can I refuse to put up Christmas decorations at work?

A reader writes:

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

I answer this question over at Inc. today, where I’m revisiting letters that have been buried in the archives here from years ago. You can read it here.

{ 96 comments… read them below }

  1. AK*

    This seems like the question about not dressing up at Halloween, where putting in a halfhearted effort might be best if only for the sake of not having to explain yourself over and over again. I do celebrate Christmas but still tend to stick to winter decorations in the office and no one’s ever said anything about it, putting up a chain of snowflakes at the front desk might be enough to satisfy the demand without being out of step with everyone else.

    1. Ihmmy*

      I stick to more winter themed decor than xmas specific ones, I tend to snag all the snowflakes from our bin of decor and put that up on the front. I also work in the reception area and 1) my christmas isn’t religious plus 2) this way it’s less about one specific winter holiday tradition at least. It’s not perfect but it’s a little less rude than focusing solely on christmas (she says, playing her xmas playlist…)

  2. I'm A Little Teapot*

    The very fact that it’s the front office, where guests are going to show up, suggests to me that the LW may not have a choice. It’s a very different thing to decline to decorate your own desk/cube/office, vs to decline to decorate what is the public facing portion of the office.

    1. Où est la bibliothèque?*

      Maybe she could ask someone else to decorate? It’s not a huge request (would just have to be “I’m not quite in the mood”) and while she’d still have to be surrounded by them, she might be able to add a little emotional distance.

      1. Falling Diphthong*

        This is a good idea–there may well be someone who is itching for the chance to burn some creative energy with a llamas-in-wreaths-on-sharks decorating scheme.

        1. HappySnoopy*

          You realize I’m desperately trying to picture this now. Are the llamas wearing wreaths? Are sharks weraing wreaths and the llamas using them as harnesses–with the bow ends as reins? So many llama wreath shark combos…

          1. BenAdminGeek*

            It’s a live shark, with wreaths draped on the shark, with llamas done in a flannelgraph-style draped on the wreaths. Obviously.

      2. Liane*

        I like the ides of having someone else do the decorating, if it must be done, which I think might be the case in a lobby. Alison’s winter theme suggestions are a good choice.
        (FTR, I have a great deal of sympathy for the LW and anyone Just Not Feeling X Holiday. Oftener than not, I don’t feel Thanksgiving.)

        Regardless of who does the decorating, here’s a few places I thought of to minimize what LW has to see.
        If LW’s desk is like a lot of the reception desks I’ve seen, it probably has a solid front to about 3-4 foot high. That would be prime decorating real estate that LW wouldn’t have to look at most of the day, possibly also behind her, high on the wall. And if the office must have a tree For Reasons, a corner is a good spot, and it could be a corner LW doesn’t face.

          1. Laoise*

            The last time I was pushed to decorate, even though I had religious reasons not to, I did a giant WINTER IS COMING and a tree covered with “ornaments” that were photos of everyone who died in the books.

            That was before the TV show got to the Red Wedding.

            Next year, Christmas was optional and staff were reminded to respect the beliefs of people who don’t celebrate.

            I like to think that was me.

  3. Foreign Octopus*

    Out of curiosity, if you can refuse on religious grounds, does that mean you can refuse because you’re an atheist? I’m not sure how the law works (not American) but would non-religious people be covered by the religious discrimination act?

    1. Thornus67*

      I’m not sure if this would be covered under America’s varying anti-discrimination laws, but if the workplace is required to comply with anti-discrimination laws, and said laws include not discriminating on the basis of religion, then discriminating against a person because he was an atheist (or even just non-religious) would violate those anti-discrimination laws.

    2. Hey Karma, Over here.*

      I would imagine you would not have to go as far as state your beliefs. In a better, if not perfect world, one should simply be allowed to state, “that is not my belief, so I don’t wish to participate.” I think framing it as, not your belief, versus not something I believe makes the case without opening a door to debate/discussion.

