to them and I love all of them and don’t want them to feel (any extra) weirded out by the non-Muslim in the room.

          Here at home (US) I don’t celebrate it at all but I will make sure to try and have something for him to eat at break fast time and I cook usually 20+/30 nights for the free dinner they have at the mosque each night. I don’t have to do any of that of course, but I love Husband and want to support him, so I actively help out, ask questions, try to make something which is a very big deal holiday time special for him.

      8. Jadelyn*

        As a non-Christian, yes – just calling it a “Christmas party” is alienating to me, regardless of whether there are any angels or Jesus or anything. It’s reflective of what I’ve heard referred to as “Christianormativity” (patterned after constructions like heteronormativity), the idea that Of Course everyone is happy to celebrate this specific religion’s major holiday as long as the religion in question isn’t explicitly mentioned by name. It positions Christianity, even just “cultural Christianity”, as the default, whether it’s intended to or not.

      9. pope suburban*

        I had that thought too. Even the holiday decorations that people consider to be “neutral” tend to be boughs of greenery, which, well…Christmas trees! Same with snowmen and angels and whatnot. Doing a party for a cold season, when people maybe need a little more human connection to stay upbeat, without invoking Christian symbols would be difficult. So far, all I’ve got is snow and candles, since there is a lot of human tradition and need for more light in a dark and cold season.

      10. every office is different on this.*

        Over the years, my employer’s holiday party became substantially de-Christmased. I don’t remember if it was ever actually called a Christmas party during my tenure, but it was, back in the day, held in an area decorated for Christmas, with Christmas trees and wreaths and tinsel and all that. Slowly, those trappings peeled away. If there were decorations, they were snowflakes and snowmen; the trees and wreaths disappeared. The office “Secret Santa” became “Secret Gift Exchange.”

        In recent years, the party is basically: hey, here’s food and drink, come and have fun! And it’s held early in December, which seems to make a difference in how everyone feels about it.

        I know that the employees have become more diverse, in religious terms, over the same period, but I don’t know if there were complaints about the party that drove the changes. I can say that in the years when it was more obviously a Christmas party, I went, sat with other non-Christians, and left as soon as possible after the big bosses made their annual speeches.

        Oh–there used to be a big Christmas tree in our lobby, decorated by members of staff. That’s gone too; people can decorate their own office spaces but there’s nothing in public space. I have an electric menorah that I set up on my desk every year, since I am usually at work at the time when I would usually light candles (sunset). So I do it at work instead of at home, and use bulbs instead of flames. I still say the prayers, but as I have a private office, this is not a problem for anyone. If I had a desk in a shared space I would probably pray silently.

        1. Michaela Westen*

          These are very cool examples of adapting on your part and the company changing with the times. :)

      11. EmilyAnn*

        This whole line of questioning has really made me think. As a Christian, I don’t associate my religious beliefs with office holiday parties etc. I love cute Christmas stuff but in my mind it has nothing to do with the things I’m called to do because of my faith. I’m not offended by the secular nature of the holiday, commercialization, or holiday adjacent stuff. So no, I have no issue with what Christmas has become, but I can understand why others who share my faith could have feelings about Christmas being hijacked by forces that have nothing to do with the true meaning.

    3. Renamis*

      My only question is, does the country this is going on in effect the advice any? In Great Britain I see the conversation being worthwhile. In Japan I see this going over like a lead balloon. Christmas is certainly a thing in Japan, and it’s not about Christianity, so this conversation would get a lot harder. I can see the conversation easily going into “Oh no, we don’t do that here, it’s just a party!” and then… not getting it because they’re also not Christian. Ignoring that the OP is from an area where the connection is normal.

      1. Callie*

        Reading that letter, I wondered this too. I suspect that an American office would be much more sensitive to concerns about religiosity than offices in most other countries. My experience as an American in the UK has been that people are baffled when I express my concern about holding a “Christmas party,” the boss sending around an email saying “Merry Christmas,” and so on. Christmas does have an almost secular feeling here, like Thanksgiving in the US, but I imagine the celebrations are still uncomfortable/exclusionary for many people of other faiths.

        If the letter writer were based in the UK, then, I’d expect employers to react with a lot less understanding– but perhaps that makes it even more important to stick to the principle!

        1. Ellex*

          “I suspect that an American office would be much more sensitive to concerns about religiosity than offices in most other countries.”

          Weeellll…that can depend on where in the US you are. Particularly in the Bible Belt/rural areas, the assumption that everyone is some flavor of Christian can be very pervasive. But even in my area, which is a multi-cultural city and most definitely not in the Bible Belt, there can be a very high level of tone-deafness to non-Christian concepts and culture, which from personal experience, I think depends heavily on the size of the company, and sometimes on the type of business the company conducts.

        2. Dremg*

          Yes — in the UK, there is an odd thing going on where, while there is no separation of church and state, we generally assume that others are not Christian and are probably not anything, because we are a very secular nation. In the US, church and state are separate but a lot of people are Christian. This leads to a lack of concern about labelling something a Christmas party because nobody thinks of it as having any Christian symbolism. The language is lazy; we could equally call it a Yule party or whatever, but in most places, British-born Muslims, Sikhs and Hindus will very happily attend the party because they’ve been brought up with the assumption that most white people are areligious and Christmas is just the name now appended, for historical reasons, to a winter party that far predates the Christianisation of the islands. Indeed, calling it a “winter party” or saying “happy holidays” seems disingenuous to many, because you’ve just changed the name, not the content — if people object to the content on religious grounds, what difference does it make what it’s called?

          This reminds me of a conversation I once had with an American who asked me why British people celebrate killing Catholics once a year. Took me ages to work out they were talking about Bonfire Night (almost always called this rather than Guy Fawkes’ Night) which is just an excuse to burn an effigy and blow things up.

          1. Ellex*

            Oddly enough, I’d say most USians treat Christmas almost the same way: there’s an unspoken assumption that almost everyone is, at the very least, a “lip-service” or “holiday” Christian (attending church at Easter and Christmas but seldom otherwise), so there’s also an assumption that everyone is okay with Christmas as both a religious holiday AND a secular holiday (apart from the “War on Christmas” brigade). It is a significant and serious erasure of other religions (and the non-religious), especially in work settings, but it’s pretty culturally accepted here and I can see an employee being likely perceived as “difficult” and a “party-pooper” by asking for different wording or broader inclusion.

            Hilariously, my coworkers and bosses in every job I’ve had have tended to think I’m either Jewish (German surname) or super-conservative Christian (apparently being quiet and a bit reserved comes across that way?), and people have tried to go out of their way to be inclusive and culturally sensitive while never actually asking what my beliefs are. For the record, I’ll happily celebrate any holiday involving food.

        3. General Ginger*

          The fact that people are baffled at your concern over a Christmas party/Merry Christmas emails is pretty much emblematic of the problem. Just because people choose to treat it as a secular holiday, doesn’t make it one.

      2. TL -*

        I’d argue there’s a huge difference between “we’re a non-Christian culture that lifted and celebrates a holiday from a Christian culture” and “we’re a Christian culture that celebrates Christian holidays in both a secular and non-secular manner”

    4. Katherine*

      Large numbers of Christians are offended by it too. It’s a significant non-secular holiday for Christians.

    5. Thus Spake Zaso*

      “This request is being widely ignored” <– Wow, that's sad, and evidence of the problem. Would you consider posting a stand-alone explainer on the topic? Even many HR folks don't seem to get it. Once, when I told HR that I didn't mind carols piped into the cafeteria but drew the line at those that talked about Jesus being the only path to salvation, the person in charge of affirmative action (!) for the university (!!) seemed sincerely not to understand why I might be offended by implicitly being told, to a cheery tune, that I am going to hell.

      1. Legal Beagle*

        Yes, these comments are truly dismaying. There seem to be a lot of people ignoring or contradicting the experiences and perspectives of minority religion/non-Christian commenters. I’m Jewish and absolutely understand the LW here. It really is a frustrating erasure to be told that your lived experience is invalid and wrong, because someone who grew up celebrating Christmas thinks it’s secular.

        I know the purpose of AAM is not to educate the masses on diversity and tolerance, but a standalone post that lifts up the voices of minority religion adherents (including atheists!) would be a lovely thing. Particularly this week, when the Jewish community is reeling from the deadliest anti-Semitic violence on U.S. soil, it is painful and heart-wrenching to be told you are wrong – about your own feelings – by people who have zero personal perspective on what it means to live as a religious minority.

  3. bunniferous*

    He/she said this is a non religious country. I think which one might matter. If the company itself is based in the nonreligious country (say, Japan, which is the example I am thinking of) I am wondering if the company truly understands that Christmas really is a religious holiday…..I am just concerned that the OP could possibly be penalized by people who truly do look at this as a secular holiday and do not understand how fraught this would be in the States.

    1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      I’m a member of a religious minority in the United States who, like OP, finds Christmas to be non-secular and generally would not want to participate in a Christmas party (but would happily leave early to go home). Whether it’s fraught to opt-out or to raise the issue of whether Christmas is secular varies significantly by local norms and office culture, even in the States.

      I cheerfully opt out, and I let organizers know why. The tone I use is “I’m not making this a big dramatic thing, just letting you know that I’m not participating because of my faith background and not your perception of whether Christmas is secular.” People still give me some side-eye, even in “liberal” geographies, but I’ve decided that this is a hill I’m willing to die on. As far as I can tell, I don’t think I’ve lost political capital over it or been penalized for it.

      What I’ve found less successful is trying to convince people to rebrand or adopt a more equitable holiday approach/policy. If people are firmly committed to the idea that Christmas is secular (which sounds like the case for OP’s office), in my experience, no amount of discussion helps them understand why non-Christians might not see it the same way. So I’ve stopped trying to get people to be more inclusive on this issue, and I instead focus on getting managers to be ok with me doing my own thing.

      1. Smithy*

        This is really good insight.

        As a Jew who’s had the privilege of living in a number of different countries with Jews from different cultural upbringings – the view of what is/is not secular about Christmas can vary wildly. It would not surprise me to hear that at the OP’s workplace – there may well be Jewish members of senior leadership who hold this feeling themselves.

        Therefore litigating the nature of the party as secular or religious is far more prime for conflict than addressing a personal accommodation.

      2. the gold digger*

        I am Christian in the US and consider Christmas to be non-secular. I have tried to convince the party organizers in my office, which has people from all over the world (India, Egypt, Iran, Cameroon, Nigeria, Russia, Bosnia, just off the top of my head) and from non-Christian religions (Islam, Judaism, Hinduism, and probably others), that we should have some kind of winter party – maybe in January when everyone is sick of the snow! – instead of a Christmas party.

        It costs nothing to be inclusive.

        They do at least call it a “holiday” party now, but it’s still in December and there will be traditional Christmas decorations in the office.

        1. Kyrielle*

          Maybe pitch it as “it’s more inclusive and you can save money – or put on a better party for the same price”? One year my previous office didn’t get the holiday party arranged early enough to get a December booking – and found the pricing is way better for mid-January.

          1. fnom*

            This is exactly what my company does. I’m ex-Catholic non-Christian with a complicated relationship to religion as a whole, and I am sincerely appreciative that the holiday party which is meant as a gesture of appreciation does not intenionally alienate me.

          2. Danger: Gumption Ahead*

            I worked at a place that did a “Welcome to the New Year” party in the 2nd week of January in lieu of any holiday related parties. It was nice because it was a kind of yucky time of year weather wise and everyone who did X-mas had time to recover from festivity burn out

            1. Jennifer Thneed*

              I worked for a company that just straightforwardly had their holiday party in March or April. (It was so long ago that I cannot remember what they called it, but it was so long ago that they probably called it an Xmas party.) Anyway, it was because one year when the company was small and growing fast, they kept putting off planning the party until it was too late, so they had the party in the spring instead and then made it a tradition. And it was a big deal party at a local amusement park, with dinner and free rides, and yeah, they saved tons of dough that way.

              1. Cari*

                I just went to a client’s that was Halloween-adjacent. It’s their favorite, cheaper time & nice to throw support to restaurant in off season. Perfect all around

        2. Michaela Westen*

          A few years ago my hairdresser at the time told me her salon has its holiday party in January because they are too busy in December, doing hair for all the Christmas/holiday and NYE parties.
          I think a party in early-mid December and one in February would be a good schedule to address the winter blues. :)

    2. An entire horde of minions*

      This is my worry too. I am actually based in Japan and have seen previous instances of very similar situations around Christmas (and Halloween, which can also be problematic) in which employers and managers take a very dim view of exactly this sort of response to ‘it’s not religious’. They genuinely don’t understand why it’s such a big deal and even if the employee tries to explain it usually increases their irritation over the matter. If one is lucky enough to work in a large company/with HR folks who are more globally-minded, it’s usually better to go straight to them. They can frame it as ‘this is going to make our company look bad if word gets out that we pressure people on religious matters’ and that often does the trick… but not always.

      1. JS*

        Ooh, having studied in Japan for an expanse of time I could see where this would be tricky. Definitely better in a more globally minded company but that would be hard in general in Japan especially where going against the grain and the group is looked down on.

        1. Julia*

          Yeah, you’ll just end up being the foreigner who doesn’t appreciate Japan trying to be inclusive of other cultures (= white Americans).

          1. JS*

            I don’t think its so much of being inclusive since from my experience most were eager to learn more on how others did things, more so of nixing the holiday all together. So someone wanting to include in the celebration Kwanzaa for example would be welcomed more so than stopping the group from celebrating altogether. It’s more of a “include everyone but shame the non participants”.

            But its like that with most things. I had a host dad there who wasn’t a big drinker but felt like he had an obligation to go out drinking with his boss and coworkers or he would be looked at as not apart of the team. Although its impolite in Japan to pour your own drinks so he made sure to nurse his and keep pouring for others (hilariously animated conversation we had at the time since he spoke little English and my Japanese was only so-so).

            1. Julia*

              I didn’t mean that it’s actually inclusive, it’s just what you’d most likely be told. “But we’re celebrating this gaikoku tradition for you gaijin, why are you complaining?”
              I have definitely heard a lot of work secrets by not drinking while the Japanese people around me got wasted.

      2. Heat*

        It wouldn’t make any sense to the managers if you call it a religious themed party if they’re not religious or Christian themselves. Then it’s obvious they don’t consider it religious because they either don’t have a religion or have a different one. So it’s obvious their intent is non religious and that a Christmas party is just a party.

        1. EH*

          Then they need to be educated. *Christ*mas is most assuredly religious (look at the name, it’s Christ’s Mass) with the possible exception of Santa and songs like “Jingle Bells.” The tree, most carols, et al are all religious. Even if the intent is secular.
          If you step on my foot, whether you intended to or not, my foot hurts. Secular intent doesn’t make stuff secular.

      3. kittymommy*

        This is a great point I hadn’t thought of. I would imagine that in a country that isn’t, at least overtly, religious it may be difficult to understand why others feel like Christmas is a religious holiday. There are certainly a great many people who don’t see it as religious or just equate it with a general holiday/Santa/presents idea. I hope if the LW chooses to push back on this they have some support in their agency.

    3. SDJ*

      Exactly. At least in Japan, you may definitely be extremely side-eyed for complaining about the party. My co-workers were really surprised to learn Christmas and Easter are religious holidays and some choose to spend them at church, and they have worked with other foreign nationals before.

      1. Artemesia*

        Okay I’ll give them Christmas which is a sort of made up holiday even in Christianity. But Easter is the high holy day of Christianity — it is the whole point of Christianity. How does that ever get to not be religious?

        1. Grapey*

          When all you see marketed are candy filled eggs and chocolates delivered by a big bunny in the springtime, it’s easy to conflate that to be as secular as the tooth fairy giving out money for teeth.

          Also, Easter has a similar name to a pagan fertility goddess/holiday (Ostara, old german meaning basically “days are getting longer”, e.g celebrating the equinox), so it’s another example of a time of year that shouldn’t be considered monopolized by Christians.

          1. Lara*

            That is, if Ostara ever existed as a belief in the first place. Jury’s apparently out on that, as we only have one reference of her (from Bede, who would have no way of knowing or not).

        2. SDJ*

          It’s more of a spring marketing technique here with the word Easter and maybe a few Easter eggs or a bunny slapped on there. Like Halloween, it’s only recently started to catch on. Tokyo Disney celebrates it for two months around springtime.

          I went home for Easter this year and had a work party the night before I left. They asked me what Easter was, and I explained — in intermediate Japanese — and the responses “Jesus died, but he didn’t really die? He woke up again?” “All foreigners celebrate this????” “Why are there eggs? Was Jesus born from an egg?”.

          The population is only 1% Christian. Japanese people usually know America has a high Christian population but that doesn’t translate to thinking the holidays are religious, as their own holidays aren’t usually too religious in nature.

    4. another scientist*

      I feel compelled to say that until being immersed in US culture, I’ve viewed Christmas as secular. I wouldn’t be surprised if the OP ran into this situation in Germany. Millions of people there grow up atheist(not the whole country but large parts), but celebrate Christmas as the time of year where you decorate with twinkle lights and you eat too much and you give gifts. For me, there are childhood memories and fuzzy feelings about it, but no connection to Jesus. It’s some kind of cultural appropriation of the Christmas idea, where everyone gets and loves the base pack, but some people opt for the nativity-expansion pack that has angels.
      That doesn’t really change the OP’s situation. I agree that the OP’s employer shouldn’t treat people worse who opt out of the party. It just provides context that, yes, for people who go their whole lives without religion AND without religious, preachy people in their surroundings, Christmas can be practiced as a secular event.

      1. Julia*

        Most Germans aren’t really atheist, but agnostic with a tinge of cultural Christianity. And most would throw a fit about not being allowed to have Christmas parties at work. Maybe not the younger generation, but definitely my parents.

        My old Japanese office had a Christmas party, too – this was in Europe, and maybe the even thought the local staff would appreciate it, but of course they forgot that not every European is Christian.
        The party was after work, though, because Japanese companies tend to also be really workaholic.

        1. Sachi*

          When I lived in Germany, I often found it weird how many of them thought they were doing something that not Christian/religiously neutral when it clearly was so.

          They thought because I was American I would be religious. I’m not. I’m agnostic, but keep some vestiges of the Shinto belief out of cultural practice.

          I’ve had Christianity shoved down my throat in both countries, but the major difference is Americans often know they are doing it. I couldn’t convince anyone in Germany what they were doing was Christian.

          I hope that is changing, because I love the country.

          Personally, I loved Christmas Markets, Gluhwein, etc. Did not lovethat my boss’s idea of exposing me to German Christmas was a three hour concert of hymns in an unheated Church. He was agnostic and said “it’s not religious.” Hymns in a Church!

          1. Emi.*

            When I lived in Germany one of the parents from my school pointed out that by some strange coincidence, Pentecost vacation was always seven weeks after Easter vacation!

          2. londonedit*

            I think ‘agnostic with a tinge of cultural Christianity’ would apply to an awful lot of people in the UK, too. Many people are sort of ‘nominally Church of England’ simply because that was the general culture they were brought up in, even if they weren’t brought up with many of the actual religious bits. Plenty of people get married in church here despite not being particularly religious, mainly because we have some nice churches! And vicars always seem happy to get more people in through the door, so they generally don’t mind. And it’s the same with Christmas – the carols might be religious songs, but they’ve seeped into the culture so much that they’re also just another part of the tradition of the whole thing. I wouldn’t go as far as thinking that hymns in a church wasn’t a religious thing, but I would go to a church carol service or Christingle service on Christmas Eve because it’s part of the tradition I grew up in.

      2. Violet Fox*

        I wonder if going into it with giving people who don’t want to go to the party the same benefit of a short day is a good way to approach it.

      3. Tau*

        +1, from another German who’s second-generation atheist but culturally Christian, and winced thinking about how this was likely to go over in Germany. Basically all of the discussions about Christmas as an unavoidably religious event or event that belongs primarily to practicing Christians which I’ve heard have taken place in a US context, and you are going to have a time and a half getting most people to view it that way here.

        Which doesn’t exactly help OP any, who has a perfect right to feel the way they feel and not be penalised for not participating in events rooted in the traditions of another religion, but it’s important context to keep in mind. I suspect an approach with more chance of success might be to lean heavily on your foreignerness – “I know that you practise Christmas as a secular thing, but in my country and for someone with my heritage it’s so entangled with religion that I can’t view it that way. I may not be the only one in that situation, either. Can we be fair and give people the day off whether they go to the party or not?” I think this has a higher chance of success than trying to convince people their Christmas celebration isn’t secular.

