is it OK to put up a Christmas tree at work?

A reader writes:

I work at a public university, and together with a few colleagues, I supervise a group of graduate students who work in a shared lab office space. Our lab space is a little dreary — there are no windows, and there’s a fair amount of dusty old academic detritus. To add a bit of seasonally appropriate cheer and make the space more inviting, I brought in a small artificial Christmas tree and set it up on our lab’s conference table yesterday. Before doing this, I asked on the lab Slack (used by both students and faculty) if anyone objected to having a Christmas tree in the lab, and no one said anything. Admittedly, I put up the tree only a few hours after asking, and not everyone looks at Slack frequently, so it’s possible that someone who did object to it didn’t see my message.

After doing this, I mentioned it on social media, and someone pointed out that it might be a good idea to keep religious symbols out of shared spaces. To be honest, I had not thought of the tree as being a religious symbol. Personally, I grew up with Christmas trees in an atheist household, and I see them as quite different from, say, a nativity scene. I asked my faculty colleagues what they thought, and they said that they thought it was fine and that it bothered a student, the student could speak up. I then reiterated on Slack that I was serious about wanting to hear from anyone who didn’t like the tree, and that I would be happy to take it down in that case. There still haven’t been any complaints, but I’m conscious of the power imbalance between me and the students; it’s entirely possible that the Christmas tree does make someone uncomfortable, but that they don’t want to raise a stink about it with me.

Your tree is probably fine.

But I wouldn’t assume people will speak up if they’re uncomfortable. Many people won’t, because they don’t want to be perceived as difficult or as the one who “ruined” something for others.

That said, most of us who don’t celebrate Christmas aren’t going to find your small personal tree offensive … as long as you understand that it represents a holiday that isn’t ours. When people assume Christmas trees are inclusive or universal in some way, that’s what’s alienating, not the tree itself.

Because for the record, a Christmas tree is a symbol and marker of a Christian holiday. And as a Jew, I can’t tell you how frustrating it is to hear people say it’s not.

There are of course many people who celebrate Christmas and enjoy its various trappings in a more cultural than spiritual way. But the fact that you’re able to see a Christmas tree as secular or universal is because Christmas has the privilege of dominance in our culture. For many of us who don’t celebrate it, it’s not secular and it’s not universal — and saying it is really erases non-Christians from the picture.

Often people who are culturally Christian (meaning, for example, they celebrate Christmas) but don’t strongly identify with its faith-based elements end up assuming that anything about its traditions that isn’t explicitly faith-based is secular — Christmas trees, Santa Claus, etc.

A commenter addressed this really eloquently a couple of years ago, writing, “To me – and to many other minority-religious people – anything that is part of a religion’s beliefs and practices is part of that religion. So having Christmas trees, being a practice done in the celebration of Christmas, is Christian regardless of the personal beliefs of the people owning them. And I think the fact that cultural Christians often don’t feel that way is because of their cultural dominance – seeing one’s own practices as more neutral than they are. I don’t think most Americans would see the celebrations of Eid, Chanukah, and Holi as being as secular as a family lunch on Easter Sunday, even though they are equally celebrated by people who have no faith-based relationship with those holidays.”

You are, of course, free to decide that you will celebrate Christmas in a way that doesn’t feel religious to you! The important thing is that people outside those traditions shouldn’t be pushed to ignore the religious framework it exists within.

But as long as you’re not pushing cultural or religious observances on others and as long as you don’t assume it’s a neutral symbol that everyone will embrace, you’re allowed to decorate your space for your own holidays, and your tree is probably fine. It’s just the mental framing around it that I’d urge you to reconsider.

{ 1,192 comments… read them below }

  1. Ask a Manager* Post author

    The rules for engagement on this one:

    * People who don’t belong to non-Christian faiths don’t have standing to tell people who do how they should experience this stuff.

    * For that matter, no one has the standing to tell someone else how they should experience this stuff.

    * Comments about whether you personally find Christmas or its trappings secular are not relevant here! No one is asking “Do you personally find this secular?” but rather “Are there large numbers of people who do 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. Thank you.

  2. Clorinda*

    Be sensitive with the ornaments, too. Pretty lights, baubles, and a ribbon on top are better than stars, lambs, and angels.

    1. Loosey Goosey*

      I may be in the minority on this, but please also don’t put Chanukah ornaments on the tree. That doesn’t feel like inclusion; it feels like forced assimilation.

      1. Fellow Jew*

        Strong agree about not using Hanukkah ornaments – a menorah doesn’t belong in a tree. If you want to have a light-up menorah and turn on one candle each day during the holiday, that could be inclusive.

        1. Alicia*

          When we’ve decorated my office, one of our Jewish colleagues brings in a menorah and puts it on a small table with a tablecloth. I think he puts some other Hanukkah things there too.

          Is it better for a Jewish person to take charge of that? If there are any in OP’s lab?