    3. AK*

      I think it would depend on whether the company was trying to force you to decorate for religious or secular Christmas. Christmas is a federal holiday in the US and courts have upheld that it’s a matter of cultural significance and is largely secularized, which is why it doesn’t go against the freedom of religion clause in the US constitution. If you were being asked to put up a nativity, I’d say that yes an atheist would be covered, but maybe not Santa and reindeer? That’s wild speculation though

      1. Esme Squalor*

        Eh… I get that you’re speaking to this as a legal issue, and you’re probably correct on that front, I don’t think Christmas can exist as a secular holiday in any country where Christianity is the dominant religion. In Japan, Christmas is fully a secularized holiday similar to Valentine’s Day, because it’s largely celebrated by practitioners of Shinto and Buddhism, but that kind of secularization of the holiday just isn’t possible in the U.S.

        1. Screenwriter/Mom*

          I agree. “Christmas is secular” is just another argument by an oblivious Christian majority to force their religious holiday on those of us who aren’t Christian. The “secular” celebrations include Nativity Scenes, carols that are actually devotional hymns (“O Holy Night” “O Come All Ye Faithful” “Silent Night, Holy Night,” “For Unto Us a Child is Born” etc etc), Angel decorations, and on and on. The very name Christmas contains the name of the Christian “lord.” I don’t mind stringing up a few lights on my own, they’re pretty, and I’ve had a tree some years, but geez, don’t tell me it’s “non religious” in nature when it’s plainly a Christian holiday.

          1. AK*

            You and I have been to very different types of secular celebrations. Mine are all Frosty the snowman, Santa and reindeer, and gingerbread houses with generic Christmas pop soundtracks. Anyone who says they’re having a secular event with nativity scenes and hymns is just lying.

            1. Legal Beagle*

              As a person of a non-Christian faith, I don’t find Christmas to be secular. It’s pretty alienating to be repeatedly told by people of the dominant faith that their religious holiday is not, *really* religious, so minority faiths should just be cool and go along with it.

              1. Not Until after Christmas*

                Christmas trees are not religious and have nothing to do with Christ. Neither does Santa, elves, Rudolph, etc. Christmas coincides with the winter solstice. Many Christians ignore all of that and focus on advent and the nativity, and many non-Christians ignore all of that and focus on the fun stuff. It has whatever meaning is ascribed to it, or not. Christmas is a worldwide event with secular and non-secular aspects. I had a Christmas tree and gave gifts when I was a Buddhist.

                1. Bobo*

                  They’re still religious, though, because they are the trappings associated with a religious holiday. It doesn’t matter what their origins are – they’ve been incorporated into the standard Christmas package and are therefore part of a religious celebration. The fact that you still participated as a Buddhist doesn’t make them not Christian, it just means you were a Buddhist celebrating Christmas.

                  You also don’t get to tell others that they should feel comfortable celebrating another religion because you were.

          2. Jules the 3rd*

            Those are not secular. They fall under the ‘religious Christmas’ part of the law. Any govt group that uses the religious imagery of Christmas must also use the religious imagery anyone else requests, and employers have some limits too. Any business that uses them is really taking a chance.

            The only reason I haven’t pushed back with my workplace is because they’ve avoided the religious imagery. There’s a tree and lights (which are pagan symbols), no angels, no stars. I don’t love it, but it clearly falls under the ‘secular christmas’ side of the winter celebration.

            1. Hermione*

              Hah, I never thought of stars as being Christian. Coming from a former socialist country, I always associate them with communism (which is against religion).

      2. Czhorat*

        Which is highly, highly unreasonable and unfair to those who have disparate belief systems. Just because a firm legally CAN force employees to participate in “secular Christmas” (which is still Christmas and less secular than we’d like to believe) doesn’t mean that they SHOULD.

        It’s not a hill on which to die, but a respectful request to not participate should, but a decent employer, be met with acceptance and an open mind.

        1. AK*

          Yeah, “can they” and “should they” are different questions. I don’t think anyone would disagree that the answer to “should they” is a pretty easy no.