        1. Phoenix Programmer*

          I guess I see this as along the same level of fairness as people who get a free day off in the snow vs those who came in and got the day.

          If you choose to work, for whatever reason. You are dieting, you disagree with the theme, you co sodwr it religious, your shy. To ke it’s all the same and claiming it’s a punishment to have to work is u reasonable. Plus let’s face it – if the choice is free day off or company party most people choose the day of. But the party is supposed to also be a team bonding event.

          1. Tau*

            The way I understood the letter was that people who go to the party get to go home early, while people who don’t have to stay the full day. I think that’s the bit that OP would have the highest chance of pushing back against – at that point, no team bonding is happening anyway, so why penalise the people who didn’t go to the party? Like, say regular work hours are 9-5, and the party starts at 12 and ends at 3 – the people not going to the party should be allowed to leave at 3 too.

            She could try to push back about being required to work while the party is happening, but I too think that has way less chance of success. On a purely pragmatic level, as you say, if the team is given the choice of “party or go home”, a lot more are going to pick option 2 than if the choice is “party or work”.

            Personally, I do view it as unfair and the snow day as not analogous because it’s disproportionately religious minorities who have a history of persecution that are going to be uncomfortable participating, but tbh that mindset is mainly due to exposure to American discussion on the matter online. I am not kidding when I say that any argument on this front would go over like a lead balloon in Germany, and from what people are saying it would be even worse in Japan.

            1. Scandinavian Commenter*

              This goes for Scandinavia as well. I have to say I’m a little disappointed in the dismissive attitude in some of the comments here, because our version of Christmas (yule) really is secular, and it’s a deeply embedded cultural tradition that dates back to long before it was co-opted by Christians. It is celebrated here by native-born ethnic Jews, Muslims, and virtually all other religious minorities (as my country is majority atheist).

              I agree with Tau above that in countries like ours, you can’t say you’re uncomfortable because of the religious aspect, because it has none here, so it’s a tough sell. Your best bet (at least in Scandinavia), is to find out if there’s someone at the company who has spent some time in the US and really understands that culture. That person can advocate for you in a way that you may not be able to do on your own, speaking from personal experience.

              I am aware that this is very difficult to understand for people raised in other countries where religion and Christmas are irrevocably intertwined, so I’d love to see a standalone post where we can discuss religion and the workplace in different cultures, because a lot of the discussion here is from a US perspective, and to be quite frank it doesn’t apply in this situation.

      4. Alexander*

        Very good summary – my whole family is atheist / non-theist as they come – but Christmas is one of the most loved times of year, with the tree, the decoration, the food, the family time, the gifts..but obviously not the church going etc.

      5. HannahS*

        Many atheists from Christian backgrounds in North America would say the same, but do you honestly think German Jews see Christmas as being as secular as you do?

    5. SS Express*

      I was thinking this too. I’m Australian and while it’s not a completely non-religious country, it’s definitely much more secular than the US. Even just mentioning you went to church on the weekend would be an awkward thing to do at work, but every company has a Christmas party and it’s not considered inappropriate because it’s just treated like a secular holiday – I know people of many different religions who celebrate it, and I once genuinely forgot that it was originally a religious thing.

      It would be pretty unusual here for someone to object to the office Christmas party because of their religion, so I can imagine that in a completely non-religious culture, objecting to their secular Christmas would come across like saying you can’t participate in Halloween festivities because as a Jew you don’t follow Pagan traditions: maaaybe that’s what it was originally, but that’s so far removed from eating ghost-shaped cookies that it would seem like a weird objection.

      To be clear, I still 100% believe that the OP shouldn’t have to participate (or choose between participating vs working all day) and should raise it with their boss, but I think it’s important to recognise that Christmas means different things in different cultures and the cultures that view it as a more secular holiday aren’t ridiculous or “disturbing”, just different. The OP might be better off framing it as “I realise to you this is a secular occasion, but in my culture it’s seen as a religious holiday so I don’t feel comfortable celebrating it” than “this *is* religious and it’s offensive to suggest otherwise”.

      1. GreatLakesGal*

        There are, in fact, many traditionally observant Jewish people who do not celebrate Halloween.

        I’m just saying that we don’t know what we don’t know, and that practices or non-practices that one person might view as weird are often completely normal in another religious or cultural context.

      2. Casca*

        I’m Australian and Jewish and have definitely skipped some office Christmas parties in my time because I’m Jewish. And I know a lot of people who are Jewish who have done the same thing. I’m more likely to go if it’s called an end-of-year or holiday party but there will still definitely be christmas trees and decorations so it’s still not exactly secular. (Also, I generally can’t eat the food so that’s not exactly welcoming)

        So I’ve made the choices to either take the day off as annual leave or to work until, say, 3pm and leave a bit early while others are at the party. I don’t attempt to stop the Christmas party, but I just don’t get involved in it and I smile and say no when people are pushy.

        And yeah, heaps of Jewish people (including me) don’t do Halloween simply because it doesn’t belong to us. It’s a co-opt of Pagan practices which I’d imagine Pagan people aren’t all thrilled with… plus throwing eggs at Jewish houses seems to be a pretty common Halloween practice in NY so that’s not great either.

        1. amapolita*

          Is throwing eggs at Jewish homes a present-day issue in NY?

          I know that the ‘Mischief Night’ aspect of Halloween used to be more prevalent and that egging and TPing were a thing, and it’s not hard to imagine that Jewish families may have been the target, but does that still go on now?

          1. Holly*

            It’s not something I’m aware of but if that’s Casca’s experience, I don’t doubt it, as there’s antisemitism everywhere, including NY.

          2. Turquoisecow*

            I’m not Jewish, but my husband’s family is and I live in a neighborhood with a lot of very observant families. (Although the town is pretty diverse, my neighborhood probably won’t get a lot of trick or treaters.) It’s never happened here (in NJ) that I know of, but I wouldn’t be surprised. In some places, especially where the Orthodox population is growing, there has been a lot of anti Semitism. A town nearby got in trouble with the state for attempting to place restrictions on the Jewish population. My experience with Mischief Night has been that the targets are not specific, but I wouldn’t be surprised at all to learn that it was often cover for antisemitism.

      3. Slartibartfast*

        Maybe Halloween is a good comparison if you’re dealing with someone who is Christian and running the party, because there are more than a few Christians who object to Halloween for faith based reasons. And more than a few non Christians for whom Halloween is a religious event.

      4. lawyer*

        I mentioned to a bunch of Australians that I’m considering leaving the practice of law to become an Anglican vicar and they looked at me as if I had literally dropped in from Mars. Like the combination of “young, fairly hip person who swears and drinks and shares our hobby and seems fairly liberal” with “Anglican vicar” just very much did not compute.

    6. WS*

      I’m also thinking of Japan. My department had a Christmas party on Christmas Day (a normal work day) in an attempt to make the foreign staff “feel at home”. While the non-Christian staff from non-Christian countries had no problem with it, a British Hindu and Canadian Jew did, and while the rest of us supported them, it was extremely difficult to explain to the Japanese staff. Japan is a very syncretic county in terms of religion (a person can happily celebrate Shinto, Buddhist, Christian and any other ceremonies without any conflict whatsoever) so to them it looked like yet another weird gaijin complaint. In the end we gave up but volunteered to do the invitations and at least called it a “Holiday Party” on that and minimised the actual Christmas decorations (and then a Japanese professor attended in full Santa costume…)

      1. Heat*

        Hm, but since you were the ones who moved, wasn’t it on you to adapt to the local culture? If Japanese people can celebrate holidays from different religions without being offended, maybe you could try it, too? I’m saying this as an atheist, I just don’t understand what’s so offensive about Christmas, especially when a Christmas party was very obviously intended to be secular.

        1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          How folks interact with Christmas varies significantly and is on a spectrum. But generally, a person’s individual religious practice often doesn’t change simply because you move to a country that doesn’t acknowledge that a holiday with religious meaning may not be perceived as secular by others. That’s particularly true in organizations that employ people from around the world.

          It’s worth reading phira’s comment, downthread, for an explanation of why Christmas is non-secular for so many people.

        2. Julia*

          Partly, yes. I’m agnostic, but if someone wants me to go to a shrine and follow a ritual, I will. (I won’t eat most of the traditional food though, because I’m a vegetarian and my starving doesn’t offend anyone.) But Christmas isn’t actually Japanese, plus as PCBH points out, if the organization hires foreigners (and not all of them do) and boasts its international work environment etc. bla, it should maybe try to include those foreigners a little. (We do important jobs here as well, and we pay taxes after all. Plus not all of us moved here because we wanted to, some have spouses or other reasons.) It’s not like an employee not participating in the Christmas party costs the company profits or makes any colleagues feel uncomfortable, so why do people have to force themselves?

        3. WS*

          Well, I’m an atheist so it was no big deal for me. But I don’t get to speak for other people, and the name “Christmas” is pretty obviously not secular…

        4. Elfie*

          Yes, but I’m an atheist too, and in my opinion there’s a difference between having *no* religion, and having a different religion. I can’t say that I understand a religious non-Christian point of view, so I’m going to keep out of the argument. It’s not for me to decide how anyone else gets to feel. In fact, I apply that to all aspects of life – only you get to decide how you feel. You’re not offended, great! But the OP is, and whilst I can’t say I understand where she’s coming from, I don’t have to understand in order to empathise.

          In fact, I see this a lot (and it’s something I struggle with personally), this idea that you (the generic you) have the right to understand other’s life experiences in order to validate them (maybe not the right phrasing). In other words, if I don’t understand where you’re coming from, then you must be wrong, or too sensitive, or a special snowflake, etc.

        5. Jessie the First (or Second)*

          The party was an attempt to make the foreign staff feel at home, WS said. Which means it was not about adapting to the local culture – it was the business trying to be inclusive, and not realizing that what it was doing was not inclusive, and then not listening when told “actually, it’s not really our thing and being inclusive would be better done by…”

          I see you really, really want to talk about intent. In this case, the intent was to make people feel welcome, vs to show them some local culture. (Though intent is really not some magic thing that absolves anyone of the results of their actions, so it would be nice if you didn’t focus on that to exclusion of most everything else.)

          Honestly, though, I get that *for you* Christmas parties are secular. I just don’t understand why you refuse to acknowledge that not everyone has the same opinion as you.

      2. MatKnifeNinja*

        I worked in a school that had a huge Indian, Arabic, Korean, and Chinese student population. Most of them were families coming from overseas to work in the tech industries around here.

        Oh good, I thought no Halloween, Christmas or Valentine’s Day parties.


        Was I ever wrong. Not only did the public school do all those parties, it was 1970s over the top we don’t care about inclusion style parties. This was 4 years ago. In one class a room mom brought in a little nativity set for the party. She was NOT Christian. I really felt for those Jehovah Witness kids.

        When the Jehovah Witness families complained, it was the Expat families that really lashed out that Christmas was secular, not the Christian families.

        Anyway, just because a person isn’t an Christian, from a country not known for Easter, Halloween, or Christmas, does not mean they are offended/don’t celebrate and may make a bigger deal of the holiday than the secular American.

    7. Traffic_Spiral*

      Yeah, I think you could do this in the USA, but in a secular country, you’re gonna come across as really weird. and if you’re in Japan this really isn’t the hill you want to die on – as they’re not gonna understand why you would try disrupting the office because you dislike a party theme.

    8. Just Employed Here*

      Yeah, I really think this may depend on the actual country the OP’s company is based in. Not just Japan, but plenty of “formerly Christian” countries, too.

      So as strongly as you may feel about this, OP, I’d be vary about making this into A BIG THING with your company, depending on the culture you / the company is in. I’m not saying you shouldn’t raise it, but that it might just not lead to any positive results, and maybe even make you look out of touch for that culture.

      Sure, if you were effectively forced to go to the actual party, that’d be different!

      1. Heat*

        I agree she’d probably look out of touch and she is probably out of touch with the local culture.

      2. Amylou*

        Yes I think in some European countries this could definitely happen. I am not religious and personally would consider a Christmas party absolutely secular if I was your colleagues in this situation. To me it would be religious if there were pictures of Jesus, therebis praying and singing, etc. – a tree, twinkle lights, holly, and snowmen would make it a non-religious thing to me (and many other people) as some of those things are more rooted way back when in paganism anyway. I’m afraid to say it would probably not be on my radar that it may be viewed otherwise to people with different faiths than Christianity.

        My point, please talk to your company and don’t stick with the casual remarks to coworkers if you feel this strongly about it – they don’t have the power or don’t know how to change this for you. Speak to your manager one-on-one and calmly explain your point of view as in your letter and Alison’s answer – it’s a very valid point of view to have and if it’s in a non-religious country it may be a new point of view for them. And it would be great if you have some specific follow-up actions for them if they respond positively to your points: giving you/everyone the day/afternoon off regardless of their party attendance, concrete ways to make a holiday party more inclusive, etc. Please make it specific, as otherwise it can be pretty daunting to a non-religious person what is considered religious or not.

        1. Julia*

          A Christmas party may feel secular to you if you contrast it with a super religious Christmas party, but Christmas is still a religious holiday, and I say that as one of those Germans who celebrate Christmas because the whole family comes together, despite being actually agnostic (and a little Jewish).
          But if you’re originally Muslim or Hindu, a “secular” Christmas party is still a Christian thing, especially because of the season. A lot of other religious big festivities are in different months, but they don’t get the same recognition as “year end” stuff does, and that doesn’t seem particularly fair.

          1. Zip Silver*

            There’s the question of how inclusive you want to be to that though, and if it really matters. If I were live and working in India, it wouldn’t bother me if coworkers were celebrating Diwali. I’m the guest there, after all.

            1. Traffic_Spiral*

              Yeah. I get that everyone is bending over backwards here to make LW feel ok about a secular Christmas party, but imagine if an American Christian in India said “I object to the company Diwali party even though it’s just lights and food, because it’s still based in a bunch of idolatry and my religion hates idol-worshippers!”

              People would be like “ok, you can have whatever beliefs you want, but you’re gonna come across as a real culturally intolerant asshole, as well as a killjoy, so, um, maybe think about that before you pick this fight.” And frankly, that’s what they should be telling LW as well.

              1. Julia*

                But OP isn’t objecting to an important Japanese holiday. Christmas here is a pretty ridiculous affair of Kentucky Fried Chicken and tasteless strawberry cake, and not having a Christmas party in the office isn’t hurting anyone, especially since there are lots of yea-end (bonenkai) parties going on anyway and people usually still have to finish their work on top of all the drinking.

                1. Traffic_Spiral*

                  “Christmas here is a pretty ridiculous affair of Kentucky Fried Chicken and tasteless strawberry cake”

                  Which is why she’s going to look pretty ridiculous objecting to it on religious grounds.

                  “not having a Christmas party in the office isn’t hurting anyone”

                  Maybe, maybe not, but if the company has decided that they’re having an office party (for any reason), complaining about it is generally going to be seen as disruptive and anti-team-spirit.

                2. Julia*

                  But OP isn’t even complaining about the Christmas party. She’s just saying that if she wants to opt out, she should still be allowed to go home after the party ends, which seems more than fair considering she would be working while the others celebrate.

                3. Sachi*

                  It’s nor the importance of the holiday to the Japanese. It’s the importance of the event to the group cohesion.

                  So the real question is, will she be the lone voice of dissent? If so, there is no way she can do this without cost.

              2. The Gollux (Not a Mere Device)*

                That would be a deliberately in-your-face way of putting things. From what LW says, a better parallel would be “I wouldn’t feel comfortable going to the company Diwali party even though it’s just lights and food, because it’s still based in Hindu practice and my religion says I shouldn’t honor other gods. It’s generous of the company to offer the afternoon off, and can that be extended to people who aren’t going to the party for whatever reason?”

                You don’t have to “hate idol-worshippers” to refuse to worship idols yourself, and there’s a huge distance between “I’m not comfortable taking part in your religion” and “I hate your religion.”

              3. Psyche*

                I actually disagree. No one should be forced to celebrate a religious holiday. So the company celebrating Diwali should go ahead and do so but not force the Christian employee to attend. A company that forces employees to choose between a party celebrating a religious holiday or working a full day when no one else has to is going to come across as full of culturally intolerant assholes.

          2. Amylou*

            I do think you should try to be inclusive (if those you are trying to include would want that – I think there’s a letter here of some colleagues who went overboard to include the letter writer), and personally I think it would be great if people could take off without their own religious holiday when they occur. If only I was the boss somewhere…

            I’m just saying non-religious people or specifically the party planner may not be aware of how it’s perceived. It’s no good excuse and in an ideal world we would all be hyper aware of how all the things we do are perceived. But we’re not and unfortunately that sometimes means raising some awareness/speaking up.

          3. MK*

            It might not be “fair”, but if the overwhelming majority of a country follows one religion (even nominally), it’s inevitable that their traditions will be predominate too. There are around 1,000 Jews where I live (out of a population of 1,5 million). Of course their traditions should be respected and their festivities accommodated, but how exactly could their festivities get the same recognition? What would that even look like? Being a minority can be a hard thing even under the best of circumstances; and, realistically, there is a limit to how far you can ask the majority to change traditions that may be going back centuries to accommodate you.

            As far as I can tell, the OP wants her and the non-attending employees to get the same time off as the party-goers. That’s perfectly reasonable; especially if the company doesn’t give her extra time off for festivities of her own religion. Asking to rename the party sounds culturally tone-deaf in a country that celebrates Christmas secularly.

            1. Casca*

              We’re not asking for the same recognition of our holidays- we just want the freedom to celebrate ours and not be forced to celebrate anyone else’s. Like how we don’t force people to celebrate ours.

              And we have been not celebrating Christmas for longer than Christmas has existed (re: traditions that are centuries old)

              1. MK*

                My comment was a direct response to Julia’s about the unfairness of the predominance of Christmas. And it’s not about who has celebrated what for how long, it’s about the advantage of being in the majority: for more than 15 centuries more than 90% of my country has celebrated Christmas. It’s not an argument for pressuring anyone to celebrate Christmas, but the reality is that if you stay around here in December, you are going to get blasted with it non-stop. The fact that the remaining maybe-10% has not been celebrating for 60 centuries is an argument for what exactly?

                1. Phoenix*

                  It’s an argument for building an understanding that such celebrations are not universally appreciated into workplace policies, at a minimum. How is that controversial?

    9. Stained Glass Cannon*

      I jumped straight to Japan too, and I just want to add that in Japan, Christianity is a minority religion and does not even have any real socio-cultural history there. It’s actually very important to note this distinction, because if OP2 is in a country that historically has had Christian elements in its culture, even if it’s no longer practised widely, there should at least be some vague understanding of the religious connotations and hence less chance of being penalised. But if OP2 is in a country that doesn’t even have that faint historical background, it’s going to be like running up against a brick wall.

      If it’s the latter case and OP2 does happen to be based in a country with little or no Christian influence in its history, I would have to disagree with Alison’s advice. Managers and coworkers are just not going to be equipped to understand where OP2 is coming from. To them, it may not be about “making a perk dependent on people choosing to attend an event that’s rooted in religious celebration”, but making that perk dependent on people choosing to socialise with their coworkers. And they will view OP2 primarily through the “socialising with coworkers” lens. In that case, the cultural gap is going to be so great that it’s just not worth blowing one’s political capital on. I’m sorry, OP2, but my best advice would then be to settle for the lesser of two evils and do the full day of work. If it is Japan or Korea or some other work-mad culture, at least you’ll get some brownie points for that.

      1. Pollygrammer*

        You make a really good point. And in country like Japan, language is also relevant. It isn’t “Christmas” because it’s named after Christ; it’s “Kurisumasu” named after the American holiday and Jesus is never even going to be mentioned.

    10. CrazyJ*

      I also thought of Asia. My experience in Hong Kong (with a greater Christian presence than in Japan but still not as deeply embedded in the culture than in the U.S. or Europe) was that a lot of people tended to view Christmas as a purely secular occasion. It’s a chance for people to have a few days off work that they don’t have to spend with their families a la Lunar New Year, and also an opportunity for gift giving.

      OP2, this isn’t meant to sound harsh, but this might be an instance where you need to try to assimilate into the local culture where you’re working rather than asking the local culture to accommodate you. I’d say differently if you were in a very religious environment where there was an expectation that people attend parties celebrating Christmas as a religious holiday, or a culture with a longer history of Christianity where the holiday still carries a religious significance. But if the local culture really is to take it solely as a secular event, despite insisting on calling it a “Christmas party,” it might be best to participate and just remind yourself that whatever they’re calling it, it’s primarily team building instead of a religious celebration.

      1. PhyllisB*

        All of you are still missing the point. Like Julia says, it’s not the party per-say she’s objecting to, it’s the fact that those who go to celebrate are getting the rest of the day (with pay? She didn’t say.) While she has to work the whole day.

        Actually, I don’t think that would be so terrible IF she was allowed another day off to celebrate a religious holiday that is meaningful to her. Perhaps she could mention this to whoever is charge? If that’s not possible, then that is wrong that she can’t have the same benefit as the others.

        1. RandomusernamebecauseIwasboredwiththelastone*

          I don’t think anyone is missing the OP’s point. They are saying that in this situation the OP is probably not going to get what they want in this situation and it’s probably best to pick one of the two currently available options, go to the allegedly secular Christmas work party or opt to work instead.

          Sometimes in life and work we all have to choose the best of the not ideal situations, and from what I’ve been reading in the comments this is one of those times.

        2. Yay commenting on AAM!*

          And if they’re in a country where Christmas is secular, and there’s different laws regarding religious freedom and accommodation, there might literally not be a solution that lets her get what she wants, because there’s no legal precedent for “I was unfairly penalized due to my religion.”

    11. matcha123*

      Since you specifically mentioned Japan, and I have lived here for over a decade, I’ll speak to Christmas in Japan.
      It is a mixed bag. There are a lot of Christmas parties here. And over the past few years Easter has been making strides.
      The thing that westerners have to understand about Japan and many other Asian countries is that Buddhism and Shintoism (Japan’s ‘native’ religion, which is a mix of Buddhism and other local beliefs) is that they do not teach there is one god, they don’t teach that there is one religion, and they don’t teach that Buddhism/Shintoism are mutually exclusive in the way that Christianity/Judaism/Islam teach. This means that people are comfortable with taking in bits from other religions or even celebrating other religons’ events.

      Older people that I know are more likely to see Santa and Christmas as a Christian thing. Younger people are more likely to see it as a thing that you do in December. If the OP was in Japan and said they didn’t want to participate in a Christmas party because they aren’t Christian/see it as a non-secular event, I can guarantee that the Japanese people who set up the event would feel like she was being difficult on purpose.

      I mentioned Easter above, and from what I can tell, the push for Easter is not coming from Christians in Japan (a very small minority), but from Japanese companies that are looking to boost sales at a time of year when sales are sluggish. They look outside of Japan for something that seems fun and they bring it over. Think of it as the reverse of the Buddha t-shirts people were wearing in the late-90s.
      Christmas here is like Valentine’s Day…guys propose to their girlfriends at Disney World, guys buy their girlfriends expensive jewelry…

      Anyways, that is all to say that in Japan, Japanese people have their own way of doing holidays that are celebrated differently in the west. And, I would say they are allowed to do that.

      I tried to keep this short and specifically on Japan since that’s what the person at the top mentioned.

      1. Julia*

        I agree, although in the spirit of mentioning that even Japan isn’t as homogeneous as they want us to believe, I would like to add that my Japanese in-laws are actually Catholic and I know a few more people who are. Maybe I should try asking them how they feel about this commercial version of Christmas.
        I would imagine that even “regular” Japanese people aren’t too keen on an office Christmas party unless the setup is literally like the one here, otherwise it’s just “work all day and then stay really long to watch your boss get drunk”.

        1. Sachi*

          I have some Catholic Japanese in-laws. They are still culturally Japanese and have a lot of Buddhist and Shinto culture and religion in them. Shintoism and Catholicism can merge quite well.

          Even in that case, most Americans would assume that if someone is Catholic or Protestant in Japan that they are also not Shinto. While that can be the case, I’ve personally never seen it.

          1. Julia*

            Yeah, I think mine do as well. They’re always super respectful about my beliefs, too, and were completely accepting of all my quirks including my vegetarianism right away, which I think is awesome. (My MIL’s family used to live abroad and my husband sometimes brought friends from his time in Singapore home, so maybe that’s why they’ve seen it all.)

        2. Sachi*

          Ps the Japanese Catholic relatives keep both Roasaries and Ofuda.

          Several have Kamidana in their homes.

      2. Sachi*

        Thanks. What a kind, thoughtful analysis.

        Japan is not “non-religious.” It can be very much so. It’s just that westerners don’t view the Buddhist-Shinto belief system as a religion. Or the way Japanese practice it as recognizable to them.

        A lot of the American and European posters here are being inadvertently offensive out of their own lack of reflection on the subject. Japan isn’t non-religious or even secular. It’s apples and oranges. Their belief system is so different we should not graft our ideas into it.

        The key thing you said is that the Buddhist and Shinto tradition in Japan is one that merges other cultural practices and beliefs into it. So, from a cultural mindset, if it is Japan, the LW will have a very tough time staking out why they can’t do this.

        What LW will be facing in Japan is threefold

        (1) Her religious and cultural POV is that Judaism and Christianity are incompatible. The Japanese POV is “let’s celebrate aspects of Both” and neither are incompatible with our beliefs.
        (2) Her POV is coming from one where celebrating Xmas is forced cultural conformity (and even a tool of cultural genocide). In Japan, they willingly imported it as a means of enriching their culture.(whether it does so is another question).
        (3) Japan is not a culture where asserting individuality and rights over group cohesion is well received. I’ve seen that improve in my lifetime. But it’s still not the way the US or most of Europe is on the subject. She will be seen as a trouble maker by many.

        The Japanese American side of my family, though religiously Shinto with a touch of Buddhism, would understand and agree with LW. They would all back her up no matter the cost. The Japanese side would not be able to see her side no matter what she said. They’d all think she was stirring up trouble.

        Believe me, I’ve tried to explain to them what Christmas can be like in the USA. They simply cannot understand it because their experience and beliefs are so divergent on this.

    12. Sachi*

      Please let’s stop with calling Japan non-religious. It is not.

      Just because we Westerners do not view Buddhism and Shintoism as religions does not make them any less so.

      Just because they don’t practice their beliefs like we do doesn’t make them less religious.

      An overwhelming majority of the country are Buddhist to some degree. Almost all Japanese have some Shinto beliefs. Just because they aren’t zealously, publically religious doesn’t negate that.

      (The percentage who go to temple and shrines regularly are small, but that’s not required to be authentically Shinto).

      The term we should all be using here is either secular or non-Christian religion. Those are different.

      Also, in Japan, their view of religion in social life is so different than the religion v secular way Americans think isn’t helpful. At all.

      Please don’t contribute to inadvertent cultural bias by making this mistake that non-Western religions aren’t religions.

      Also, it is vastly different if LW is in a country that is Buddhist or Shinto than if he is in a secular, but traditionally Christian, country.

      All of my Japanese family members are religious. None of them go to worship regularly. None of them are evangelical or zealous.

      Please stop viewing them through the Western lens of what religion and be,if should look like.

      1. Sachi*

        PS even thoug Japan seems secular to us, on some matters they are very much religious conformists.

        Most of them, even those who are devoutly Shinto and keep Kamidana and go to their local Shrines, love Christmas.

        Because of that, I think LW would have an easier time explaining this to a Swede than one of my Japanese cousins.

        1. Ella*

          I don’t think people’s point here is that Japan isn’t religious (though I agree it’s a common misconception) just that Japan is an example of a place where people legitimately might be confused if you started talking about Christmas as being inherently religious.

          In the US someone who absolutely refuses to admit Christmas is non-secular is likely to be acting somewhat purposefully obtuse, whereas in Japan the lack of understanding is much more likely to be fully genuine. So like you said, it’s going to be a vastly different conversation explaining that to a Japanese boss as opposed to an American boss who would have more cultural context to understand the issue.

          1. doreen*

            I’m not so sure that people in Japan don’t believe Christmas is inherently religious – it’s entirely possible that they do believe it’s a Christian religious holiday and simply don’t see any conflict with celebrating Christmas and their other religious beliefs. Sachi is correct about a Western lens of what religion should look like – but there’s also a very different non-Western lens ( which I am probably not going to do a great job of explaining) that doesn’t exactly see religion as either/or. With this lens, you don’t have to choose a single religion – you can be Buddhist, Daoist and Christian all at the same time and it’s perfectly normal to get married in a Christian religious ceremony and have a Buddhist funeral without there having been any change in your beliefs in between.
            My husband’s family is Chinese – and even though my husband and some of his relatives are Catholic, they don’t understand and most likely will never understand why I am uncomfortable participating in certain rituals. ( It’s been 30 years, so I’ve given up) It’s not because they think those rituals are secular or are just meaningless traditions – it’s because from their point of view, there is no conflict between being Catholic and burning various paper items at my in-laws’ graves so that they can have a new wardrobe and cash in the afterlife.

          2. doreen*

            I’m not certain the issue is that Christmas is seen as not inherently religious in Japan. It is entirely possible that the Japanese see Christmas as a religious holiday and simply don’t see any conflict between celebrating Christmas and their own religious beliefs.
            Sachi mentions a Western lens of what religion should look like, and that exists. There also exists a non-Western lens, where there is no conflict between having a Christian wedding and a Buddhist funeral even though your beliefs did not change in between. It is very difficult (but not impossible) to get someone who is looking through one lens to understand the other lens. I am Catholic and my husband is Chinese. Many of his relatives are also Catholic, but after 30 years they still don’t understand why I am uncomfortable participating in certain rituals- from their point of view, being Catholic is not incompatible with burning paper suits of clothes at my in-laws’ graves so they have new wardrobes in the afterlife but from my point of view it is.

          3. Sachi*

            Just above you several people said exactly that.

            She’s responding to direct statements to that effect

      2. CarolynM*

        Well said! There are shrines and temples everywhere in Japan – even tucked between skyscrapers (Rokkokadu in Kyoto is literally behind a Starbucks in a courtyard surrounded by other buildings!), neighborhood shrines are lovingly cared for – Shinto and Buddhism are EVERYWHERE in Japan, it just may not be recognizable to people who are used to different religious expressions.

    13. Random thought*

      Right. I’m wondering if simply changing the name of the event would help or of there are other things that would need to change too

      1. kittymommy*

        I though this as well – it sounds like at one time the company did call it a “Holiday party”. I wonder what prompted the change since it seems like the actual purpose of the party has not changed.

    14. Neptune*

      I think it might be productive to stop framing is as making this company “understand” what Christmas “really is”, as though there can only possibly be one understanding of Christmas and anyone who views it differently must just be ignorant and in need of enlightenment. It’s patronising and US-centric.

      Instead, I think it would be more productive and more likely to result in the OP getting what they want if they frame it as their own issue – eg that because of their own faith, they cannot participate and should not be penalised for that.

    15. Falling Diphthong*

      The comparison to Japan (or other countries with no Christian background) is an interesting perspective, and makes me think of decorative Buddhist or Hindu elements adopted in Western countries with no link to their background religiosity. (Which I think can run a spectrum from “yes, pretty art” to “okay, do you not see the problem with having your character meticulously set up a Buddhist shrine, then start a fistfight?”)

    16. beth*

      It’s true that Japan (and probably other countries, but Japan is the one I’m familiar with too, so let’s stick to that) widely celebrates 12/25 as Christmas while effectively erasing all religious connotations. It’s more like Valentine’s Day than the religious Christmas–kids get some presents, teenagers and young adults go on dates, people use it as an excuse to have office parties or share some cake or candy with friends, and that’s that.

      It’s weird for a lot of Westerners. Christians are often really uncomfortable with the erasure of all the holy side of the occasion. (Even for me, as someone who falls in the ‘not religiously Christian but raised Christian-ish’ bucket, it still feels awkward and off; it’s all the trappings with absolutely none of the story behind it, which is culturally weird even when it’s not a religious conflict. I imagine it’s much worse for someone who considers the day deeply holy.) Non-Christians are often really uncomfortable with the forced celebration of the holiday–after all, it’s hard to opt out for religious reasons when everyone around you is insisting it’s not religious and therefore it shouldn’t be a problem for you to participate.

      I think the only way to handle this kind of thing is to evaluate how far it’s worth it to you personally to push it, and then do that. For me, it’s weird but not against any religious precepts or anything, so when I was in Japan, I participated and used it as an opportunity to share my family’s traditions and stories. For someone with more intense discomfort, it might be worth it to opt out unless really pressured by their boss or something. And for someone for whom participation would violate a deeply held religious belief, it might be worth it to refuse no matter what. The situation is what it is, OP has no control over whether the people around them understand their dilemma or not, and in the end they have to do what they think is best for their specific situation.

    17. Banana Pants*

      Same in China. China’s celebrations of Christmas are like St. Patrick’s Day with Santas instead of shamrocks – it’s an entirely secular holiday, basically a reason to eat a big meal and go out to the karaoke bars or movie theater. Plus there’s a different workplace culture, one where participating in group/team activities is expected, and going against the grain is frowned upon. The local managers/executives are not themselves religious (at least not overtly) and they’ve only personally experienced Christmas as a secular holiday, so the OP objecting to a “Christmas” party on religious grounds is liable to go over like a lead balloon.

      My friends who were expats in China were given the same choice for local holiday parties as the OP has been given – they could go to the work party or they could stay at the office. If they wanted to celebrate other holidays or celebrate in a different way, that was what vacation was for.

  4. Snarl Trolley*

    #3 – I’m wondering how much your old boss actually views your relationship as an equal-footed friendship. It almost sounds as though she’s still in Boss/Employee mode, especially given the statement about these requests becoming “even more urgent and persistent”. Honestly, if she worked there in a management capacity, it’s hard to believe she’s asking for confidential documents in good faith in the first place. YMMV, but I’d be braced for a potential significant attitude change from her if you do have to refuse those requests with any sort of finality.

    1. Willis*

      This. I definitely wouldn’t give her the documents…probably not even the ones that aren’t specifically marked confidential. Maybe I’d suggest that she either ask her former manager for the docs, or let her know I’d have to ask my new manager before giving them out. This seems really fishy to me. Maybe she’s legitimately unaware that it’s something OP could get in trouble for, but it seems unlikely.

      1. valentine*

        OP3: The business has always owned the documents. Is it likely they had a contract saying she owns her work and retains copyright upon separation? If her request were legit, she’d have asked someone else long ago. Say no, report her, and wash your hands of it.

        1. Jadelyn*

          Even without a specific contract saying so, I believe case law in the US historically supports the business in conflicts like this – if you do work for your employer, the employer owns the product of that work, even though you created it. It’s very much an accepted norm, as well.

    2. Syfygeek*

      I created a few docs at one company that I realized could be handy at new company. Instead of recreating the wheel, I contacted a friend and asked her to send me a digital version that I could customize for new job.

      In my case, it was a template, not a full document. Is it possible that the Former Boss wants the format and not the information? If the OP3 redacted the confidential information, would the Former Boss still want it?

      1. Guacamole Bob*

        I think this depends a bit on the industry and the relationship between the old and the new companies. If you’re talking about private-sector competitors in the same industry in the same geography, that’s really different than, say, someone moving from a social services nonprofit in city A to an organization doing similar work in city B with a totally non-overlapping client base. If the documents are related to grant applications then there may still be a sense that it’s not okay to share documents, but if it’s something program-related that the former manager would like to reference when coming up with something similar at the new location, that strikes me as really different.

        I work for a government agency and if I left to do similar work at a peer agency in a different location I would totally be asking former colleagues for documents, even if they were marked internal use only – we all share best practices whenever we can anyway, and want our peer agencies to succeed. I wouldn’t expect to be able to do that if I worked for Google and left for a job at Apple.

      2. Nita*

        I’m at a private consulting company, and reusing a template this way would be a no-no even if I created it. In my industry, one of the ways good companies stand out from bad ones is clearly written and well-organized reports. Taking that to a competitor would effectively be bad for my former company. Of course, I could recreate much of the template from memory, but somehow that feels different than bringing over a ready Word file to reuse.

    3. DivineMissL*

      Ehh…I work in government, and it is very common for us to share various documents, policies, ordinances, etc. with other agencies so they don’t have to “reinvent the wheel” – why make them write a new policy or document when we have one already that will save them a lot of time? But, I realize that public entities aren’t competing with each other, and we don’t really have proprietary information. I agree with AAM’s advice to ask the boss for permission; if she grants it, OP is in the clear; if she says no, then OP has an explanation for denying the request. Just telling the former boss “I need to check with my supervisor to make sure it’s OK” may cause former boss to stop asking.

    4. Nita*

      I’m also wondering WHY she needs that document so badly. Is she planning to use it at her current job? That may be against the rules of your current employer, and you really don’t want to share the document without your current supervisor’s approval.

      1. Cait*

        My first thought is that she promised to share intel at her new job and is now being called to deliver it.

        No matter what the reason OP, don’t share. It would be your head on the line.

      2. Dance-y Reagan*

        My first thought was not actually sinister–I assumed she wants portfolio pieces for interviews.

    5. Logan*

      I also note the worry at the end of OP 3’s letter, mentioning that they don’t want a lack of cooperation to ruin the friendship.

      My thought would be: If it does ruin the friendship, then it’s likely that the friendship was only cultivated in order to get the documents. If this changes the dynamic between them, then that’s on the former manager and not on the OP.

      1. Decima Dewey*

        OP is being pushed to do something sketchy by their former boss. That’s the sort of friend you don’t need.

    6. Solidus Pilcrow*

      “I’m wondering how much your old boss actually views your relationship as an equal-footed friendship. It almost sounds as though she’s still in Boss/Employee mode, especially given the statement about these requests becoming ‘even more urgent and persistent’. ”

      This is great insight for the OP. If you remove the former manager aspect of this, it becomes “somebody from outside our organization is requesting internal documents.” If an acquaintance that never worked there asked for internal documents, would you give it to them? What about a random stranger? If the answer is no, then you know you are right refuse former boss’ request.

    7. Peter the Bubblehead*

      I work in a business where our processes are considered proprietary, no matter who originally wrote them.
      Any attempt to transfer these documents is considered theft, and it has been made clear that if anyone outside our company were to ask for copies of these documents (most especially former employees), we are to inform management as soon as possible.

    8. MissPettyAndVindictive*

      That was my read of it as well – it seems like old boss is using the previous power dynamic to get what they want/need.

  5. SDJ*

    My response on how to proceed would depend on the secular country that celebrates Christmas like a secular party.

    I can only speak to my experience working in Japan. It’s extremely unlikely you’ll get anywhere pushing back on the fairness of the PTO aspect, regardless of employment law. Your supervisor’s response would be, “Mmmm. Good to know. You can take nenkyuu if you don’t want to go :)”. You could mention it to someone about future parties — ホリデーパーティ or ウィンターパーティ sound catchy enough in katakana.

    Regardless of where you work, if you work at a more globally-minded company, I’m sure there would be a supervisor who would hear you out about calling it a Christmas party re: making the company be more inclusive of all religions.

  6. Greg NY*

    #2: It is blatantly unfair to give partygoers more free time off, beyond the hours of the party itself, compared to those who choose not to go. It’s perfectly reasonable to expect people who choose not to go to the party to work during the party, but it’s not fair to have the partygoers not have to work before and after the party. As someone who does not like parties, I would be pissed off in this situation. Either have the partygoers work before and after the party, or give those who opt out the rest of the day off (minus the few hours in the middle of the day that coincide with the party) just like the partygoers would get.

    1. Just Employed Here*

      However much the OP may or may not agree with this opinion, it’s pretty unlikely they’ll be able to convince the company make the partygoers work before and after (at least not this year).

      Also, even if the OP would manage to convince the company to do so next year, I can imagine quite a few people being pissed off about it… The question is: would it be worth it?

      1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        I don’t think that’s what OP is requesting. OP isn’t suggesting forcing people to go to work before and after the party. They’re asking for permission to leave at the same time as the partygoers without having to go to the party.

        1. Just Employed Here*

          Exactly, the OP isn’t asking about that. Which is why I replied to Greg NY that I don’t think the “either […] or” in his post isn’t particularly actionable in OP’s case. Or at least tried to explain that.

    2. Julia*

      I agree. Not only is your own tradition swept under the rug, now you get punished with extra work while people who already belong to the majority group get time off to party.

      1. TechWorker*

        Ooi would this still be objectionable if the party/social event in question has no religious connection/connotations?

        My company certainly abides by the general logic of ‘if you don’t want to come to the social you need to work’ (and there are usually a couple a year that otherwise an afternoon off, though in theory you’re meant to make it up during the rest of the week).