        2. Not Until after Christmas*

          Jehovah Witnesses would refuse to have anything to do with it, they celebrate neither secular nor religious Christmas and it would violate their beliefs to be forced to decorate. However, I did know a Jehovah Witness mother who put a lighted “winter scene” in her living room window during Christmas. She couldn’t stand her kids missing out on everything. I drove by and thought she was celebrating Christmas!

      3. Ginger G*

        A number of years ago, someone won a religious discrimination lawsuit against her former employer, a well known department store in the southeast US. The store was requiring that all employees wear a Santa hat during the Christmas season. The employee declined because her religion didn’t recognize holidays, Christmas or otherwise. Employee was fired and subsequently sued and won. I don’t know if the firing was made at the store level or if HR was consulted at all, but I think they were definitely asking to be sued in this case. The OP’s situation is a little different since she doesn’t want to decorate for personal as opposed to religious reasons.

        1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

          I’m assuming the former employer was JW. That’s a religion that’s protected. It’s not atheism which is what’s in debate as to if they’d be protected to refuse.

          Since there’s no doctrine to point to for “not allowed to participate”, most likely it’s not protected. Just like the age old question if you can just make up your own religion and it’s rules.

      4. A Jewish Reader Who Feels Like the Grinch Lately*

        There’s no such thing as secular Christmas decorations. It’s a religious holiday that a bunch of people who are otherwise not religious celebrate, and some of those people like to pretend that it has nothing to do with religion, and the courts have decided it can be a federal holiday for “cultural significance,” but that culture is … Christianity. It’s still a religious holiday that takes over in many Christian-dominated parts of the world for the entire month of December, and Christmas decorations are religious, including Santa (aka Saint Nick, come on) and his reindeer.

        1. Turquoisecow*


          There are definitely more religious elements and less religious elements to Christmas, and many non-believers celebrate it, but it’s a religious holiday at its core, and people of other faiths may have their core tenets in opposition to Christmas. Asking those (non Christian) believers to celebrate the holiday is tone deaf at best and discriminatory at worst.

        2. Yikes*

          The “cartoon character test” comes out of a case in Pawtucket, Rhode Island where religious imagery (like a nativity) was mixed in with things like a singing wishing well and anthropomorphic snowmen. Tl;dr SCOTUS said the secular cartoon characters diluted the religious message to the point where the town wasn’t establishing Christianity as its official religion.

        3. Grinchiest Grinch*

          +1 for the username.

          Seriously, I feel like I become more of a Grinch with each passing year. This year my employer, a graduate school in an extremely diverse community, had a “Winter Wonderland” themed holiday party. Cool, fine. However, part of the decor meant stuffed animals in Santa hats and red/green reindeer antler headbands, etc. Call me persnickety but that’s not Winter Wonderland decor, that’s Christmas decor, and what sort of message does it send our diverse community that we’re conflating the two?

        4. Phoenix Programmer*

          It’s secular to some people and that’s ok. Just like it’s ok to feel it’s religious.

          1. Legal Beagle*

            It’s ok to feel however you want, but it’s obnoxious to continually insist that people who don’t celebrate Christmas must agree with you that it’s a secular holiday. Which is what often happens in these discussions…for whatever reason, there is a large contingent of people who are deeply invested in it not being regarded as a religious holiday.

            1. BenAdminGeek*

              Interestingly, as a Christian I hear complaints the other way as well. Many serious Christians feel frustrated at how the more secular elements have taken over what should be a more private, religious holiday, and dilute its meaning. Because Christmas is such a monolith in America, I think it ends up frustrating a wide swathe of folks on both ends of the spectrum- those who would prefer it didn’t intrude on their different beliefs/non-belief, and those who would prefer to reclaim it from the culture at large.

            2. Michio Pa*

              This. We’ve already covered how it’s simultaneously a statement of majority privilege and minority erasure to claim that Christmas is secular and default. Just because you personally don’t go to church or believe in Jesus, doesn’t mean that the religious nature and history are stripped from the rest of the traditions. After all, these people are not celebrating Secular Yom Kippur, Secular Eid, Secular Diwali…

        5. Quickbeam*

          I’m a pagan and I agree with you 100%. I hate that my traditions are co-opted and made cartoonish. I find the Christmas grind extremely taxing. My one solution is to take the last 2 weeks in December off to separate myself from the work place madness.

    4. Temperance*

      I really don’t think so. Assuming secular Christmas decorations, I can see how a JW wouldn’t be able to do the task, but not a non-believer.

    5. Liane*

      Not my area of expertise, but based on Alison’s “Federal law requires employers to make “reasonable accommodations” on religious grounds (including lack of religious faith)…” in Alison’s response, I’d say yes atheists are covered and could refuse.

    6. Yikes*

      The short version is that in most situations, in the US you cannot be penalized at work for being an atheist. There’s a good primer on this on the Freedom From Religion Foundation website.

    7. Genny*

      Non-religious people are covered by laws about religious discrimination, but they still face the same “reasonable accommodation” process religious people face. In the case of holiday decorations, I think the accommodation would be something like you don’t have to decorate your space despite the rest of the office being decorated. I doubt it would be considered reasonable to have all office holiday decorations nixed.

  4. Michelle*

    I don’t have great advice for the LW, just sympathy. I’m not really feeling Christmas this year either because I’m worried about a family member and it’s pressing on me hard. Luckily, although there are some decorations around the office, it’s not too over the top. When someone starts talking about Christmas, I try to smile politely, fake a little interest and then move on.

    Could you mention that since it’s the front office the decorations should be kept to a minimum so that if someone that does not celebrate or is of a different faith won’t feel uncomfortable?

    1. KHB*

      I have a lot of sympathy for the LW too, in that I’m going through a sort of analogous situation: Senior management and HR just rolled out what they obviously see as an awesome new perk that, because of my personal circumstances, is actually pretty unwelcome. I tried going to HR and saying “I’m sure this wasn’t what you intended, but here’s what I’ve got going on” – and I was rewarded with a scolding that my personal priorities aren’t what HR thinks they should be.

      So I’m inclined to think that there’s probably not much the LW can do to get the boss to see reason. Because if the boss is the type of person to assume that everyone’s going to be happy about having the office “brightened up” with Christmas decorations, she’s probably not the type who can be convinced otherwise after the fact.

      1. UnderwaterOphelia*

        Do you mind sharing what the perk is? I’m trying to think of something that could be unwelcome, but I just can’t think of a scenario where an extra day off or a bonus or something wouldn’t be welcome.

        1. WellRed*

          Maybe it’s in-office yoga or snacks or something that she can’t participate in for health reasons.

        2. hbc*

          I can’t speak for KHB, but the mandatory aspect of the leap year birthday letter would have caused significant pain to my former coworker. She divorced her husband (and father of her child) because of his instability, and he killed himself on her birthday as a way to hurt her back. Unsurprisingly, she preferred to let her birthdays pass with as little fanfare and as much distraction as possible.

        3. Semi-Friendly Neighbourhood Scientist*

          Not one I’ve experienced but definitely one I’ve seen is the “win awesome prizes for weight loss!” misguidedness. For those of us who don’t have weight to lose, don’t want to lose weight, are unable to lose weight for medical or personal reasons, have no desire to have our weight plastered on a white board at the office, or whatever other reason, these sorts of initiatives are extremely exclusionary and frequently not fair/equitable. The most recent one I saw had all sorts of cash/electronic/time off prizes for participants that was obviously considered a “perk” from HR/management, but no consideration for those who couldn’t participate. I’m a 5’9/150# competitive athlete so I don’t *have* weight to lose — being told my prize is my already healthy and fit lifestyle is going to go over like a lead balloon.

        4. KHB*

          They announced on Friday that they’re closing the office for 26-28 December. (We’re already scheduled to be closed for 24-25 December and 31 December-1 January.) So yay, days off! Except not, because my family made our holiday plans many weeks ago on the basis that those would be regular workdays for me. And my partner (who also gets those days off, and his employer was considerate enough to tell him so in a timely manner) took the opportunity to plan a solo trip to a place I don’t want to go. It’s too late for me to plan to join him, and I wouldn’t want to, anyway. I was looking forward to three quiet, productive days in the office. I was not looking forward to compressing eight days’ worth of work into five (we’ve got deadlines right after New Year’s) just so I can spend three extra days at home by myself.