        1. LQ*

          I’d say it would. Unless the party is actually work, why would you say if you do something “fun” you get extra vacation time, but if you choose (or have to) work, you don’t get extra vacation time. I’d strongly disagree that it’s fun, but that’s supposed to be the theory unless it’s work. Like if it were a party to network and socialize with clients and you were expected to go and make connections, I get it. That kind of a actual work thing might make sense to say, yeah, you put in your time today take the rest off. But if it is strictly for pleasure then you are doubly rewarding people who choose not to work which is …weird quite frankly. Why wouldn’t you reward people who recognize that work is work and got their work done and then wanted to leave early?

          1. Falling Diphthong*

            Because these are usually meant to be bonding times that build team spirit, akin to going bowling. And offering such team building events during the day, not after hours or weekends, is actually something most of us agree is a good baseline for making them actually build team spirit rather than resentment.

            1. LQ*

              But then wouldn’t you make it so that it didn’t intentionally exclude people? And if you really want it to bond people (which I’m pretty sure there are a lot of posts here about how to do good team building) then you’d want everyone to go so you’d make it mandatory otherwise it’s really ineffective. I don’t think bowling is a great way to build team spirit either, stuff like having a mutual, achievable goal as a team with sufficient staffing to be able to accomplish it. It’s already something you have to do during the day because it’s not something people enjoy enough to do off hours and the pure part of giving the perk of leaving after acknowledges that it isn’t actually more enjoyable than just doing a great job of doing the work.

              I think that this is a tool that isn’t doing what you think it is doing and you (not you you) know it because people keep tacking extra vacation time onto it.

              1. Colette*

                I’d happily go to a team lunch, or bowling, or laser tag and then go home afterwards – and I would enjoy hanging out with my coworkers. But I don’t think anyone should be forced to go – so making it optional (with a perk of going home early) is fine. If I didn’t want to go, I’d also be fine with working.

                But all of that assumes it is a truly non-religious event.

                1. LQ*

                  Why does something that is supposed to be “fun” need another perk? The thing that is supposed to be fun shouldn’t get an extra perk. The people who do the work thing should get the same perk. If the holiday party or Christmas party or bowling is a thing, why does it need to have a “Oh and all those people get to leave early too”. Either you need people to work, or you don’t. If you do then give everyone the day off and let them choose to come to the party, or at the very least let them all go home after the party is over. The part is from 8-noon, everyone leaves at noon, party or not.

                  The party or bowling isn’t a thing that should need an extra perk.

                  Unless you’re going to admit that bowling with your coworkers is hell and you need a reprieve. In which case, that’s fine and we are in agreement but then we need to say, listen all this party and team building stuff is really horrible and aweful and we have to give people a perk of leaving early for them to even consider going to it.

                2. Colette*

                  Not everyone thinks this teambuilding stuff is terrible – but the party plus the leaving early aren’t separate events. Often the party is from, say, 1-4 – but if you are done with the party at 3, you are not expected to go back to work. It’s not like if you go to the party on Tuesday, you can leave early on Wednesday – the party is combined with the leaving early.

                  But no one should have to go. Since you don’t like them, you can work instead. That’s fine.

                  (Again, assuming it’s a non-religious party.)

    3. Colette*

      In general, this isn’t a terrible thing to do – if you want people to go to the party, it makes sense to reward them for going by giving them a perk (i.e. time off).

      In this specific case, though, the party is based on a religious tradition, and so rewarding people for going is not a good idea.

      1. LQ*

        Why do you want people to go to the party? I thought the party was supposed to be a “perk”. If the party isn’t a perk and it’s so horrible that it’s worse than work and you need to get people an extra perk to even get them to go…why don’t you stop having them. The fact that a party needs a perk means you should stop having the party.

        1. Colette*

          Some companies do want people to go to the party – because it’s an opportunity to interact with their coworkers in a way they don’t normally, because they think it’s a good thing to do, because the president of the company likes the parties, because they’re spending money and time on it and they want people to show up. I don’t know – it’s not my party.

          1. LQ*

            But then you call it a “We don’t know how to run a company that creates interactions other than the day to day ones so this is your job to come and network with your coworkers party” or just “Network day” and tell everyone it’s their actual job to go and give them some performance metrics around it. You talk to 10 people you don’t normally and get them to stamp your card and you can leave.

            Or the “Our president likes parties so everyone just show up and smile for an hour then go home party.” Or the “We aren’t giving you bonuses so you might as well come have some cheese party.” Or the “Idunno this has been done forever and now we call it the 23rd annual party party.” Or the “Help I’m trapped in this silly trophy and I need you to pass it to the next person in hopes that they’ll break the curse party.”

            (I’m kind of having fun with these names and want to do it all day while my coworkers stroll around as crayons.)

        2. Antilles*

          I think you’re missing that companies usually view holiday parties as more than just a “perk”. Yes, it’s a perk, but it ALSO has a business purpose – let people to interact with their co-workers, promote team togetherness, give you the opportunity to chat with people in other departments you normally don’t see, and so on. Additionally, most holiday parties I’ve ever been to also have someone give a (hopefully short) rah-rah speech about how great the year is and how much we appreciate you and a few of the major successes of the year and so forth.
          So the company gives this extra benefit of leaving early is because it really matters to them that you show up. If you absolutely hate the idea, then you still have the option to skip out…but for people who are just neutral “meh, not thrilled”, then that little extra incentive of leaving early is hopefully just enough to push them to show up.

          1. LQ*

            So it’s really a required work event that the company isn’t willing to force people to go to but is willing to exclude people from intentionally and then punish them for not attending?

            1. Antilles*

              Just to make sure we’re clear, I’ve been referring to the “in general” kind of generic party that Colette mentioned and you were responding to – not referring to OP’s particular religious-themed party in particular (which has specific issues due to the Christianity theme), but the stereotypical Generic Holiday corporate party that most companies do.
              That said, I think you’re wildly overstating it. I’ve worked at multiple companies with this exact sort of policy and my experience is that it’s absolutely not “required”, nor is it a “punishment”. The company prefers that people show up for all the reasons mentioned above, but we’re not taking attendance or marking someone down for skipping it; we just want it to be well-attended so we give an incentive to get the fence-sitters in. Basically, it’s essentially equivalent to including a door prize or a free raffle ticket or whatever – just providing one little extra push so people in the middle land on the side of “sure, whatever, let’s do this”.

          2. Joielle*

            I’m absolutely in the “meh” camp about work parties, and getting to leave a bit early afterward is a perk that makes me show up! It usually ends up being fun, it just takes a bit of incentive to go somewhere different and make myself be social for a while. I’m boring, I know.

            Some people hate work parties, so they don’t go, and they stay at work instead. I’m not sure what the official stance is on leaving early if you don’t go to the party, but I don’t think anyone would notice or care if they did.

            1. Quickbeam*

              A few years ago we had our office holiday party during a blizzard. It’s WI and it was a horrendously snowy day. We worked a half day and then the afternoon was for the party at a remote location. If you weren’t going you were expected to work.

              A co-worker left when we were all going to the party but instead of turning in at the restaurant just went home. I saw her face and she obviously was hoping no one would notice. They did, she was no longer employed 2 weeks later.

        3. Alienor*

          There’s always a large group of people who would rather go home and do their own thing than attend any kind of work party, whether it’s got bowling and nachos or a champagne fountain and dancing ponies. The company will never be able to create an event that makes those people want to go to it (full disclosure: I am one of those people) but they need a near-100-percent turnout to give the impression of bonding and team building, and so there’s a big enough crowd when whatever executive they got to come is ready to get up and ramble for a while about how the company is doing and what a great team this is. So yes, being able to leave early after attending is the perk to get people to attend.

  7. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

    OP#3, also consider sending the request up the chain. Let her know that you don’t feel comfortable sending her confidential or internal documents, but you can refer her to [Manager with That Authority] or [Department in Charge of Internal Stuff] to help approve and fulfill her request. This will either get her to back off or to go through the powers that be, and it has the added bonus of allowing you to outsource a decision that you shouldn’t have to make.

    1. Glomarization, Esq.*

      Yes. The decision to allow someone who is (now) external to the company see confidential material is not, actually, the LW’s. And LW#3 won’t even have to be the bad guy if (when) the answer is “no.”

      1. Slow Gin Lizz*

        Exactly. And if former boss knows that the answer is no and that’s why she’s asking LW instead of Manager with That Authority, she won’t go to that Manager and hopefully will also stop asking LW.

    2. LurkieLoo*

      I came here to say this same thing.

      Any time I get a request that’s out of the ordinary or that I don’t think we should comply with, I kick it to the top. Our president often sends it anyway, but even though I know this AND have the authority to execute, by sending it to the top, I can flag my concerns and let any potential repercussions fall on the president.

      In this case, my answer would be a firm nope. “These are marked as internal only, but I’ll send your request to Pat to see if an exception can be made,” which gives my boss the opportunity to send it anyway.

      It’s also possible it would be ok with them if certain information is redacted.

    3. boo bot*

      Outsourcing a decision you shouldn’t have to make is often a good idea. I realized at some point that when conflict is brewing among others and I don’t actually have an interest in the outcome, or the power to resolve it, I could save myself a lot of angst by just getting out of the way.

      In this case, you’re trying to manage both your boss’ interest in the documents, and your company’s presumed interest in not giving them to her, but it’s not something you have the power to resolve (and it’s not in your interest to give her the documents, or to declare preemptively that she can’t have them).

      This is somebody else’s problem. Let whoever that is have a turn, and do something that’s actually rewarding to you.

  8. Dorothy Zbornak*

    #2 – I am not a manager but if I were your manager I would gladly give you the time off and would not want to make you attend something that makes you uncomfortable and can only hope that is the outcome for you!

    1. Trout 'Waver*

      I think this is an excellent point. I think bringing it up with your manager would be more likely to get the desired outcome than trying to bring it up company-wide. Managers do have discretion and I would definitely accommodate the request if I could. And especially so for a good employee.

    2. Falling Diphthong*

      Someone upthread suggested couching it as “my religion would make this uncomfortable for me” rather than “this is the meaning of the work party” and I think that would be likely to go over better. You aren’t trying to take away the established party, just receive an understanding nod as to why you’re bowing out.

  9. Black Bellamy*

    I’m not sure if I’m missing something but the answer to the Christmas issue seems to be right there at the beginning. The OP says that the company is in a country that has adopted Christmas as this sort of secular party day. And now that company is throwing a party for Christmas. So it seems to me the company is behaving according to cultural norms prevalent in the country. The OP doesn’t mention that there will be religious displays or themes and has been specifically told that the party would be secular so it seems to me the only objection here is the name of the event. If the event was exactly the same but was named Winter Party, would there still be an issue?

    1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      There probably wouldn’t be, but the problem is that it isn’t named a Winter Party, and OP has personal concerns, which sound at least partially religious, about participating. OP’s objection really isn’t a naming issue, and it’s problematic (and probably not helpful to OP) to cast the issue that way.

      I don’t think the solution is to try to convince OP that Christmas is secular because that’s how the country they’re in or their company believes it to be the case. I think the solution is to help OP navigate whether to raise the issue and what an appropriate opt-out strategy might include.

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Nope, but it’s not named Winter Party, and people are allowed to feel uncomfortable attending a Christmas party (which may have any number of symbols of Christmas at it).

      1. another scientist*

        While I am with you on the unfair deal for party-skipping employees, I am a bit surprised about your hard line here, with no room for cultural differences.

        1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          Alison is trying to head off a long, derailing series of comments on whether or not Christmas is secular. That debate often cannibalizes the OP’s real question/issue, and it results in advice that the OP won’t be able to use.

        2. Someone Else*

          It’s a bit beside the point though? If I’m interpreting the letter correctly the scenario is this;
          I am a Jew and for my own religious reasons object to attending anything purporting to be a celebration of Christmas, regardless of how that celebration is executed.
          If I go to the party during my workday, I not only do not need to work during the part, I also get to go home early after the party is done.
          If I do not attend the party, I must work my full workday.
          Consequently, because of my personal religious objection to attending the party, I do not have the option to go home early that day.

          “Cultural differences” has no effect on the above sequence or what OP could do to remedy it for herself.

        3. Ask a Manager* Post author

          I think the cultural differences give it context, but the OP is still allowed to have religious concerns about participating, and can still explain that. The cultural differences might mean that her employer is more confused about her objections, but she’s still allowed to have them and to attempt to explain that. If she doesn’t sway them, then she doesn’t sway them, but it’s a reasonable thing to raise, especially in a company that employs people from all around the world (and in fact many companies would appreciate her raising it since they’d want to know they were alienating some of their employees — although that may be a U.S.-centric perspective).

          1. Heat*

            I think this is a very US centric perspective and that OP needs to adapt when she’s living abroad. I honestly don’t think that feeling uncomfortable about a secular party thrown for secular reasons that has a word in the name that in another context means religion, is a reasonable thing. I think asking for something like this to be accommodated for will make her look really out of touch and rigid that her country’s way of doing things (accommodating every single small request if it has anything to do with religion) is the best way. If she makes it known that she is offended by the word Christmas, everyone will be talking about this for years to come and will be referring to her as “that person who’s always looking to get offended”. I’m sure she doesn’t want to be remembered this way.

            1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

              You don’t have to share OP’s feelings, but it’s not appropriate to tell someone to simply “adapt” to something that they feel goes against their conscience.

              OP isn’t asking for their religion to be accommodated. They’re asking to be treated the same way as their coworkers instead of being penalized for their faith identity. There are many places where OP registering a request to leave at the same time as peers, but not attend the party, would be fine and wouldn’t result in becoming known as “that person who’s always looking to get offended.” Are there situations in which the converse will be true? Sure. But we shouldn’t start from the presumption that OP’s position on this is unreasonable. I don’t even think it’s U.S.-centric (I’ve experienced these problems in four different countries of varying religiosity), but I’ve never lived in Japan and can’t comment on what that would be like.

              1. Snarl Trolley*

                “OP isn’t asking for their religion to be accommodated. They’re asking to be treated the same way as their coworkers instead of being penalized for their faith identity. ”

                Man, can we sticky these two sentences at the top of the comments, too? Because YES THIS. This is the reminder needed for 95% of the comments regarding LW2.

              2. Akcipitrokulo*

                I can’t agree with your first paragraph hard enough. You don’t need to feel the same. You do need to respect them.

              3. Phoenix Programmer*

                Except on certain cultures this is an unreasonable request and frankly claiming that makes the culture insensitive is jingoist.

                In the US individual expression of religion > culture. In many other countries Culture wins.

                I think of Sweden with evil HRs Lady’s mixed bathing example where Muslims lost their lawsuit. Claiming that is “wrong” of Sweden is extremely ethnocentric.

                Is it fine for OP to feel Christmas is religious. I argue it’s not OK to ask the office if it’s in Japan to eschew a cultural tradition because it rubs against American concepts of religious freedom.

                1. lawyer*

                  The OP is not asking to have the party changed! She’s just asking to be treated the same way as those who are attending the party. No one is being asked to “eschew a cultural tradition”!

                2. Akcipitrokulo*

                  I’m struggling to think of a culture where “hey, that thing you’re calling X to please us? It would be cool if you called it Y because there are negative connotations for X for some of us” would be unreasonable… and it’s not a pretty assumption or accusation to make against other cultures.

              4. Mad Baggins*

                Kinda-Jew in Japan here. In the US religion is respected and OP saying “Hey I’m Jewish so no Xmas please” would absolutely be respected. In Japan, religion (as a personal thing you need time off for, or accommodations for worship in the workplace) is absolutely not respected. That’s what personal leave is for. And Alison’s assertion “in fact many companies would appreciate her raising it since they’d want to know they were alienating some of their employees” is absolutely a U.S.-centric perspective, most Japanese companies are not concerned about alienating their employees because the overwhelming pressure is to conform.

                If OP were Japanese, in a company of Japanese people, I’d say her choices are (1) suck it up and go to the party, (2) use “nemawashi” to speak to her boss/other coworkers about how uncomfortable it is for her and see if they pass the message along and change things, (3) take personal leave to not go and suffer the consequences (which could be social and professional, and entirely OP’s own fault for causing trouble).

                Since OP is not and the company is mixed, I’d say this is the perfect time to play the “I’m foreign/different” card. “These are my traditions, please give me the weird foreigner exception” is a card every foreigner can use, and it usually gives you the exception you want. There could be backlash if OP is trying to assimilate or be taken seriously, OP should be prepared for this and also to have to explain what Judaism is and that we aren’t a historical artifact (oof…). So I would recommend (1) play the foreigner card, (2) try “nemawashi”, (3) suck it up and go, or (4) take personal leave and don’t go.

            2. Just Employed Here*

              + 1

              Of course the OP is allowed to raise it. But whether it makes sense to do so is another matter which depends heavily on the culture of the company (both in terms of national and company culture). When in Rome…

              I actually wasn’t sure based on the letter whether the OP is based in the country in question, or if it’s just the company (‘s headquarters). But the same is true even if the OP would not be in that country: the culture of the company has its roots in that culture. It may be harder to perceive if one does not live in that country but is based in another office.

              To me, a lot of this particular discussion is pretty U.S-centric, and I’m really glad Alison comments on that above. It makes sense that most of this blog is U.S.-centric, but it stops making sense when the international context is already given in the letter.

            3. Akcipitrokulo*

              It is an absolutely reasonable thing.

              If it wouldn’t bother someone other than the OP then good for them – but it’s not relevant. It matters to the OP. And is completely reasonable that it does.

            4. Traffic_Spiral*

              “I think this is a very US centric perspective and that OP needs to adapt when she’s living abroad.”

              Yup. Sorry, but when you move to another country you are going to have to adapt to a few of the cultural norms. If Christmas is secular in this country (and it really is in some places) then she needs to learn to deal with that or go back to somewhere that’s more culturally attuned to what she wants.

              1. Julia*

                That’s unnecessarily harsh. First of all, OP isn’t bothered by Christmas being celebrated, she is bothered by having to work a full day while her co-workers party for half a day and go home. Secondly, if “go home” is always the reply to any similar concerns, what are people in international marriages or jobs supposed to do?

                1. Traffic_Spiral*

                  “what are people in international marriages or jobs supposed to do?”
                  Adapt. Adjust. That’s what you do when you go somewhere else. If you want everything like how it is at home, stay at home. If you want to go out in the world, you’re gonna have to learn to make some compromises and deal with some differences.

                2. Julia*

                  That is way too simplistic. We are all adapting and adjusting every day, to a different language, culture, food etc., but we can’t just 100% change who we are. Everyone has one or two things they don’t want to compromise on, and that’s okay.

                3. Traffic_Spiral*

                  “Everyone has one or two things they don’t want to compromise on.”

                  Yes, you get to have one or two. Is this really the one she wants to pick?

                4. Akcipitrokulo*

                  “Yes, you get to have one or two. Is this really the one she wants to pick?”

                  That’s up to her.

                5. Nita*

                  Yikes. What if I have three things? I’m doomed. Doomed!!!

                  Seriously though, people live in countries where they don’t 100% fit in culturally all the time. So? They can’t give up their entire identity every time they move. OP’s problem with the party is not affecting anyone else, and they have a right to be unhappy with it.

                  Still, there may not be a solution. First, the boss and coworkers are from a very different background and may not even be able to understand what the problem is. Second, the secular country in question may not have any laws that say you can’t be discriminated against on the basis of your religion. It’s not even clear if this is a case of discrimination (in OP’s eyes, yes, in the boss’s eyes, no), but in any case there just may not be any laws on the books about that.

              2. Melonhead*

                I agree. I object to wearing a burka because of the religious connotation, but if I moved go a Muslim country for work, I understand I would have to wear one.

                1. EOA*

                  FWIW, most Muslim women don’t wear burkas and most Muslim countries don’t require it. You’re conflating a cultural practice with a religious one.

                2. Gerta*

                  In most Muslim-majority countries, as a non-Muslim woman, you wouldn’t even be expected to cover your hair, never mind wear a burqa or anything similar. Obviously there are some exceptions to this (e.g. Saudi Arabia, Iran), but they are actually the minority.

                3. Delphine*

                  Even in Saudi Arabia, Muslim and non-Muslim women living in major cities like Riyadh don’t always cover their hair.

              3. Casca*

                1) A country doesn’t get to decide that a Christian holiday with the word Christ in it is secular. They can treat it as secular, but it will always have the origins of a religious holiday.
                2) Culturally adapting doesn’t mean celebrating a holiday…

                1. Just Employed Here*

                  1) Yeah, they really do get to decide that. How it’s done in that country. It’s not up to a bunch of strangers on the internet to decide the culture of a country we haven’t even identified. We don’t even know that the word for Christmas in the language of that country contains the word Christ (it doesn’t in *either* of the official languages where I am).

                  2) No one is asking the OP to celebrate the holiday.

                2. Just Employed Here*

                  Has the OP confirmed that this is about Japan? If not, I don’t see how that is relevant (assuming one would have considered relevant anyway).

              4. Holly*

                So if I’m Jewish or any other ethnic or religious minority and something makes me uncomfortable, I’m not allowed to raise it because I’m not in the US? In fact I need to “go back” to, presumably, where I came from? Wow, that’s extremely rude at best, bigoted at worst.

                1. Julia*

                  Especially considering Jewish people exist all over the world. Like, I descend from German/Polish Jews. I’m not sure the same complaint about a Christmas party would go over better in Germany.

              5. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

                I’m really curious about how you’re coming to these totalistic conclusions. I’ve worked and lived abroad in several countries (although not Japan, where OP is based), and no one has ever penalized me or thought I was a complainer or unreasonable for asking not to be forced to participate in celebrations that were inconsistent with my faith practice. Telling someone to “go back to somewhere that’s more culturally attuned” is so offensive that I can’t even begin to unpack it.

                OP isn’t on a crusade to change the conduct of their office; they’re asking to be treated equally to their peers and to be offered the ability to opt-out. In most offices with an international workforce, particularly those with a mix of employees from “Western” and other OECD nations, that’s a reasonable request.

            5. HannahS*

              I think the major point you’re missing is that while the question of “Is Christmas Secular” is answered differently around the world by people who celebrate it, Jews almost universally don’t think that. That’s the point. The OP would be in this situation anywhere in the world.

          2. Stone Cold Bitch*

            It’s very interesting to read all the different comments on this subject. The US (or at least parts of it) seems to be extremely religious compared to the countries in Western Europe that I have lived and worked in.

            At most places I’ve worked, religion is a private matter and asking for accomodation because of religion is a fairly new thing for many managers to handle. Most people I’ve worked with think that religion should not be noticed at, or interfere with work.

            A few years ago we had two co-workers who requested time off from a training programme on friday afternoons to attend the friday prayer. We could not accomodate this because the programme had over 20 participants and they would have missed out on practial training and sessions with instructors. However, we do have staff menbers who use flexible hours to attend prayer when their schedule allows. I know it’s been a learning curve for our organisation and it’s interesting to read all the different takes on this subject.

            1. Julia*

              If religion were only a private thing, the issue with the Christmas party wouldn’t come up, though.

            2. jhjh*

              Religion is only a private matter in places that have no religious holidays as automatic days off. A brief google suggests that most of Europe has a bunch of public holidays based on Christianity, a bunch of non religious ones, and none based on any other religions.

              1. Stone Cold Bitch*

                The thing is, I come from a culture that has been homogenous for a very long time, so we don’t really have a commonly used term in my native language that is used in the way “Holiday Party” or “Happy Holidays” is in English. We refer to is as Christmas because it has been the norm for a generations, and many elements of the celebration are traced back to folk traditions or pagan roots.

                And for context, only about 6-8% of the population identify as belonging to the Christian faith. The vast majority are ateheist or agnostic. (Some people are seriously debating wether that religion is harmful to children and that it’s something you should only participate in as an adult when you can make an informed choice.)

                1. jhjh*

                  “I’m not Christian, but my parents/grandparents were, I’m an atheist” isn’t quite the same as non-religious. And after a certain time, these elements are honestly Christian, you’re referring it to Christmas because you, as a culture, are culturally Christian. (I do not believe for a second that any language couldn’t add a new word about “generic holidays” like they added words about internet and email.) You can trace a lot of elements back to Judaism too, but that doesn’t mean Christianity isn’t a religion or that Easter is Jewish too because the last supper was maybe Passover.

                  It’s fine! It’s cool to be culturally Christian but not religious. It’s cool to say that your holidays are not religious to you. But just because they are traditional doesn’t make them religion-neutral.

            3. TL -*

              ” Most people I’ve worked with think that religion should not be noticed at, or interfere with work.”

              I’m guessing that most people are Christian (if they’re religious) and they don’t need any accommodations because the entire system is set up to accommodation them – they get Sunday, their Sabbath, off and they get their major holidays (Christmas and Easter) off or automatically worked around. So the whole system is set up so that being Christian can be a completely private matter because you are assured that your rest days will be the default ‘off’ days and your holidays will be the default holidays.

              Your company isn’t struggling to accommodate religious requests; it’s struggling to accommodate religious people who aren’t Christians.

              1. Holly*

                Yes, I agree. The problem is that many things considered “secular” are not – they are considered “default” because they are rooted in the Christian tradition, which the majority may subscribe to, and thus normally there’s no issues. For example, “well, it’s just normal that everyone gets Christmas off.” Well, if Jewish people were the majority for hundreds/thousands of years, everyone would get Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur off from work too and it would be just “secular.”

              2. Stone Cold Bitch*

                As I have commented above, I come from a culture that has been homogenous for a very long time. My company tries to accommodate those who celebrate other holidays (not just religious ones) whenever we can.

                And for context, only about 6-8% of the population identify as belonging to the Christian faith. The vast majority are ateheist or agnostic. (Some people are seriously debating that religion is harmful to children and that it’s something you should only participate in as an adult when you can make an informed choice.)

                1. TL -*

                  Right, but it, by default, accommodates Christian holidays. That’s not really a non-religious/secular cultural; that’s just defaulting to Christian cultural norms in a way that acknowledges you can be religiously and/or culturally Christian.

            4. Phoenix Programmer*

              Yes this is where I think Americans and some other Western Europeans can get blind. In many cultures individual feelings and expressions around religion are not accommodated like they are in the US. Deciding that is wrong is frankly pretty jingoist.

              1. Phoenix*

                This post is literally about an individual and their feelings around religion – suggesting that we can’t consider the individual we’re supposed to be helping navigate the situation is ridiculous.

                1. Phoenix Programmer*

                  I didn’t say we can’t consider the individual. I am responding to the posts about how the company should accommodate the individual and culture doesn’t change the advice. Well culture does change the advice. A lot of places take religious freedom to mean freedom to practice free of govenrment persecution and nothing else. Similar to free speech in the US. It’s the US that extrapolates that to mean allowing religious exemptions for work related items. I point again to mixed bathing in Sweden being required. It’s not wrong of Sweden to out culture first any more than it is wrong of America to put religious expression fisrt. Both have costs both have advantages.

          3. pleaset*

            “bastardized to fit their writing system”
            Yup, instead of the way it was originally written in English!!!

            1. Sachi*


              It wasn’t “bastardized” to fit the writing system. It was adapted and merged into pre-existing belief systems. Because that’s culturally what the Japanese do.

              Why do you think that’s a bad thing?

              You obviously do because the term “bastardized” is not neutral!

              What you wrote is offensive to me as an agnostic Japanese American with deep ties in Japan. If I hadn’t read your other thoughtful posts, I’d think you a bit racist.

              Please reconsider how cavalierly you said this.

              Yes, when Japanese take Western terms and import them into Japan, they can get a bit mangled. But “bastardized” is a value judgment in English.

              Also, having lived in Germany, I can attest to the fact that Germans do this with English terms as well, so tread lightly on the judgement.

              1. Izzy*

                This is a really good comment.

                Also, Julia – do you think was Jesus born in Ohio or something? Because I’m pretty sure he was in fact Middle Eastern and much of the texts that describe his life were written in Greek. So the English word “Christ” is itself a term ‘bastardised’ to fit our alphabet. When Japanese people adapt it to fit their writing system, they are doing the exact same thing that anyone who doesn’t speak Koine Greek does.

                1. Izzy*

                  @Julia – yes? It was an example. The point is that it’s silly to act as though the Japanese are “bastardising” the word Christmas when even the word ‘Christ’ is itself an adaptation.

                1. Julia*

                  Although on second thought, before you tell me about English words Germans have messed up, take a close look at the English language and its history.

    3. Jess*

      OP #2 – you are absolutely not reacting too strongly, and Alison’s suggested wording for discussing it seems solid to me. That said, I echo some of the other commenters who suggest that this can be an especially tricky concept to communicate successfully. In my experience (Jew in the U.S.), I’ve had some of the worst experiences/interactions with folks who thought of themselves as liberal and open-minded… although I’ve also gotten surprising support from non-Jewish friends who really got it and came to my defense. I hope you find the latter.

      I’m not sure from your letter whether you are in your home country or working in a different one, but if it’s the latter, you might find it helpful to think about this situation from an “experiencing another culture” lens rather than a “Jew navigating Christmas” lens, and see if anything shifts for you. When I was in middle school, I spent one Christmas/New Year in the then-Soviet Union. The country was officially atheist, and they celebrated New Year’s with many of the trappings of Christmas… New Year’s trees (looked like Christmas trees), Father New Year (looked like Santa Claus), etc. For once in my life, I found myself able to enjoy these things, rather than feel alienated by them, and it was *really* nice to be able to do that, even though the season felt as fraught again the next year when I was back in the U.S.

      1. Daughter of L.*

        “For once in my life, I found myself able to enjoy these things, rather than feel alienated by them, and it was *really* nice to be able to do that, even though the season felt as fraught again the next year when I was back in the U.S.”

        My Mom and Step – Pop are Jehovah’s Witnesses and that was the house I was raised in for my High School years. The rest of my family are not.

        There was a lot of derision and snark, growing up, and a lot of “you need to choose a side, and that side needs to be Christmas” when I was a young adult. According to the rest of my family any perceived rejection of any Holiday was a result of “your mother’s brainwashing” and large portion of them, went out their way to shove Christmas down my throat. Failing to imbue me with Christmas Cheer and thus win me back, more than a few would absolutely try bully the Christmas Spirit into me. I had Aunts and Uncles complain to my Dad that I was just sitting on the couch! How were they going to keep my 14 year old cousins believing in Santa if I would only make pleasant non Christmas conversation? For a few more, I was definitely a pawn in the war against my wicked non- festive mother; if they could convince me to *Just Believe Damnit*, at the very least it could be like a slap in my Mother’s stupid face! Take that Elle!

        It was awkward, insulting to no end, and all it did was piss me off. Anytime I suggested to anyone (besides my Jewish Pals) that *maybe* I didn’t celebrate due to my own sincerely held beliefs, well, that was just ridiculous. A few said they could absolutely Keel my mom for stealing the magic of Christmas from me. Never mind my brothers on that side who never had Christmas at all; their grandma would make things super Christmassy, because they weren’t getting it at home.

        To this day, and I am 39 I still get people, *strangers*, who pity me, who cannot fathom that I never had Christmas (like Hell I didn’t, the Extendeds made sure we were immersed in it) and I have in – laws who “secretly” send my husband Christmas care packages, because they don’t want to offend me but feel sorry for him.

        Anyway… a couple of years ago, I am teaching in Japan (of all places), dreading the holidays, Christmas, Halloween, Easter. I was absolutely relieved that my school was one, that let people off for 2 weeks for the New Year’s holiday (including Christmas) and further happy to find out didn’t mind (or necessarily know the difference) if I taught the “Seasons” like snowflakes and candy canes, autumn leaves and pumpkins, April Showers may flowers etc. (thankfully none of my Western co workers noticed and tried to out me).

        Still I was worried about being smothered by Christmas; “Like dang it! Where on Earth do I need to go to escape this?” as I watch sample ladies at the bakery hand out order forms for Kurisumasu Cake. I went to ski in Nagano that winter break convinced it would be like every other year where I would force myself to smile and return everyone’s Merry Christmas with a Happy Holidays and hope no one knew the difference (because it is easier, and strangers generally mean no harm)…

        I spent Christmas in loitering in front of a Lawson Convenience Store, Hot Ginger Ale in one hand, Chicken Drumstick in the other, completely unmolested by passers by, knowing that everybody at home was bemoaning my lot in that far flung place…

        Best Christmas EVER.

        1. Daughter of L. (From Home)*

          Update: Cringing because earlier in the day, barely the day after Halloween, one of the only stores I can shop for groceries at is already blasting non – stop Christmas Muzak. This awkward time gets longer every year.


  10. FTW*

    OP4 – I would use it as an opportunity to get to know the hiring manager and to put your best foot forward. However, I would not think of it as an interview (this can be good though, take away some of the stress!)

    I just finished a round of interviews and there was one candidate who was fantastic, but just didn’t have the right experience for us to hire. One we notify the candidates of the results, I plan to reach back out to him to give him some career advice and coaching. There is no possibility of a job, but the candidate is green in the field and would be great with some development, which I am more than happy to provide.

  11. Doctor Schmoctor*

    #3 Intellectual property belongs to the company, not the person who created it. It’s really that simple.

    1. Space Turtle*

      Also there’s probably a policy about sharing confidential information outside the company. It’s highly likely to be a fireable offence.

      1. Lilly*

        It is the equivalent to theft. Poor letter writer would be fired for giving out company property.

        Most people who want to keep documents they helped create for their employer (usually to make their life easier in the future) have the forethought to save it to their personal USB… involving other employees in stealing from the company by abusing a former relationship is so much worse.

        1. President Porpoise*

          It is theft. And former employees can be personally held liable and sued. And, depending on the damages the company may or may not suffer from the sharing of this confidential document, we might be talking about millions in damages.

    2. Decima Dewey*

      And former boss knows it. She’s playing the friendship card to get OP#3 to do something that would damage their standing with their current employer, and possibly their reputation in the industry. Say no, report this up the chain of command.

  12. MD*

    I wouldn’t go out of my way to complain about the company having a Christmas party, but if I was asked why I’m not attending I would respond because there is nothing secular about Christmas.

  13. KoolMan*

    #3 Don’t do it. You will loose your job for emailing confidential documents. Your company will be tracking emails and you might get dragged before the law.

    1. Trout 'Waver*

      Yup. IT could have a filter set up to see who forwards key documents or e-mails ex-employees.

  14. misspiggy*

    I can see that the name and purpose of the party is a distraction to commenters. It might be the same for management when OP1 mentions it. It may be better to frame the issue is that people attending the party are receiving time off when others aren’t, which means their annual compensation is greater than the others.

    Let’s say introverts or people with noise sensitivity would be less likely to attend the party. Should they be penalised by receiving less annual leave? If the company wants to incentivise people to attend the party by offering extra leave, what alternative compensation could they offer to people who, for whatever reason, cannot attend?

    1. Falling Diphthong*

      I think it’s akin to a team-building exercise. Which the company wants people to attend or the team building doesn’t happen. So if you were noise sensitive, or introverted, you wouldn’t be offered your own separate team building of one option.

      And we are usually really adamant here that team building events should take place during the workday, not make people show up on Saturday.

    2. Dr. Pepper*

      I am of the same mind. We can argue all day about secularized religious holidays and why they are or are not a bad idea, but the real crux of the matter is that those who can/want to attend the party are being rewarded in a way that those who cannot/don’t want to attend are missing out. It’s venturing into the territory of forced fun. If you want the afternoon off, you must attend our party; if you don’t attend the party then no extra time off for you!

  15. Jewish OP*

    OP #2 here– Thanks to everyone who’s already commented. Just want to clarify that while I am indeed located in Japan, my supervisors and the HR person who sent out the party invite are all from Western countries. My company is pretty evenly split between Western and Japanese employees, and prides itself on having a hybrid Western/Japanese office culture. So while Japanese perceptions of Christmas and “go along with the majority” mind-set are factors, they’re not everything.

    1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      If it’s half “Western,” then I think it’s ok to bring up the issue in the context of asking to leave early that day… especially if you’ve got Brits in the mix. And if folks seem surprised that you didn’t attend the Christmas party, I think it would be ok to mention why. This can totally be done “quietly” in a way that doesn’t rock the boat but still helps you do what you need to do.

      But again, I’ve never worked in Japan and can’t credibly comment on whether it will cost you political capital. I suspect the more blase you are about it, the less the likelihood of blowback would be.

    2. Julia*

      Thanks for the additional info! I guess your boss being not Japanese means they’re probably a little more flexible on the “everyone must do everything the same way”, but depending on their country of origin may still think you’re making a mountain of a molehill (which I don’t think you do!). I am surprised that no one has to work on the day of the party as long as they attend.
      Do people at work know you’re Jewish? I ask because I know not everyone wants people to know. Is this a place you’re planning on staying for longer?
      Right now, if all else fails, and you don’t feel comfortable raising this issue but still want the same time off, I think I might pretend to want to attend, then find some really urgent work task I just have to finish, do that, pop back into the party just as everyone is allowed to leave, grab a cookie and go home. You did attend the party, technically, and penalizing you for working hard would be wrong.

    3. Akcipitrokulo*

      Sorry commented before seeing this!

      It sounds like it may have been a simple “default to christmas” that they may be willing to accomodate a change of focus.

    4. Tau*

      Thanks for the added context!

      My main caution for you would be that Western =/= Western. Upthread a few people from non-US Western countries are talking about how Christmas is viewed in our countries and how this would be a very difficult conversation as well as Christmas is both very normalised and viewed as very secular. Be aware of that going in in order not to be blindsided.

      My suggestion above for that case would be to lean heavily on the cultural differences front – don’t try to convince them their view of Christmas as secular is wrong, do try to convince them that some people, like you, have specific background and experiences and heritage that mean you can’t view it in that way. If you’re from the US talking to people from most other Western countries, the common international view of the US as extremely religious may help you out here.

      Good luck!

    5. Traffic_Spiral*

      Yeah… I would *not* bring this up in Japan. The Westerners will probably be unsympathetic because they see Japanese-Christmas as deeply secular compared to western countries, and the Japanese will see you as so annoyingly, obnoxiously gaijin that you can’t even accept a party without complaining that it doesn’t suit your exact individualistic (and that’s not a complementary word for them) preferences.

    6. matcha123*

      If you are in a foreign company in Japan and want to bring this up, I think you are best to focus on how it’s unfair to people who don’t want to / can’t attend the party. Some people have anxiety, some people just don’t like parties, etc. I have worked with Japanese people who never attend an after hours dinner party, and none of those had anything to do with Christmas or anything like that.
      From there, if there’s a higher-level foreign and / or Japanese worker you feel comfortable talking with, speak with them privately about your concerns. This might be what gets them to change the name, etc. It’s nemawashi in Japanese and it basically means that you suggest your ideas privately to people who might be in the position to change them, express them to people who agree with you and you build up a good number of people on your side so that when and if your boss goes to talk about the issue, they know that they really are representing the majority opinion.

    7. Avocado everything*

      With your company being evenly split do you have someone in the company that is Japanese to get an idea of how it would be perceived for you to ask to have the party time off without going to the party. I say this because the Japanese I have seen really look down on people taking unnecessary time off, and really don’t understand that you are looking to have equal time away from work. They don’t see it that way. My husband worked for a japanese company at one point and they had a strong dislike of issues that americans bring up about work.

    8. kilika*

      I don’t know if Japan is similar to Korea in this respect, but I’ve found with Koreans that they are generally fairly understanding when I say that something is My Tradition, especially when I mention it goes back thousands of years.
      Not that there can’t be issues and misunderstandings, but overall people have been far more accommodating than I expected.

      1. Sachi*


        That something that would resonate. “My traditions and my respect for my ancestors does not let me do this” is something the Japanese would respect.

        That’s not “I’m a pissy individualist.” It’s “I can’t do this because it would be offensive to my heritage and my ancestors.” It’s about group and family and not about individual selfishness. (I don’t think it is selfish, but western concepts of self v group are totally different in Japan).

        Even liberal Japanese atheists grew up in a cultural stew where ancestors and old traditions matter.

    9. kittymommy*

      Thanks for the additional info. With the staff being a mix of Westerners, I think it lends itself to opening up at least the discussion of some push back on the Christmas party. Maybe there’s a way to bring it up and see how they begin to react (open to the idea?) and change your tactic if necessary? Regardless, good luck to you. No one should be made to feel they are being forced into celebrating a religion or religious holiday when they don’t choose to do so.

    10. Mad Baggins*

      I think you should play your “I’m foreign” card for the Japanese colleagues, and your “I’m Jewish” card for your Western colleagues. And use “nemawashi” as others recommended to see if they can change it a bit for you. If your company is half and half then they should be more sensitive/open to accommodating you and your expectations are different than if you were the lone foreigner in a Japanese company.

  16. Greg M.*

    #5 it’s amazing what effect background noise can have. Getting off the sales floor and into a (hopefully) quiet breakroom is like feeling a pressure lifting. I get to be very affect by background noise sometimes. I remember one time the tractor was going outside and something about the engine noise through my windy was actually making me almost motion sick.