          (They’ve been presenting this as paid time off, although I just realized that they never actually specified as much. If this is a case of “we’re docking your pay for these days, even though you’re exempt, because you didn’t work for any part of this week,” that’s even more seriously upsetting.)

          1. KHB*

            (My bad: I just reread the announcement email, and the time will be paid. So no worries on that aspect, although the short notice is still plenty disruptive.)

            1. CmdrShepard4ever*

              I am guessing if the office is closed you are not able to go into the office and work during those three days, but is it possible for you to work from home for the three days? Maybe there is some work you can take home with you even if you can’t work to the same level you could in the office?

              1. KHB*

                It will be possible to go into the office – there are a couple of other employers with space in our building, and they’re not going to be closed, so the building will have to be open. That might be what I end up doing.

                1. CmdrShepard4ever*

                  If you do this, I would maybe try to push HR to let you flex the days off. Maybe ask is you can work the three days that everyone has off, but then take three days off after your New Years deadlines are over with.

            2. Where do y'all get those wonderful user names*

              KHB, I can relate. At OldJob, this same thing happened to me 3 times, and I can tell you, I was not pleased. I would make plans according to my expected schedule, only to have the schedule change at the 11th hour. Here is the most recent example: during a staff meeting, my former supervisor asked if I had wanted a particular day off as a floating holiday. I said yes, since I was attending a wedding. She asked me to please email her the request. Well, right after the meeting, one of my coworkers (who had been present during the meeting) verbally requested that exact same day off. He asked if she could put his request on her calendar, which she did. When I emailed my request, she told me it was too late as someone else had requested that day off. In addition to me requesting the day off first, I had seniority over the other employee. I finally relented and said that I would just make due without that particular day off, even though it would cause myself and my husband to arrive at the destination city late at night, and get very little sleep.

              Three days prior, OldBoss decided to get permission to close the business on the same day I’d requested off. At that point, it would have cost us megabucks to change our flight reservation. So we wound up flying into the destination city late, and getting a short amount of sleep for no reason. This is only one of the various reasons that this job is “OldJob”.

              1. KHB*

                Oh, yikes – I’m sorry that happened to you, and I’m glad you were able to move on.

                This is only one of many examples of weird and erratic behavior coming from HR/management lately. My direct manager is great – and whenever I raise a concern to him, he says he agrees with me – and the actual work is great, but it’s hard working at a place where I have so little trust and confidence in the people steering the ship.

          2. mrs__peel*

            Yeah, that does seem very thoughtless on their part. They should provide more lead time for employees to make plans, especially if you have work due right after the holidays!

    2. HS Teacher*

      This is my partner’s first Christmas since her mother died this past February. The holidays have been brutal for her. She’s trying very hard to get into the spirit of it, but if I were her manager I wouldn’t fault or or press her to participate. However, she works in a cubicle farm. If she were a receptionist I’d feel otherwise. It’s a tough situation, but OP will probably just have to deal with it.

  5. DaffyDuck*

    Another fan of “Winter Themed” decorations – snowflakes, sleighs, evergreens with snow only, mugs of hot chocolate or tea…
    I certainly don’t blame the OP for not wanting to go all-out decorating if she isn’t emotionally into the holidays this year. As other people mentioned it would probably be emotionally easier to put a bit of decor somewhere than have to explain no decor to every coworker.
    I sure hope her manager doesn’t expect everyone to wear Santa hats; although I would be fine with my own knit cap and those fingerless gloves Alison had posted last week (I’m the always cold one).

  6. Phony Genius*

    I wonder what the answer would be if the objection were purely on the personal reasons grounds, if it were not a reception desk in a visitor area. It’s not a religious exception, so the letter writer would not be protected by law.