    1. Lilo*

      Creepy Halloween music all day sounds like slow torture. Even when I worked at a theme park, the soundtrack would switch up occasionally to more upbeat stuff (things like a version of Baba Yaga from Pictures at an Exhibition). Creepy all the time would stress me out. Not cool at all.

      1. Piano Dude*

        +1 for anyone who knows Pictures at an Exhibition. Played the whole collection at my graduate piano recital.

    2. WellRed*

      At home, the upstairs tenants often run a fan. The low hum/vibration drives me crazy but I ignore it when possible. Even when I don’t realize how tense I am, the minute they shut if off it’s like, cue the sunshine, rainbows and uplifting music.

      1. Jadelyn*

        I get like this with the A/C or loud fans. I don’t always realize I’m tense until it shuts off and suddenly my shoulders drop a good two inches and I take a full breath for the first time in hours.

    3. OP#5*

      Thanks everyone! I’ve noticed all these effects too.
      At home I monitor the way TV and music are affecting me so I know when to turn them off. :)
      I would probably enjoy some of the soundtrack music if I heard it once, in a non-creepy concert hall.

    4. Dr. Pepper*

      I used to live next to a very busy freeway and never noticed how much the constant noise affected me until I moved to a quiet street.

      1. Rebecca in Dallas*

        Haha, I grew up right next to a freeway. Traffic noise is like white noise to me! When I moved to a quiet neighborhood, I actually had trouble sleeping because it was so quiet! I had to turn on a box fan at night just for the noise.

        1. OP#5*

          I’m like this with light. I moved to an apartment that doesn’t overlook the street and it was too dark and too quiet! I had to get a wake-up light to help me up in the morning.

      2. SweetTooth*

        Same! I lived in an urban neighborhood right by an MLB stadium, and I didn’t realize how much the bustle stressed me out until I moved half a mile away to a still urban but more residential area. It’s truly amazing how you can subconsciously pick up on things that create this stress and not even realize the impact until after it’s gone!

    5. Solidus Pilcrow*

      Oh yes! When I travel to another site, the group often goes to this one nearby bar and grill for lunch/dinner and I. Can’t. Stand. It. The noise and lack of sound baffles just sets my teeth on edge as soon as I walk in and I’m ready to climb the walls in about 5 minutes. (Plus the service is slower than anything, so you can’t just quickly get in and out.)

      1. OP#5*

        That sort of thing was a trend for a while – don’t know if it still is. What are restaurant owners thinking? Do they want to stress their customers and prevent them from being able to hear and converse?

  17. Akcipitrokulo*

    OP2… how would you feel if it were made into a secular “holiday party” or just “end of year” party? If that rebranding would work for you… and it’s OK if it wouldn’t!… then it’s probably worth approaching somekne and suggesting it.

    1. Pollygrammer*

      If OP is in a country where Christmas is celebrated as a completely secular holiday (I’m not saying that’s the reality, just the common attitude in many regions) then people will push back ~hard~ on trying to rename/rebrand the party.

      It would be a little but like “I’m a pacifist, so can we change the Independence Day party to Summer Day? And lose the red white and blue for a less loaded color scheme?”

      1. Akcipitrokulo*

        People push back hard when called out on discriminatory practices all the time… and? Why is that relevant (other than perhaps changing details of how you are more likely to succeed in objecting.)

        Christmas has secular aspects. It also has inherently religious aspects that no-one with an ounce of sense would say don’t exist.

        I am concerned that there is the appearance throughout this post of “oh, think of the poor non-US cultures who don’t see it as religious!” That’s pretty insulting to assume they are culturally incapable of having a reasonable chat about it.

  18. Ms Cappuccino*

    2 Do you live in a country where discrimination on the ground of religion is illegal? Because if so, I would go to HR and tell them that as a Jewish person I feel it’s discriminatory to request I attend a party which has it roots in Christianity and symbolically means I celebrate the birth of a Messie. If they tell you that their CHRISTmas is not Christian, then they need to stop calling it Christmas but call it winter party or something. And better to do that in writing. Of course do that only if you are in a country that makes discrimination on the ground of religion illegal so they can’t retaliate.

      1. Amy J.*

        I assume it’s a weird auto-correct for Messiah. Why is auto-correct so bizarre sometimes? It once “corrected” the word “Valentine” to “Valentube.” THAT’S NOT EVEN A WORD!!!

        1. Scarlet*

          In this case, it could be an auto-correct based on the language. I think I’ve seen in another comment that Ms Cappucino is French (but maybe I’m confusing her with another commenter). When you type in several languages on your phone, that sort of thing is super-common.
          (“messie” is totally a word in French)

          1. Amy J.*

            Oh, that totally makes sense! I’m very slowly learning French but have not yet got to the word “messy.” Thank you.

    1. Genny*

      This seems unnecessarily adversarial for the issue LW is dealing with. There have been a lot of good suggestions in above threads about how to frame this in such a way that people don’t get defensive and LW gets what she wants. It feels akin to threatening a lawsuit before you’ve even talked to someone about a reasonable accommodation.

  19. sheworkshardforthemoney*

    #2 I was raised a Catholic and then converted to Judaism as an adult. As a result Christmas is the complicated elephant in the room. Christmas parties can become Winter or Holiday parties but everyone knows what they really are under the surface. The only logical solution is to own it. Acknowledge that it’s a Christian event that some non-Christians are happy to attend but recognize that it makes other people uncomfortable. Just give everyone the choice, attend the lunch or have the equal amount of time off.

    1. SusanIvanova*

      If there’s a culture that doesn’t have some sort of midwinter celebration I can’t think of it, so yes it can totally be a Winter party without tying it to any religion.

      I’m so Catholic I sing in a choir, and I don’t want to hear about Christmas until Dec 25th. No movies (Hallmark channel has already switched to 24/7 Christmas, and I don’t even want to see that in the listings.) *Definitely* no songs – they stick in my head and drive me nuts.

      It’s not that I’m a Grinch – I like Christmas in limited qualities, and that limit is exactly one day long. I like Advent’s quiet anticipation, not over 2 months of “be merry or else” from the Happiness Patrol.

  20. Mommy MD*

    I would not give former boss ANY documents. If she wants them she can ask a senior member of management. Once you leave, you leave. Your previous work is the property of the company.

  21. Otheruser*

    The problem with op2 just leaving at the same time as the party-goers is that the reason companies do these things is for team-bonding. Op sitting at home watching netflix doesn’t have the same effect.
    Depending on the company, there may be blow-back from this. I know objecting to the party being labelled as a Christmas party in the companies I’ve worked at would get you confused faces and a “… I guess…”

    1. Ehhhh*

      Nothing like team building through exclusion! OP feels uncomfortable attending. Surely great relationships will be formed.

      If almost everyone is a straight dude and wants to go to a strip club, should the women just go?

      Should the team do a ropes course even though their colleague uses a wheelchair and can’t participate?

      It is the same thing.

      1. Database Developer Dude*

        Interesting comment, Ehhhh. I used to work in a place where the guys all went to a strip club every Monday over lunchtime, ostensibly because the burger special was to die for. They were doing it long before I got there, and are still doing it 15 years after I left. Let’s not be dumb, of course they were looking at the women, even if the burger was Just. That. Damn. Good. (it was). None of the women went. It would have been career suicide to even ask.

        1. Holly*

          I’m a (management side!) labor and employment attorney and I am absolutely horrified by this. This is not normal.

          1. Database Developer Dude*

            If you’re referring to the strip club thing, you’re absolutely right, Holly. It’s not normal. It never happened before, and I’ve never worked in a place since where it’s been done.

              1. Database Developer Dude*

                Oh, you have no idea how bad it got, and I haven’t worked there in 15 years, but those guys are STILL doing it.

    2. Julia*

      I’ve been to Japanese Christmas parties. People get drunk (it’s a good excuse to say shit you usually couldn’t), eat a lot, talk about the food (a favorite topic on Japanese TV) and then go home and forget about it because they were drunk. If you’re really unlucky, someone makes some inappropriate remarks to you or touches you if you’re young/a woman. There might be karaoke.

    3. Akcipitrokulo*

      I think confused faces, an “I guess…” and a changed name for party would be fine :) (if OP agrees)

  22. Madame Secretary*

    So OP2 objects to the party, but absolutely wants the perk that comes along with the party? That perk of leaving early after the party is a GIFT from the company for those in attendance. If OP objects to attending a Christmas party so vehemently, then why would she want or feel entitled to the Christmas gift that goes with it? FWIW, my firm has a holiday party and this year we were told to add the word “optional” to the party email. Everyone is attending though, so we don’t have to consider what to about folks who do not wish to attend. I think they would be expected to hang back at the office for a while and if they left early, a blind eye would be turned.

      1. Madame Secretary*

        No. Everyone should be rewarded. I believe this 100%. I’m just playing devil’s advocate here. The company gets to choose how they gift/reward their staff. They choose to have a party to which everyone is invited and to let the attendees go home after as their gift. She is choosing not to go. She is declining the gift. Of course, it would be super awesome if the company gave people the option to skip the party. I absolutely wish her much luck and hope they see her argument.

        1. Friday afternoon fever*

          I think calling it a “Christmas gift” is what felt explicitly inappropriate. She wants the “gift” because who wouldn’t? The devil has enough advocates.

        2. WellRed*

          Swap out something like “teambuilding at the local strip club” and see if you think the company is offering up an event that welcomes all. It’s not, this is how women get excluded. Or “mountain climbing.” Or serving meat lover’s pizza and offering nothing vegetarian.
          This isn’t a perfect example, but it shows how easy it is to shrug and say, “well, it’s her choice.”

          1. Clay on My Apron*

            I’m reminded of the company that handed out hams and bottles of wine to their staff, including the Muslims and vegetarians.

        3. Autumnheart*

          Don’t devil’s advocate discrimination on the basis of religion. It’s explicitly forbidden by federal law in the US. The OP isn’t in the US, but that doesn’t make it a good place to draw the line.

    1. Friday afternoon fever*

      it seems extraordinarily inappropriate to say—at WORK— “Sorry you feel excluded because you don’t celebrate the holiday we’re all celebrating! You don’t deserve this gift we have associated with the holiday.” The whole point is that the company doesn’t have to tie this “gift” to attending a religious celebration.

      Can you imagine if your employer had a hannukah party? And only people who attended got to leave early?

      1. McWhadden*

        That’s the norm for Jewish and Muslim holidays which in most sane workplaces people who believe in those faiths can take off but others have to take personal time for. I know some awful workplaces make practitioners of those faiths take their time. But many do not.

        1. kilika*

          I just had to fight getting failed a course because I said I couldn’t come to class on the Jewish High Holidays. I’m Orthodox. If they’d ended up telling me that I have to come in the end, I would have stayed home and failed (at some point a teacher asked me what I would do if I said no, I told her you don’t tell G-d “sorry, not convenient for me right now).
          People really don’t understand what it’s like having a minority religion. Most of the Jewish people I know in the States use up almost all of their vacation days just for Jewish holidays, and never have any left over.

          1. Holly*

            That’s really disgusting, I’m sorry you dealt with that. Was it at a university? Because I would be shocked if that wasn’t something that could be escalated to a department head.

            1. kilika*

              A course at a school affiliated with a large university in Korea. They haven’t quite figured out how multiculturalism really works, yet.

              1. Holly*

                Was there a western school affiliated with the university at all like were you studying abroad? I hope it eventually was resolved.

                Also, just generally kudos to you for navigating that.

        2. Friday afternoon fever*

          It’s the norm to let employees take off days for religious holidays they observe. That’s not really a “gift” and it’s different than saying “we’re throwing a Rosh Hasanah party (certainly not on the actual holiday—this party is almost definitely not ON Christmas) and anyone who comes can leave early; anyone who opts out cannot.”

          1. Not observing the Oct 31 holiday*

            Yes, I can take all the Jewish holidays off. I use my vacation time to do so, just like I would for any other days off. That means that some years, I cannot take a vacation (and believe me, the holidays are important religiously, but they are not relaxing).

            I’ve been working for decades, and have never heard of an employer not requiring PTO (or making up time) for Jewish (or other minority religion) holidays.

            So sure, I can use my PTO. People who observe Christmas never have to.

            1. Friday afternoon fever*

              yes, sadly correct. My point was more that taking a day off to observe a religious holiday is not equivalent to the situation in the letter (religious-holiday-themed office party, then early release)

              I’m not totally sure how to interpret McWhadden’s comment on reread though.

        3. Astor*

          I have absolutely had multiple work places tell me how their holiday scheme works such that I’m guaranteed to be able to take the Jewish holidays off and highlighting how great it is. At the same time, I have *never* ever had those days off with pay without using some of my vacation time or otherwise making up time. In almost every case, colleagues and supervisors assumed that it fell under a policy like what you described because they’ve seen others take those days off… except that there was actually no such policy or it only applied to workers at a certain level (such as applying to managers but not other salaried staff).

    2. LQ*

      Ok, but isn’t the party the perk? Why does a party need an extra perk? If your party perk needs an extra perk of leaving early, shouldn’t you get that it’s not a perk and stop doing it? If it was really a perk then people would want to do it even if everyone else was off work on that day. Either the party IS a perk and it doesn’t need another. Or the party is actually a punishment and so it needs a perk to make people go to it.

    3. Miss Pantalones en Fuego*

      Hmm. To me this reads as “if you have the audacity to practice a non-Christian religion, then you don’t deserve the same perks or courtesy as everyone else”.

      Weirdly harsh and lacking in compassion.

      1. 5 Leaf Clover*

        Exactly! “This perk is only for people who are comfortable with Christianity.” Not ok.

  23. East Coast Girl*

    #3 – If your company is big enough to have dedicated Records & Information Management staff, I would chat with them. My guess, having worked in info management both in corporate and government, is that it is NOT ok for former employees to access info when they have left. It is amazing how many people think they “own” records because they created them. They don’t. The company that was paying them to create the document does. Good luck, it would be awkward and frustrating to receive these asks. I also fear you could get in trouble if it’s found out you supplied her with any of these documents, particularly the sensitive ones.

  24. Callie*

    I just want to say kudos to the newly pregnant OP who doesn’t want to discuss pregnancy at work. I think the majority of pregnancy-obsessives forget how alienating and even painful it can be for people who don’t want kids or are struggling/unable to conceive to be surrounded by pregnancy talk constantly at work. If sensitivity to people in these situations is a motivation for the OP, it wouldn’t hurt for her to say so. Maybe that will get people rethinking all the pregnancy talk in the office.

    1. Julia*

      That’s a nice angle! Especially for all of those who don’t get that any topic annoys most people if it’s talked about ad nauseam.

    2. MusicWithRocksInIt*

      Did I… record a podcast with for Ask a Manager and then forget about it? Is this the pregnancy brain that I have heard so much about? I have a coworker WHO’S NAME I DO NOT KNOW because I have never needed to interact with her beside politely nodding in the hallway who has started calling me Mom whenever she sees me.
      I have no good advice – I am finding out the sex next week and my coworkers want to have a gender reveal thing at work despite the fact that I have stated several times that I despise those. Maybe just tell people you have a tumor?

      1. Femme D'Afrique*

        I had a friend who got pregnant and, when asked, would look the person dead in the eye and say, “No, I’m just fat.” She kept this up right up until she had the baby. She’s my hero.

        1. Nicole*

          When I was pregnant with my son, room everything used to ask “what are you having!”. I rotated my answers among “puppies”, “an alien”, and “a baby elephant”. We weren’t planning on finding out the gender until the birth.

          (FWIW, some days I feel like I really did give birth to a destructive baby elephant!)

      2. WellRed*

        Please tell your coworkers “no.” Please say something to the person who calls you mom. You can say it nicely, but say it. Maybe not so nice to your coworkers since they aren’t listening to you.

        1. MusicWithRocksInIt*

          I’m struggling more than I would with someone I know because it’s a drive-by ‘mom’. She walks past in the hallway and is all “Oh hey mom, how are you doing” and then is gone before I can formulate a response (It doesn’t help that I hate when people do this in general – why ask how I am if you are going to be gone by the time I can answer?). I have absolutely no idea what her name is or where she sits (big company) and these are the longest interactions we have ever had. I am just not socially quick enough to snap off a polite yet firm… something… in the time before she is gone.

          1. WellRed*

            That does make it trickier and possibly not worth the effort, especially if its been ongoing. May I offer a polite, “I’m not your mother.” Vague polite smile optional. Keep moving.

          2. Jadelyn*

            Maybe just start ignoring her completely when she does it? If asked, “Oh, I assumed you must be talking to someone else, since I’m not your mom.”

          3. Name Required*

            Look genuinely confused, then ask, “Wait, why do you keep calling me mom?” And if she says, “Oh, because you’re pregnant!” then you say, “Oh, my name is [xx]. Let’s stick with that. See you around!”

      3. sheworkshardforthemoney*

        Please don’t call pregnant women “mom”, it’s way too personal a title for strangers to use. Please don’t have gender reveal parties, just don’t. When I was pregnant we chose to wait until our kid was born before learning the gender. Everyone, baby included survived the wait.

      4. Swordspoint*

        Tell your coworkers you’re not finding out after all, or that you are finding out but keeping the info private. There’s no rule that you have to share info if it’s going to result in a party you don’t want.

      5. kristinyc*

        A new coworker who is much younger than me called me “Mama” the other day (I’m 18 weeks along and starting to show, and I announced a few weeks ago).

        Uh, the only person who gets to call me “Mama” is the baby, and they won’t be talking for at least a year and a half.

        I made a FAQ list on my whiteboard by my desk (click on my name to see it)

    3. Butter Makes Things Better*

      So much this! Whenever a runaway mommy/pregnancy conversation gets its full head of steam going, I’ve often feel reduced to my non-mommyhood. And the less that binary gets emphasized in an office, the better.

      1. Jadelyn*

        Agreed. I’m happily childfree by choice, and that can come with some…unpleasant baggage (not my baggage, but strangers keep running up and throwing their suitcases in my face for some reason). So when talk is all about Mommyhood(tm), it feels alienating and it sets me on edge wondering if/when someone is going to ask why I’m not participating in the conversation, then start auditing my life choices when I say “Because I don’t want kids at all, ever.”

        1. Butter Makes Things Better*

          Exactly. If the topic takes over, I also end up feeling invisible, or like since I don’t have the keys to that particular club, unwelcome to be a part of the group, and unwelcome to shift the subject.

    4. Boo Hoo*

      YES! I can break down hearing constant talk about someone’s pregnancy and work is the last place I want to be bombarded with it.

    5. OP1*

      OP1 here. Thanks for the comments. Some eople don’t realize how marriage-pregnancy are no longer the universals they used to be. It’s also excessively heteronormative to harp on these subjects. We lead all sorts of complex lives of our choosing or not (in case of infertility). We did not have children for a number of years (fortunately by choice) and felt alienated/annoyed by these conversations as well. I wouldn’t want someone to think my situation made them feel bad in any way.

    6. Nita*

      Oh, it can be alienating to anyone. I’ve been a working mom for a few years now and still resent it big time. It’s a visible condition, so I have exactly zero choice in whether people will jump me in the break room with questions and comments about my body. Seriously. I just want a cup of coffee. We really don’t need to be discussing babies right now. And probably not later either, because I find the subject painful sometimes – for example when day care dropoff goes badly, and I feel horribly guilty all day. And I really, really don’t need anyone commenting on my weight, because I know I’ve gained way too much, and am terrified enough about the implications without strangers pointing it out.

      1. Rebecca in Dallas*

        My sister-in-law said something similar, she said as soon as she was pregnant with her first (she now has 3 kids), every conversation was about her pregnancy or kids. Constant questions about her pregnancy, then the baby, then when is she going to have another one, what are the kids doing, etc. She’s like, “I am still capable of talking about other things! I still have opinions on the world outside of my uterus!”

    7. writerson*

      So true. My daughter was stillborn, and I’ve been unable to conceive ever since due to complications with the stillbirth. It was excruciating to come back to work and be surrounded by pregnant ladies who spent significant time every day talking about their pregnancies and plans for their babies.

    8. Formerly pregnant*

      Also want to add that it’s pretty easy to stonewall people on the topic of your pregnancy just by not giving them much to work with and being super casual about it. In my experience, that meant that people mostly stopped asking me about it, other than the occasional “how you doing?”

      I was always polite but non-committal when asked anything about my pregnancy. So, people at my office knew the due date (obviously) and when I was going to be out for appointments but I just would sort of play dumb when asked about the gender (“oh, not sure what appointment we’ll find that out, it’s not a big deal to us”) or the birth plan, or any other random questions (“Oh man, I haven’t even had time to think about that. I’m sure it’ll happen one way or another”) and then I would follow up with a work question.