    1. Nobby Nobbs*

      I suspect Alison would have encouraged the LW to push back harder. She wouldn’t have legal grounds for it, but there might be a better chance for success from a “reasonable human being” standpoint.

      1. Falling Diphthong*

        Yes–personal space, not public space.

        Though it will get into “but why DON’T you wanna?” and our hypothetical back-office version of OP might not want to delve into that.

        1. Antilles*

          True, but even if our hypothetical back-version OP wouldn’t want to deal with politics, she could at least comply with minimal effort.
          In a public area, the company is probably envisioning all sorts of decorations – up to and possibly including a ‘tree’ with ‘presents’ underneath it. So no matter where you look, you’re seeing it and dealing with it all day.
          In OP’s private cube/office? She could almost certainly get away with just putting up a couple small decorations in a spot that she doesn’t have to really notice them.

  7. Sleepytime Tea*

    I’m so sorry that you’re going through a rough time and Christmas isn’t something you’ll be partaking in this year. I have been there, and so I understand where you’re coming from. Truly though, it was much harder for me when people asked WHY I wasn’t going to be celebrating Christmas than it was just seeing the Christmas things going on around me. I would get sympathy invites to dinner, sad looks, hugs, etc. I don’t know what you’re situation is and what would be most comforting for you, but if you want to avoid answering the questions about why you’re not celebrating, it may be easier to just put up a few decorations. Like Alison says, maybe not a tree and things but instead snowflakes and other winter-themed type items. And just a few to satisfy the expectation, without going totally overkill and having to live in a winter wonderland that reminds you of what’s going on.

  8. Ruth (UK)*

    I work in a reception-like area and was asked to decorate for Xmas, and I am also not wild about Xmas.

    I was asked to make suggestions for what decorations to order on Amazon. As Alison suggests towards the end, I went with a more winter theme than overly Christmassy. I got various snowflake window things, silver and blue tinsel, etc.

    The department manager asked for an Xmas tree, which I have decorated using toy animals etc. It’s topped with a stuffed animal toy. I will note that we have these as the nature of my job means we often have children about.

    I’m usually not keen on Xmas trees in general but I quite like ours.

  9. nnn*

    Note to people reading at work: the linked page has some kind of autoplay audio that my normally-robust adblocker didn’t catch. It appears to emanate from the little box at the bottom left, which might also contain an autoplay video that my adblocker did catch.

  10. ryz*

    I have become best friends with the phrase, “My sincerely held religious beliefs prevent me from participating in or acknowledging any other religion’s holidays as though they are or might be valid.” It saves me so much time and effort.

    Also, no, Christmas is not actually a secular holiday, and the “cultural significance” Christmas holds is in Christian culture. The name comes from “Christ’s Mass,” which was a thin Catholic veneer over a day sacred to a Persian god of soldiers worshiped by the Roman army. Santa Claus comes from Saint Nicholas; many “inoffensive” Christmas carols (“God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen,” “Do You Hear What I Hear?,” “Joy To The World,” “Silent Night,” “The Little Drummer Boy,” “Carol Of The Bells”) contain either references to Christian dogma or outright praise of Christ and Jehovah. People who are not Christian, be they atheist or simply of a different religion, have every right to be annoyed that they are expected to participate in The Holiday That Eats The Back Half Of The Year.

    1. pleaset*

      “prevent me from….acknowledging any other religion’s holidays as though they are or might be valid”

      What does this mean?

      I understand not participating, but what does not “acknowledging” mean?

      1. ryz*

        It’s just a more strenuous refusal to participate — like, not only will I not carol, I won’t decorate, I don’t exchange gifts, and I won’t initiate holiday greetings for holidays I don’t celebrate. It’s also an excuse to duck out of “Why won’t you [Christmas thing] with us?” I grew up in the US southeast, where, “I’m sorry, I understand your holiday is important to you, but I can’t participate,” is usually met with hostility or incomprehension, so I try to preemptively dismiss any idea of my participating in any way.

        1. pleaset*

          Do you know what the word “acknowledge” means? I sound like you mean to say you do not recognize that the other religion is valid – you’re saying other religions are invalid. Is that your intention?

          Oh, I see below that that that is your point – people have bee assholish to you so you are doing it to other people.

          1. Tobias Funke*

            Lol at calling someone an asshole for stating they don’t celebrate holidays of religions that are not theirs

            1. pleaset*

              Nice try restating something I didn’t say.

              The asshattery is telling someone you don’t *acknowledge* the religion at all. I’m not religious and I wouldn’t say that to someone expect in extreme circumstances. It’s quite obnoxious.

              Also, I described the behavior as assholish, not the person. Not the same thing.

    2. BenAdminGeek*

      Agree, I find people attempting to force non-Christians to participate in Christmas very offensive. As you note…. it has Christ right in the name!

    3. Nonsensical*

      I find this a little over the line. I am Jewish. I don’t celebrate Christmaa but it is cerainly a valid holiday that I happrn not to celebrate. How would you feel if people aaid your holidays are invalid? You can be pleasant and still not celebrate their holidays. This seems purposefully prickly.

      1. ryz*

        It is purposefully prickly.

        I grew up in the US south, with people calling my holidays invalid. I’ve had supervisors give me pop quizzes on bits of Christian dogma (no joke), or lecture me about Christmas. If I were regularly being lectured about the High Holy Days or my consumption some other religion’s unclean foods or expected as a matter of course to participate in Setsubun or fast for Ramadan and treated like a freak for not, I might feel differently about other faiths.

        As it is, Christians get so assholish about their holidays and faith, and have been so assholish about my faith for so long (I worship a pair of Cthonic deities — which has gotten equated to fucking devil worship more times than I wanna talk about) that I’m perfectly happy to let them know how insignificant I find them, their god, their beliefs, and their celebrations.

        1. Nonsensical*

          I haven’t experienced at work but I do live in a Midwestern state (it is not just the south) that believes in trying to save everyone’s souls. I was the only Jew growing up – that being said, most people aren’t that dogmatic. I try to have a positive attitude unless the person otherwise indicates they lack respect for my holidays. I have been told I am going to hell and currently have a friend that tries to send me religious books all the time whenever I am going through something difficult – in an effort to convert me.

          So I do understand why you would be frustrated, and why you might push back. I just would worry about alienating people who may not be quite as dogmatic. But of course you’re free to do as you wish.

          1. pleaset*

            “I try to have a positive attitude unless the person otherwise indicates they lack respect for my holidays.”


  11. nnn*

    In addition to whatever approach you end up taking, you could mention whenever it naturally comes up in conversation either a) you find xmas decorations in general depressing (you can add your Reasons if you feel like sharing, or just let the statement that you find it depressing stand alone) or b) that generic and unnamed people for whom xmas is difficult must find it even more difficult to have decorations around everywhere they go.


    Co-worker: “OMG, they’re selling candy canes in the grocery store even though it’s only August!”
    You: “Ugh, it must be so hard on people for whom christmas is a sad time of year, to be bombarded with it for months and months when they just want to buy toilet paper!”

    1. Antilles*

      I don’t think the “generic and unnamed people might not like decorations everywhere” is a useful argument since decorations are ALREADY everywhere. Grocery stores have giant Christmas displays of candy canes and similar items right in the front door. Most retail shops you walk into will be playing Christmas music in the background. If you drive outside after dark, houses will be lit up with lights. Etc, etc, etc.
      So I just don’t think that’s a particularly viable argument. If the decorations bother you, then you can use yourself as an example, but just a generic “well some people emotionally struggle with seeing decorations everywhere in the holiday season” doesn’t seem likely to get much traction.

  12. Wildflowers Don't Care*

    This is just silly; the OP needs to suck it up and reserve her rebellious instincts for something that matters.

    1. Flash Bristow*

      Given the audience to this blog, I think it’s fair to say that’s a very blunt and obtuse response.