      At least in my office, people eventually lose interest if you don’t give them much to work with.

  25. MM55*

    LW#1 – Alison’s comment “I’m sorry about that!” is not something that a woman OR a man should make. It reinforces women apologizing for all kinds of things that they shouldn’t; our culture encourages this. As a white, heterosexual man, I’d simply state that these are company documents and I cannot deliver any of these to anyone outside the company.

    1. Hamtaro*

      I don’t know, it just seems like the appropriate polite-nothing to say to someone you previously had a friendly working relationship with.

      1. Falling Diphthong*

        This is softening language.

        Even Hal know to tell Dave “I’m sorry Dave, I’m afraid I can’t do that.”

    2. MarfisaTheLibrarian*

      I dunno, I kinda wish that instead of women being told not to apologize, there should be a shift to *everyone* being a little softer in their communication

  26. MLB*

    OP1 – I think the biggest thing you need to do is set boundaries as soon as it comes up at work. Rinse and repeat. The amount of people who butt into our lives, thinking they’re “well intentioned” amazes me. Boundary crossers need to be put into their place, over and over, until they get it. And don’t be subtle about it – being direct is not automatically rude.

    1. Dr. Pepper*

      Be prepared to put them in their place repeatedly. I don’t know what it is about pregnancy, and sometimes weddings, but it seems to make some people lose their minds and forget all their grade school lessons of “keep your hands to yourself” and “don’t ask invasive questions”. Maybe because it’s something visibly happening to the one who is pregnant? After a certain point there’s no hiding it, and some people feel compelled to comment on anything they can see.

      My stock response to invasive questions is, “Why do you need to know?” or “Let’s talk about literally anything else. (Insert subject change.)” Hold your ground and do not give way. Some people may be offended, but that’s their problem because what they’re really saying is, “Wah wah wah, Jane won’t let me do as *I* please and talk about what *I* want. Boo hoo all I wanted to do was share her joy by blathering at her (and possibly touching her),” without any thought at all about Jane’s feelings or wishes.

    2. Cait*

      Yes to all this.

      I just returned from maternity leave after kiddo #2. What never ceases to amaze me is the number of people who feel entitled to comment on my body.

      “You look great!”
      “Your bump is so cute!”
      “Oh you’ve gotten so much bigger!”
      “You’ve dropped a little! Not long now!”

      And now…
      “How’s the feeding going?”
      “Take your time losing the weight” (f you to the person who said that one)
      “Wow, you bounced back!”

      ….and on and on and on.

      My best advice is to not engage in pregnancy talk. If someone starts, politely nod and change the subject. For example, “Yes, I’m excited. Did you see the new TPS report?” Put up those emotional walls and stick to it.

      and congratulations :) It really is an exciting time (outside of work!)

  27. kay*

    Hmm #2 is interesting because I think everyone i know in all the different companies they work at- government, legal, private businesses all call them christmas parties and I haven’t really thought twice about it. I’d be surprised if someone voiced an objection honestly as I feel like it’s almost just a colloquial way to refer to an end of year office party. But this is also likely a less divisive situation in Australia than in America.

  28. Al who is that Al*

    As a humanistic pagan, I love going to “Christmas parties”, I don’t have a belief structure and therefore don’t need to get offended by what religous-ists do. It’s annoying that people in overtly Christian countries need to call it a Christmas party when you take into account all the history behind the actual Mid-Winter celebration long before Christianity was invented but all modern religions have usurped older celebrations and dates anyway.
    Like I say, I turn up anyway to enjoy the celebrations, some people notice the pagan necklace and try and push some religious-ness whereupon it’s fun to tell them about the history. No-one has ever got offended and it normally turns into a discussion of how everyone celebrates.

  29. Not a Blossom*

    If the Christmas party truly is secular, what about asking that it become a “holiday” or “winter” party? In theory, that shouldn’t mandate many (if any) major changes and would make more people feel comfortable.

    1. Coldfeet*

      My workplace does solstice parties, as close to the longest and shortest days of the year. The timing works well. It’s a year end get together in December, and a pre-summer social before everyone is out of the office on random vacation breaks.

  30. SongbirdT*

    Early in my career, I worked on a close-knit team with a woman who was Jehovah’s Witness, and could not celebrate any holiday. But none of us wanted her to be or feel excluded, so for a few years our Christmas party calandar invites were something like “Late December Carry-in and leave early for no reason” so that she could participate.

    Hopefully LW’s company figures out that it’s more important to make sure people feel comfortable and welcomed regardless of their faith tradion than it is to put labels on a thing.

  31. Tardigrade*

    #1 – “I can’t discuss this with you. Dr. Sapirstein said I shouldn’t listen to anyone else’s pregnancy talk or advice.”

    Or for a real suggestion, it should be fine to say that you prefer not to focus on the pregnancy while at work, that it makes you tired, etc. and that be the end of it. But people are awfully pushy about children and pregnancy, and a line I have had to use is, “I’m going to have to leave this conversation since you keep discussing X.”

  32. BishopOfMyra*

    Last year I was working in marketing for a secular community organization serving children, and I was really surprised that for our “Holiday Gift Drive” Boss wanted to lean so heavily on language about Santa, Elves, and things. The year prior, I’d worked with a local business who asked us to strip all that out because their customers might be uncomfortable with it. No sweat, rewrite the copy about joy and giving and got a lot of great gifts for our kids.

    I approached Boss about whether it might be more sensitive to steer toward winter and snowmen, especially as a polite gesture to non-Christians.

    Oh boy. She informed me Santa has nothing to do with Christmas, because Christmas is exclusively about the birth of Jesus. Some people relate Santa to Saint Nicholas, who was an Eastern European pagan myth. Boss further explained her Jewish friends get a visit from Santa every year, PROVING that Santa is not a Christian thing. Finally, if I disagreed, I could “show [her] in the Bible” where Santa makes an appearance.

    I’d started the conversation mildly concerned for our non-Christians and ended the exchange furious and filing a very polite grievance with HR. I’ve seen a lot of comments about the US being “very religious” – If true, experience suggests we are a very religious nation that also lacks in even basic religious literacy.

    1. Emi.*

      Saint Nicholas, who was an Eastern European pagan myth

      ????? St. Nicholas is a historical figure from now-Turkey.

      her Jewish friends get a visit from Santa every year

      Wait, did she mean actual Santa? Like an actual magical guy in a red suit?

      1. BishopOfMyra*

        Not only a historical figure – venerated *as a saint* in several traditions including my own. “Pagan,” wrong. “Eastern European,” wrong. “Myth,” – three for three!!!

        The part about her Jewish friends getting a visit from Santa ended with a winking emoji, so… I can’t be sure how literal this visit was. I was more floored that my Boss apparently was friends with the newly appointed Pope of the Jews, who had the authority to decide normative Jewish practices for all other Jewish people.

        Is it really too much for people to understand that their Jewish/female/African-American/etc friend does *not* speak for all people who share that identity?

        1. Hamtaro*

          Yes, Santa Claus comes partly from Irish pagan myths, but St. Nicholas does not bc he was like, a real guy.

        2. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

          Is it really too much for people to understand that their Jewish/female/African-American/etc friend does *not* speak for all people who share that identity?

          Nope, not going to happen. Didn’t you know that anyone in an ethnic or cultural group is exactly identical to everyone else in that group? except of course the “real Americans”, whichever way the person defines them, who have the privilege of all being unique human beings. I took a week off this year to go to a conference and my boss immediately commented about how, of course, it was a (my country of origin) festival. A few times I mentioned going out with friends, boss comments on how the friends are, of course, from (country of origin). Because, you know, who else would want to spend time with us the weird others, unless it’s at work and they are being paid for it!

          Finally, if I disagreed, I could “show [her] in the Bible” where Santa makes an appearance.

          I get it that the Bible is full of miracles, but even there, I don’t think anyone makes an appearance four hundred years before they are born. Utterly ridiculous.

          I attended a Greek church in the US, and Bishop Nicholas was a huge thing there. It still takes me a while to remember that, for most of the rest of the country, he is a “Eastern European Pagan myth”. (Wouldn’t it have been nice to tell her, “uh, no, you must be thinking of Krampus”?)

          1. BishopOfMyra*

            I bet your boss thought he was being inclusive and sensitive. Ugh. I’m sorry.

            _I get it that the Bible is full of miracles, but even there, I don’t think anyone makes an appearance four hundred years before they are born. Utterly ridiculous._

            Right, but Christians only care about things in the Bible, because the Bible is where Christianity comes from.

            The whole exchange gave me a weird surge of non-Protestant identity that I wasn’t prepared to deal with at work, because bottom line, I don’t need a boss denigrating a saint much less insisting I define my religion based on her sola scriptura principles. “You must be thinking of Krampus,” didn’t come to mind as much as the legend about Saint Nicholas slapping Arius and wondering what he would think about being called a “pagan legend.”

        3. Environmental Compliance*

          “newly appointed Pope of the Jews”

          Thank you for the penguin crackers that are now up my nose.

      1. lawyer*

        Erm…78% of Americans report having some religious affiliation. Only about 3% of Americans identify as atheist, and only slightly more identify as agnostic. This remains a nation where religion is part of identity for the vast majority of people, even if they do not regularly practice.

    2. merp*

      “experience suggests we are a very religious nation that also lacks in even basic religious literacy.”

      Truer words have never been spoken.

  33. Not Today Satan*

    As a religious Christian, I am also offended by people who call Christmas “secular.” (I also avoid most secular trappings of Christmas.)

    (To be clear, I don’t mind if non-Christians (or nonreligious Christians) celebrate it in a non-religious way, but if someone outright claims it’s a secular holiday, it upsets me.)

    1. AvonLady Barksdale*

      Thank you for mentioning this. It’s always been kind of funny and odd to me that this viewpoint gets tossed aside as much as my Jewish viewpoint does.

  34. Loot*

    I can’t help but think that all that the company is actually going to do is to change the name from “Christmas party” to “holiday party” with literally no other changes. Everyone will still refer to it as a Christmas party when talking with each other, the music won’t change, the decoration won’t change, but on the official emails it will say “holiday party.”

    As for the free time, I’d doubt that they’d change it as a policy as a whole, because it’s not actually *free* time, it’s *time for the party.* (One of my previous workplaces had a similar thing, and they refused to change it because they didn’t want people going home, they wanted them to attend the party.)

    So you might be a lot more successful if you try to ask for an exception for yourself rather than changing the whole thing.

  35. Not All*

    #3 is so interesting to me as a federal employee (as opposed to private). We create all sorts of “for internal use only” documents that then find would be helpful in other offices when we move on and those are shared freely. For example, one office I was in had these wonderful Excel sheets that had every step of a particular process on it along with the regulatory ‘wait’ periods (public comment, federal register notice, etc) and you could fill in how long you expected each of the other steps to take. At the bottom, it would calculate out when you could expect to be done. Since these were typically 2-5 year projects, it was great for keeping track of whether you were on schedule and to make sure newer people didn’t miss a step. When I changed offices and discovered they didn’t have anything similar, I immediately emailed and friend & asked her to send me that form. I’ve asked / been asked for those types of internal documents dozens of times and it’s not a big deal at all.

    1. LQ*

      Totally agree. Part of that is that those documents (unless identified as private/nonpublic/classified in some form) are generally public documents and could be requested. I’ve had people at other agencies and even other kinds of government entities ask me for things and I’d never think twice about giving most of them out.

      I do think if it was a large private company and they were just in different areas it might be much more reasonable to pass them around, but from company to company you could be giving a competitor an edge so you’d want to be more hesitant.

      1. Stone Cold Bitch*

        Yes, I work in the public sector and basic forms, templates and good examples like this are shared all the time. The reasoning being that we are all funded by taxes and sharing resources will benefit our taxpayers in the end.

    2. Lilo*

      I think this is why it’s so important for OP to run it up the ladder. It’s possible this is totally fine, but it’s also possible that this is a huge no no fireable offense. It really depends on the individual employer. Just talk to your current boss, let them know what’s going on. It’s a strong CYA move as well in case former boss complains.

    3. Hermyown*

      But technically you still work for the same employer, the federal government, so I would argue that’s still internal use.

    4. Genny*

      IME, “For Official Use Only” within the federal government means “don’t share it outside of the government”. I’ve never seen any issues with sharing FOUO docs around departments, but you do need to request permission before sharing them with individuals/entities outside the government even though the documents are technically subject to a FOIA request and thus “public”. The LW is facing the latter situation (someone outside her company wants the document), not the former (another office within the company wants the document).

  36. nnn*

    I absolutely agree that you shouldn’t have to work if you don’t go to the party, but if you aren’t able to convince them, you’ll probably get better results for future years if you work through this year’s party. Historically I’ve found the most effective way to convince people that I really don’t celebrate xmas is to work on xmas/during the xmas party, with a tone of “Well, of course I can’t go to a Christmas party!” as though it’s so glaringly obvious you’re surprised they even think it’s in question, as though there’s no other possible outcome of the choice between working or xmas party. For some reason, people can get really uncomfortable with the idea that they’ve “made” someone work during xmas.

    Also, does your workplace have other parties throughout the year where people have to either attend or work? If yes, it might be more compelling to push back against this policy for the other parties, especially ones where you want to attend/don’t mind attending.

    Also, one way to push back against “Christmas is secular therefore you should attend the party” is “Orgies are secular too, but my values don’t allow me to attend those either.” (If you don’t want to mention orgies at work, you can replace with something else that your values prohibit.)

    1. Holly*

      I disagree with the last bit – the implication is not that Christmas is “bad” or against any sort of moral value… it’s just a holiday she doesn’t celebrate.

    2. Personal Best In Consecutive Days Lived*

      You could use an extreme example too like, “Skydiving is secular but I don’t want to do that.”
      For lots of people skydiving is wonderful but it will still be an obvious example of ‘Oh yeah, not everyone does all the things.’

  37. SigneL*

    For #2, are there others at work that you can push back with? I am assuming that there are only 2 choices (skip work/go to the party, or work – did I read that right?). A group might get better results than one person.

    1. ThursdaysGeek*

      I read it as three options and was really confused. 1) skip work. 2) go to the party and then go home. 3) work all day. In that case, why not just skip work? But I guess everyone else is reading it as only two options.

  38. CupcakeCounter*

    That is awesome that you are getting such great responses to your request for feedback! For the coffee meeting in addition to the interview attire and mindset, I would definitely try to pay for the beverages because you absolutely recognize that they are taking time out of their day to help you out.

  39. Lilo*

    For LW1 – It’s pretty easy to shut down the baby talk. You just go “I need a break from talking about it, I feel like it’s everything these days” and parents should get it.

    I did, however, find that having coworkers who were parents was a HUGE help, especially since I was one of the first of my friend group to have a kid. The internet is full of people yelling “BOO!” at you, and having someone to tell you “Nope, totally normal. It will be fine” is pretty great.

  40. Marie*

    #3 – I had a similar problem with a colleague that left our office. She would constantly email me asking me for templates and documents. She had worked at the company for 10 years and I think just didn’t know how to start anything from scratch. We got along fine while she worked here, but we were not especially close, so I figured she was asking me instead of others she worked more closely with because I was the youngest and she thought I could be the most easily manipulated. After a few requests, I told my supervisor, who told our director, who I guess put a stop to it because I never heard from her again. Don’t put yourself at risk – if items are confidential, you can’t share them with her.

  41. Smarty Boots*

    OP #1. If Alison’s very good suggestions do not work, practice saying this calmly and coldly, with a blood-freezingly direct stare: Stop talking about my body right now.

    Then walk away. That includes anyone above you, btw. No one should be doing this.

  42. Liz*

    I have noticed that a lot of the suggested responses to dilemmas on this website include the phrase “I’m sorry.” I recommend avoiding that! Why not (in the case above) saying “unfortunately , this document is marked for internal distribution only, even though you created it”?

    1. Sienna*

      I agree. In some cases, it can help. But I think there’s ways of being polite and even softening language without resorting to always having to apologize or accept blame.

  43. henrietta*

    I worked at a place once where the lunchroom conversation so often revolved around labor and delivery, I stopped eating in. I mean, I get it’s bonding and all, but episiotomy and pizza are sort of contraindicated, at least for me.

  44. Database Developer Dude*

    #1 – I hate to say it, but you almost have to be “that bitch” at work if you don’t want to share details of your
    personal life. I’m a man, and I’ve had to outright ignore people asking questions they had no business asking.

    #2 – I’m coming at this from the point of view as a graduate of the Army’s Equal Opportunity Leader’s Course.
    The OP is Jewish, and doesn’t see a Christmas holiday as secular. No one else gets to tell the OP what his/her
    religion is, especially if they’re not of the same religion. OP is not asking for any changes to the party, he/she
    just wants the same treatment. They’d be fine with working up until the end of the party, then going home early
    just like the party-goers. There’s nothing wrong with that, and push-back on that is tone-deaf. While I get that
    OP is in Japan, and cultural norms are different, we need to NOT forget that OP’s not saying “you change”, they’re saying “I’m not participating in this non-work activity. Please treat me the same as those who are”. That’s a lot different from demanding the name of the party be changed. Lots of you are assuming things the OP hasn’t said, and some of you who are doing that are the same people who jumped in my ish when I was gobsmacked about the boss that wanted the new employee to change her name and I was very uncomplimentary about the boss’ intentions. Pot. Kettle. Black.

    Anything that’s deliberately exclusionary has the potential to be a morale-killer for some at work. There was an office where a squad leader demanded that a devout Muslim Soldier participate in a Christmas celebration..and this was active duty Army while deployed. The Soldier was perfectly willing to work while everyone else was celebrating. The squad leader wasn’t having it, and it turned out to be a big mess.

    #3 – “No. I won’t risk my job for you” Enough said. If it ends the friendship, it wasn’t worth saving. Friends don’t
    ask friends to put their livelihoods on the line.

    #4 – WHERE ARE YOU FINDING THESE COMPANIES??????????????? Hell, I would have just been happy not to have the idiot that outright admitted to me that I wasn’t being considered for a position I was more than qualified for, and that the reason was because I’m also in the Army Reserve. Honest, constructive feedback is something that I haven’t seen from the start of when I transitioned off Army active duty in July 2001 through March 2014.

    #5 – I must confess I’m a little jealous. I kind of like Halloween, and don’t mind the celebrations, but when I’ve got
    work to do, I’ve got work to do. I’m teleworking today, but if I weren’t, the office I normally go to with this gig is having a costume contest, and I’ve got the perfect one: black suit, white shirt, black tie, and black Ray-Ban sunglasses. Yes, I’m Agent J from MiB!

      1. Database Developer Dude*

        I told the guy who was interviewing me, and he hemmed and hawed about it, and tried to cover it up. No matter, that company’s gone out of business, and I’m with a much better company.

  45. LGC*

    So…I’m actually wondering whether there’s a culture clash with LW2 going on! It sounds like the LW isn’t in the US, where saying “Merry Christmas” is implicitly Christian and “Happy holidays” is implicitly secular. I’m guessing that in their current country, there may not be that sort of divide.

    It’s not that LW2 is wrong at all, it’s that their work may just not get it. (Which…they should. But it looks like they don’t get it.) I think it’s worth a shot at explaining their feelings about it and where they’re coming from, if they feel comfortable doing so (Although I have a hunch that this could very easily go south.)

    1. fposte*

      There’s no indication that the OP isn’t from that country, though; it’s her culture too. And a lot of U.S. people don’t get it either, though, or accept that things divide so neatly.

        1. LGC*

          I missed the comments! But even if she WAS native to the country, I think the point still stands. Her feelings are out of step with the majority, and they sounded a little oblivious to that fact.

  46. Serin*

    I work with people of many nations and religions. When I first started here, they had a “winter” party that was held in December and featured Christmas decorations and music. Then last year someone had the bright idea of moving it to the middle of January.

    I think that’s a terrific solution, not only because it removes any temptation to have it be a Christmas-not-Christmas party, but also because there are tons of things going on in December, and January is a bleak boring expanse of snow. I love having something to look forward to.

    I celebrate Christmas myself, but it’s like a massively dense star that pulls everything towards it, so that if you do anything Halloween and New Year’s, your dog-grooming party has a tendency to become a Christmas dog-grooming party whether you like it or not. I say if the intention is for an event to be secular, move it to another month altogether.

    1. OyHiOh*

      A winter party in January sounds amazing. One needs something to look forward too when there’s nothing but cold and snow and ice for weeks on end.

      1. Torch*

        Am I the only one who looks forward to weeks on end of cold and dark and snow and ice? Yes? I’ll show myself out (into the snowdrifts).

    2. Anon From Here*

      I’ve worked with an organization that deliberately has its winter holiday party in January. Makes it so much easier to book a venue, too!

    3. Torch*

      One of my companies switched from a December party to a January party and it was the most depressing thing I’ve ever been to. They half-assed it because now that it wasn’t a “holiday” party, it didn’t have to be as much fun as the “holiday” party was. I always looked forward to the December party but the January party was just this…thing… I had to go to to make an appearance. Everyone just looked really tired and annoyed.

      1. Le’Veon Bell is seizing the means of production*

        Awww, that’s so sad! I do feel like that’s because they botched it, though, not because the idea is inherently bad. I also would prefer more orgs move their holiday parties to Jan or Feb, especially since there’s a dearth of federal holidays that time of year and, as others have mentioned, it’s much easier to book venues and pick days that people are actually available!

    4. CupcakeCounter*

      My husband’s company does this as well although they do it because it is a lot cheaper and they happily subscribe to the stereotype of the cheap Dutch (and the owners are 100% Dutch). What is funny is that they really aren’t all that cheap – they just want to put the party money into stuff the employees actually want (good food, cash and prizes, etc…). I think it also times out with the conclusion of their fiscal year end stuff being completed so they can announce the profit sharing percentage.

  47. OyHiOh*

    Without derailing explicitly into politics/current events, those of us who live in the US and are religious and not Christian are feeling rather raw at the moment. LW #2, in a secular country that has adopted “Christmas” as a sort of fun secular holiday, you’re probably not going to be able to get much traction. Your employers simply can’t/won’t understand how “Christmas” and faith are wound up in each other in the US and western Europe. They don’t know about the decades of “keep Christ in Christmas” campaigns or any of the other appeals to emotion and faith.

    If you have the option of PTO and flexibility to use it, I’d use the PTO (or conveniently be sick that day if you have sick leave) rather than pick between attending party or working while everyone else has fun.

    (I also have feeling and opinions about hiding and assimilation that are not at all relevant to a work question on this topic and will simply suggest that the November issue of Smithsonian Magazine has several provocative articles that readers should pick up at their earliest convenience.)

  48. copier queen*

    OP3 – I am dealing with a similar situation, but in the reverse – my boss of several years left, took electronic copies of all “her” documents with her, as well as my copies of all of my electronic files. Then she asked me multiple times to delete all the files on my hard drive, and NEVER to use my electronic files again because she did not want to “help” my new boss. She went to the trouble of getting me a new computer, buying her old computer from my company, and figured that would make the files disappear forever. She did not count on the company having deep network backups of everything. In truth, I rarely use my electronic files from my time with her, because my new boss wants me to do things differently, but it did get really awkward there for a while. The worst part was that I really like my old boss and still have a good relationship with her, but she still doesn’t understand that ALL of our files are the company’s property, NOT our personal property.
    Alison’s advice is spot-on.

  49. Governmint Condition*

    I work in a state government agency (in the US). When we have our “holiday party,” employees who attend can go home early straight from the party. Those who don’t have to work the whole day, or charge time to PTO. The kicker here is that since it’s a government agency, people who attend have to buy tickets ($20-$60, lower-level union members pay less because the union partially covers the cost). This means if you want the partial day off, you have to pay for it. Since there are some people here whose religions prohibit attending almost any sort of celebrations for anything, I wonder what would happen if they tried to claim that this was unequal treatment based on faith.

    1. OyHiOh*

      I once had a government office tell me to stop complaining because Christmas trees are totally secular. And also, they couldn’t acknowledge Hanukkah or any other December/mid winter festival because **that** would be a religious display whereas the trees (yes, multiple) were totally non religious and simply “festive.” I cannot give that statement nearly the amount of side eye it deserves . . . . . . However, it’s pretty common in US federal government. Tress are festive and tots secular and anything else is expressly forbidden because symbols of other festivals are explicitly religious.

      1. Former Retail Manager*

        I am a Federal employee and yes, you’re right, we actually have written guidance as to what decorations are and are not secular and what we’re allowed to put up. I personally could care less what anyone decorates their cube with. Throw up a tree, baby Jesus, menorah, or statue of Grumpy Cat. Do it at Christmas or Hanukkah or Ramadan or any other holiday you feel like. As long as you are kind to me and don’t try to “convert” me, we’re cool. All this holiday stuff is too much. At least we don’t have holiday parties of any sort so that element of drama is taken out of the mix.

  50. Scrooge McLawyer*

    With regard to #3, it may also be industry specific — As a lawyer, when I left my first firm, I was allowed to take any of my work product with me, regardless of the level of confidentiality. While I didn’t take everything, I have emailed colleagues asking for documents I worked on that I didn’t originally take and have even emailed old firm’s IT department to go into my email at the firm and pull stuff for me. Obviously not the case in all worlds, but many of those documents are super confidential but I’m still entitled to them. Not telling this story to say that you can definitely send, but to underscore that it’s probably worth asking your manager, as Alison suggested.

      1. Scrooge McLawyer*

        Hahah Didn’t even think of it, but perhaps I should have responded to that one, too. Definitely cancel the Christmas party. Humbug!

  51. Rollergirl09*

    I’m not going to comment on the religious aspect of the party. I’m responding to the “not fair-ism” of the commenters. This is one of those this is why we can’t have nice things issues. The company is trying to reward you for your work all year with a chance to let loose a little during the work day. This is an event that probably costs them a fair amount of money, so they want their employees there. Letting people leave after the party makes sense, especially if alcohol is being consumed. You are not entitled to a free vacation day because you want to opt out. This is why so many companies are stepping away from stuff like this all together. I’m non-exempt due to being in an industry that requires a ton of OT. On Christmas Eve the big bosses will usually say we can head out 1-2 hours early as a perk for working on a day where so many people ask off. We log those hours as miscellaneous instead of PTO. And every year someone who took PTO that day argues that they should’ve only had to use 6 hours PTO instead of 8. Nope, that’s not how it works. Again, it was offered as a perk for not taking the day off when so many people requested it. Management has the discretion to incentive us as they see fit. Crying “not fair” is so exhausting. OP’s situation is a little different though because it is a religious objection. However if you’re going to claim that sort of thing, it better be done consistently or it will be seen as an attempt to obtain a free day off.

    As for the poster whose former boss is requesting internal use documents, it seems she thinks you’re the person she can most likely manipulate into doing it. It is likely a terminable offense. Tell your manager.

    1. Psyche*

      The PTO thing is a different issue though. Getting the extra time off is a reward for working. The opposite is the case in this letter. The people who DON’T work get extra time off. If it was attend the party or work and then everyone gets to leave a few hours early it would be different. Deciding to reward and incentivize only employees who share your religious views is a problem.

    2. AvonLady Barksdale*

      Oh please. This is not what this is about. “But what about our paaaaarty?” Fine. Remove the Christmas trappings, throw some fake snow on the tables, serve drinks, let everyone go home early. No one is anti-party. The idea that a party that makes someone uncomfortable should come with a side of “suck it up so we can have fun” is pretty dismissive of the OP’s concerns.

      1. Rollergirl09*

        I said up front that I was referring to the commenters and not the OP. Several commenters have called out the unfairness based on the obligation to attend the party for any reason. If I’m required to be at an event of any kind for work, then it is a work day regardless of whether or not I’m performing my job duties at that time.

    3. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      I take PTO on early leave days, too, with the full knowledge that I will have taken 8 hours of PTO for a six-hour day. It is what it is. I know what I am getting into. OP’s situation is different, where they are being offered a whole day (not 2 hours) PTO, but only on the condition that they come in for a couple of hours on that day to celebrate Christmas. This is… so bizarre and, yes, unfair.

  52. Former Seventh-Day Adventist*

    I was raised in a seventh-day Adventist household, and we were not allowed to participate in the “secular” part of Christmas (no santa, no tree, no gift exchanges, etc). I practiced early on in my career, and something like attending a Christmas party would be off limits for me.

    I would speak to the organizer and say “I cannot attend a Christmas party for religious reasons, and I’m sure other employees are in the same situation. Rather than work a full day, could we be released at the same time as the Christmas party ends for the other employees who celebrate Christmas? It’s a real hit to our morale to miss out on a perk purely due to our religious requirements”

    I occasionally got the secular argument (which, in my case, was the exact problem), and I followed up with “my religion views things like Christmas trees, Santa, holiday colors/wreaths as religious symbols, so even if it was called a holiday party and there was no mention of Christ, I would not be able to participate due to my religion”. That usually worked with reasonable people, and most offices were happy to have me cover phones/emails during that time anyway.

    I’ve since left that church and now ironically LOVE Christmas since I couldn’t participate growing up, but I absolutely understand the frustration of being a religious minority in December.

    1. Four Lights*

      On the flip side, I believe Jehovah’s Witnesses can’t participate in any holiday celebration, religious or otherwise.

      1. Former Seventh-Day Adventist*

        Yeah it’s a similar idea (and just like many religions, different families have their own interpretations – some do put up Christmas trees, some don’t). It’s precisely BECAUSE Christmas is a religious holiday that we couldn’t participate, and I was able to navigate it without too much push back.

        I personally don’t think that anything is wrong with having that celebration at the holidays given that the majority of the employees do celebrate Christmas, but tying a coveted perk like leaving early to something that some people can’t participate in on religious grounds is the issue, and I hope that the OP can navigate this successfully, especially if they frame it as “I can’t participate” rather than “I don’t want to participate”

    2. Holly*

      Thanks for sharing – your response was well worded and I’m glad your office took it seriously.

      My office has a “year end party” that isn’t even referred to as a holiday party presumably so it’s not a celebration of any holidays in particular… while it does come off as oversensitive (and there’s plenty of tongue in cheek jokes) I hope it is more inclusive to those who don’t want to be celebrating any holiday.

  53. LadyPhoenix*

    If this was—say—Japan, Christmas can be secular (they pretty much treat it like Valentine’s Day).

    But I assume This party is held NOT in Japan but in a country that is predominantly Christian: USA or somewhere in Europe.

    And that being the case, no, Christmas ain’t secular when it is in these parts. Too much of the music is about the nativity scene, too many traditions are highly religious in nature, and even the movies can be spiritual (see “Home Alone” which includes The protagonist praying but also a conversation held in church… which is very well filmed btw).

    Not to mention a lot of the traditions are appropriated/stolen from other traditions, which adds its own can of worms.

    It is unfair and tacky to force people to choose either work or a not-work party (excluding networking parties, cause those are just work extensions to me)… and doubly so if the party is routed in a religion that not everyone practices.

    1. Phoenix Programmer*

      It actually specifies a country that treats Christmas as a secular holiday which lends to believe it is a country like Japan.

  54. zapateria la bailarina*

    #3 – I’d come off a little bit stronger and remove the “I don’t think” wording. This response sounds wishy-washy to me and the former manager will just insist that since she created them it’s fine for you to send them to her. Tell her that you’re sorry, but the documents are confidential and you’re not allowed to share them with anyone outside the company. If she pushes back, emphasize that this is company policy and say something like, “I must adhere to the company’s confidentiality policies. I’m sure you understand.”

    I would also forward the most recent request to your manager, so the company is aware of this.

  55. Rivakonneva*

    OP #5–Can you come in early one day, before anyone else arrives? You might trip and unplug the music, or the cord could get damaged. Or if it is a CD it might get broken? All accidentally, of course. :)

      1. Dragoning*

        Would just unplugging while no one else is around really be so bad? If you didn’t damage anything like the other suggestions, just unplugged it…well, sometimes it take a long time for people to fix that problem even though nothing happened.

    1. It's a Bird, It's a Plane, It's SuperAnon*

      You’d be amazed at the number of people that can’t “fix” their computer mouse when it gets unplugged.

  56. Czhorat*

    OP3 – Whenever I leave a job, I make sure to delete any documents from whatever cloud backups and personal devices where they might lurk, whether or not I created them.

    As others here have said, confidential or not, those documents belong to their creator. There’s nothing at all wrong with your saying “I’m sorry, I’m not allowed to send those outside of the company. I’m sure you understand.”

    Be polite about it, but be firm. If they want someone else’s permission, let THEM do the work of contacting the right people in the company from whom to request it. For a former supervisor to be asking this of you is, to my mind, egregious behaviour. They should know that it’s wrong and are taking advantage of your past relationship.

    1. Name Required*

      That’s funny — if there are any documents that have useful formatting or non-proprietary references (like resources I culminated on marketing best practices from other courses/articles/etc.), I make sure to save a copy before I’ve left previous jobs so that I don’t have to recreate the wheel in my next job. I’m a project manager who has worked across multiple industries, and there’s nothing company-specific about what I’m reusing nor am I sharing information with competitors. It’s come in handy to have 15 different examples of how to communicate certain types of info though, especially with clients that have different learning styles.

  57. MatKnifeNinja*

    She has a much better shot (though a small one) asking for an exception for her religious beliefs in Japan, than any change morphing this into Winter Party.

    What I hope doesn’t happen (which happened to my friend) is OP getting grilled on how Jewish she is to get this upset over a “secular” holiday party. My friend is a Reform Jew who doesn’t keep Kosher, or Shabbat (to the extent of say a Orthodox Jew) etc…her Japanese boss couldn’t understand how a she was the same religion as the Lubavitcher men in the company. They never when to x, y, z and never at anything but Kosher food.

    OP make it about your religious beliefs. I don’t think you need to explain any further than that. Especially if there is a chance to have it morph into “How Jewish are you eating treif and not keeping Shabbat? Should you be this butt chapped about it?”

    Japan is all about collective harmony. Good luck.

  58. Hey Karma, Over here.*

    RE: The secular Christmas party. It is really hard to get people to understand. I was part of the party committee for years. I was proud of how I created non-secular artwork for the Holiday Party in December. I looked back a year or so later at one of the invitations I’d designed: a green pine tree, under a bright yellow star. OMG. THAT was a kick in the Hanukkah balls. I was convinced it was a winter forest scene. Nobody ever said anything, I think that after reading AAM for a year, I’d become more aware of things like this.

  59. Hamstergirl*

    OP 2 – I definitely think you should talk to your superiors about changing it from just a Christmas party, they probably just didn’t even think about how it comes across- but I’d go into that conversation with some ideas about how they can improve and create a holiday party environment that is welcoming to all people. People are much more open to critique and change if you come into it with ideas and suggestions.

  60. kristinyc*

    Oh this post is so timely. I’m 18 weeks pregnant. I have coworkers who ask me how I’m ~feeling~ every single time we see each other. Multiple times a day. Someone I barely know called me “Mama.” That same person commented on my “growing belly” when I walked into a meeting of 10 people.

    It’s amazing how people forget how to talk to you once you’re pregnant.

    1. Emi.*

      I got “How are you ~feeling~? Probably tired of being asked that, right? Haha!” MULTIPLE TIMES FROM THE SAME PERSON, AUGH.

      1. kristinyc*

        Yep! I usually just say “I’m great, how are you?” (And treat it like they just asked in a more general way). Sometimes I say I’m tired, since that’s usually the case. :)

        I’ve had people ask me how I’m ~feeling~ at a meeting in the morning, and the SAME PEOPLE ask me a few hours later in a different meeting. Sigh.

  61. Genny*

    LW 2, will anyone be monitoring your attendance during the day of the party? In my experience, office holiday parties tend to be open house, potluck events. The work day still technically ends at 5:15, but no one’s monitoring that and it’s understood, though never verbalized, that most people will leave before then. Is it possible that your work has similar unspoken rules (I’ve never had an office host an off-site holiday party during the work day, so maybe that makes things different)? If so, you might not even need a formal exemption to leave early.

  62. Lola*

    I always wear Hannukah earrings my mom made me to holiday parties just to remind ppl we don’t all celebrate Christmas. I did once have a party where the director wanted to sing carols but everyone else was like, no. I’ve also been fortunate to live in NYC for years. Now I’m somewhere else it’ll be interesting to see how it goes.

  63. Melody*

    Large numbers of Christians would also be/are offended at the idea that Christmas is a secular holiday. You can hear loud choruses of the complaining about it each year.

    It’s typically people who don’t practice a religion but enjoy the holiday who want it to be secular.

  64. Phoenix Programmer*

    Just tossing it out there. But if your office does throw a holiday party please don’t take it on yourself to rebrand as s Christmas party.

    We have a super chill catered lunch with no decorations each November that comes with a bonus. Our admin decided to call it a Christmas party and now it’s spreading. Annoying.

  65. LilySparrow*

    OP#1, congratulations. Being firm, civil, and consistent with tiring, pushy, relentless people who don’t respect your boundaries or seem to understand basic manners is the universe’s way of preparing you for parenthood.

  66. Silicon Valley Girl*

    On #2 it’s so very simple for the office to call it a holiday party, even if they have red & green decorations a la Christmas or even a tree / wreath / stockings / blah blah blah. Just renaming the event shows a little more welcome to people who may celebrate different things or nothing at all in December. That’s literally the least they can do if they insist on saying employees either attend & get a shorter workday or have to work a full schedule while others get out early.

  67. MatKnifeNinja*


    I’m tossing this out here.

    You can always contact your local rabbi (preferably), or the one back home and get a ruling on a situation. You explain your situation, and they will find the laws in the Torah/Talmud that yay or nay your issues.

    A quick Google search shows at least 3 Reform congregations. I know there are Chabad Houses in Japan.

    You are not the first Jew working in Japan with this issue. I’m sure the Rabbis have answered this question before. You may get “Go, these symbols mean nothing to you, and it’s considered a team building event”, to “Even if it said Holiday Party it’s still has evergreens with white twinkle lights and wreaths with red bows. You should just work your usual hours. These are the laws governing this situation.”

    The Rabbis in Japan are in a much better position to rule because they also live in the culture.

    I don’t know if you are just mad about the time off, and the unfairness of it all, or are struggling to figure out as a Jew, should you even go. My Orthodox friends are forever calling their Rabbis about this thing or that. The Rabbi’s word is the final say. It’s sort of nice to have a higher up give the yay or nay, and make that religious based decision for you.

    You got nothing to lose with a call or email.

    Good luck!

  68. LadyCop*

    #2 Ummm As a Christian…(who comes from a Jewish family) Christmas is not secular! I get it. It’s becoming more and more of a thing for believes of different faiths, and believers of no faith at all etc… to celebrate Christmas or the ‘holidays’ or whatever at the Solstice time of year…

    but it’s really insulting to see your religious beliefs being dismissed so easily just so other people can get presents without being offended. My uncle literally heard two women complaining that “Christians ruin Christmas for everyone” which is something I hear echoed a lot…as if the whole notion has been co-oped as a new holiday.

    I am a bit confused by the letter, other than it being called a Christmas party, I’m not sure how it’s not secular…as in, had they called it a holiday party and changed nothing else would the OP be fine with that, or did I miss something? Regardless, I’m dreading the false friendliness and peace on earth I’m going to have to project and swallow for the next two months.

  69. Heather*

    OP #1 – Throughout my first pregnancy I also got lots of questions nearly every day in the break room. It got real old answering the same questions over and over. But it’s a life event that happens maybe once or a couple times in a person’s life, so people are going to have some basic level of curiosity. There are just some basic questions that everyone is going to ask (when are you due, boy or girl, are you guys excited????, are your parents excited???, how much time are you taking off, what are you doing for daycare, etc…), and they’re just trying to make polite conversation while waiting for the microwave but don’t realize you’ve answered the same question 100 times this week. So I think it would come off as standoffish to shut down any conversation without the bare minimum of smalltalk. I didn’t have any coworkers who wanted to get up in my business at any deeper level than that, but from reading this blog, I get that they are out there! For the averagely curious coworker, I think you could head off an interrogation by volunteering a few basic pieces of information you’re comfortable with and then shut it down (“Baby girl is due in January, we are very excited, but it’s all a bit overwhelming, so while I’m at work I’m going to try not to think about it. Thanks for understanding!”).

  70. Out to lunch lady*

    As a Christian that does not celebrate Christmas, I routinely stay at the office and work when people attend office Christmas parties. I am used to it and accept the fact that I’m working while others are partying.

    You could mention that not everyone is comfortable attending a Christmas party. Maybe next year, there will be a “winter party” or “end of year party” instead.

    Better to avoid the party than to go somewhere where you’d be uncomfortable.

    1. Lady Whackamole*

      An end of year party would solve SO many problems. And it could actually be something that ties in to work (celebrate the past year’s successes, toast going forward next year, etc.).

  71. Villanelle*

    I feel very sorry for the posters of letters 1, 3-5 as letter 2 has unsurprisingly dominated the dialogue.

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