  13. Ro*

    Everyone has already made some great comments regarding alternative decorations/how to handle the decorating/legalities, but what stuck in craw when reading this is this is yet another example of a holiday being shoved down people’s throats at work. Ideally, work would actually be a place of refuge (just focus on your work tasks/blot out the outside world all day) for people who find this time of year difficult (for a MYRIAD of reasons, all of which are and should be legitimate) but it’s not. The irony is some people who are falling over themselves to celebrate Christmas forget other people around them might be truly suffering and could use some sensitvity.

    Sorry for the rant. For the record, I don’t mind Christmas but my office does all of the following every year at Christmas (I’m not exaggerating)- food drive, toy drive/adopted angels, division party, white elephant party, decorate lobby, homemade treats brought in to break room, and departmental lunches (always at least a 45 minute drive out of the way and the lunch always lasts ~4 hours)—all for the same work group and all planned by the same couple of staffers, one of whom is an untouchable director. It’s out of hand. One of these might be okay, especially because participation is only required for a few of these events, but it feels presumptuous and insensitive to do all of these things EVERY year. Instead of instilling me with Christmas spirit, I now just want to strangle some of these folks.

    Rant over, thank you!

    1. Asenath*

      I’ve never thought of work as a refugee from anything. It’s most definitely part of the outside world and the public sphere vs the private sphere of my own home. I minimize the commercial and, well, decorative aspect of the holidays and haven’t had a problem doing so – or, eventually working out, eventually, how to deal with holidays that happen to occur when I’ve been suffering grief or loss or something else. It’s interesting to see how others expert and response varies.

      1. Ro*

        Thanks for the insight.

        I chose the word refuge because the focus and goal when you’re at work should ideally be work (even though reality is that most of us are also social, etc. throughout the day). I can tell you from personal experience that when a close family member passed away unexpectedly, work was the one place I could go and focus on something else. Co-workers were understandably concerned, but kept all of our conversations work-related since they could sense I didn’t want to talk about it (and if they had, I would definitely have burst into tears as things were very raw). So I welcomed diving into a particularly thorny work issue that took my brain elsewhere for the day.

        I really feel strongly that it would cost people very little to be sensitive to others who are suffering. That doesn’t mean taking down all Christmas decorations on the planet and for all time, but how about maybe just dialing it back the one time, the one year, the one instance where someone you know has expressed that this would cause them pain. Just a rhetorical question.

  14. Flash Bristow*

    I totally agree with Alison – you may end up having to do so, but find a better way?

    I don’t use tinsel, plastic or metal decs for environmental reasons. Instead I make origami stars (a really relaxing time killer… just saying ), paper snowflakes, or I put sprigs of greenery about. Another nice thing is a bowl of cinnamon, fir leaves, dried slices of orange, etc. Tasteful, attractive, no attachment to any religion or group.

    If possible, give it a go! I keep being complimented on my decs, but to be honest they’re cheap and cheerful – I just can’t be bothered with other stuff!

    Hope that helps – and it’ll keep you busy for an afternoon…

  15. Sopralto Singer*

    I work at Teapot Corp in the land of Westeros. It is overseen by the King/Queen of the land. The office has a holiday party and people decorate their own areas. My area put up wooden shoes so Krampus could put gifts in the shoes. I elected to not put up my shoe this year because of personal reasons. People were still leaving gifts, presents, etc in my mailbox because I didn’t have out a shoe so I had to send out an e-mail requesting to not be a participant because of personal reasons. So now I’m sure I’m labeled a Grinch, Scrooge, etc. I wish that holidays could be left out of a work environment. I feel bombarded by it. You get it everywhere else. Why do you have to deal with it at work? I really wish society would separate home life and work life.

  16. YoungTen*

    You may have to put your personal feelings aside. Treat it like any work-related issue that you may not like but have to deal with. Since it’s not religious reasons, this is about you having a personal issue that your workplace has nothing to do with.

  17. Al who is that Al*

    Maybe a bit late, but my wife works with a person who came back from Turkey last week and said “As a Christian I don’t understand why Muslims put up Christmas trees” to which my wife replied “Actually as a Pagan, I don’t understand why you Christians do either”…cue blank not-understanding stare.

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