          1. Director of Alpaca Exams*

            Yes. My kid’s school put up a chanukiah (Hanukkah menorah) last year—at the same time as all the Christmas and Kwanzaa things, which was four days into Hanukkah because Hanukkah was so early last year. They wanted to do all the holidays together so no one felt left out, but that ended up erasing half our holiday. Many of us say blessings before lighting electric candles, too, and care about the time of day when each candle is lit. So it’s really best to have a Jewish person in charge of Jewish symbols.

            However, be careful when approaching your local Jews about this! It’s easy for it to come across as “Oh yeah, I guess you people do something around this time of year too too, I don’t care enough to research it but I’m going to make you responsible for making the lab feel welcoming for Jews now that I’ve explicitly marked it as a Christian space” and that is, of course, not cool. I’d go with something more like, “Hey Jonathan, I think I messed up when I put up the tree without thinking about how it might feel for folks who have non-Christian faiths. I’m really sorry about that. I did some reading about how to have a more inclusive workplace and it seems clear that I should at least have a menorah to go with it. Would you mind advising me on that, or would you like to be in charge of it or know someone else who might? I will happily purchase an electric menorah and other accessories if that would be helpful.”

          2. Oaktree*

            It is not only better to let Jewish colleagues take th lead on that, I would be perturbed if a non-Jew did it. I’d take it in the spirit intended, and say nothing, but privately, I feel like it’s appropriation of my culture in the service of a false pluralism, an inclusivity that’s really more about forced assimilation- “you’ll be included whether you like it or not! And you have to put on a happy face because we’re including you! Don’t be ungrateful, now…”

            Again, I know that’s not what people think they’re doing, but that’s how it feels.

            1. Lara*

              Love the comments here – great discussion.

              I’m a religious Jew, and I think Christmas is an absolutely beautiful holiday – I just don’t celebrate it myself! That said, I have no problem with Christmas decorations in my office, knowing that it’s the primary holiday celebrated by my community. I would be happy to contribute my own Hanukkah decorations to the space as well if asked. I am not in the least bothered by seeing Christmas in my workplace, even if it isn’t my holiday, because the intention behind it is to make people happy. I appreciate the sentiment, whether or not I believe in the religious roots of it. :)

              I honestly would not have a problem with non-Jews attempting to include Hanukkah in the decorations, because I know it’s coming from the desire to be inclusive. HOWEVER, the one thing that upsets me is the attempt to make Christmas decorations fit INTO Hanukkah. Blue and white Christmas lights are still Christmas lights, and saying that they’re for Hanukkah is belittling of my tradition. The idea of a “Hanukkah bush” is perhaps the most infuriating attempt at assimilating Hanukkah into Christmas. So if you want to include Hanukkah, use traditional decorations like a Hanukkiah, driedals, gelt, etc. Don’t try to adapt Christmas traditions to fit Hanukkah ideas. :)

              1. JessaB*

                Not to mention Hanukkah isn’t even one of the big holidays, it’s like stop trying to make this into some gigantic thing because Christmas is really big to you and it happens around the same time.

                My Muslimah friends get this when Ramadan comes about in November, it’s a different kind of holiday, and trying to make Christmas rituals like certain foods, candles, trees, decorations, squash in those who are about to celebrate Eid, or Hanukkah or something else, just no.

                I agree totally on the whole blue and white lights thing, and the Hanukkah bush concept just makes me cringe. There’s no “we decorate a tree thing” in Jewish observance, I suppose the closest we come is Sukkos and decorating that. But even that’s not really the same at all.

                1. Triplestep*

                  Ironically, Hanukkah is the celebration of the first recorded battle for religious freedom. So it’s particularly sad that it’s one of the targets of homogenization. People really should feel OK about celebrating their religions and cultures, sharing them, but not lumping them together with everyone else’s.

                  About Sukkot: had you heard the school of thought that Hanukkah – which was added to the Jewish Calendar pretty recently in the grand scheme of things – was actually a belated celebration of Sukkot, which could not be celebrated during an active war? Both holidays are eight days, but since the time for an agrarian holiday like Sukkot had passed, it evolved. The war part of the Hanukkah story is history; the “miracle of the oil” was added later when Jewish Leadership became uncomfortable with the notion of celebrating a military victory.

        2. Triplestep*

          Another fellow Jew. Plenty of us would rather not see Hannukah anything in the workplace. When I see that it screams “WE ARE BEING INCLUSIVE. WE DON’T CARE THAT YOUR MOST IMPORTANT HOLIDAYS WERE A FEW MONTHS AGO. WE WANT A TREE SO WE’RE LUMPING IN YOUR MINOR HOLIDAY WITH OUR BIGGIE. YOU LIKE IT, RIGHT?”

          ‘Course I never say that to people. Although I have been known to quietly turn the bulbs off until sundown, and then light the correct number of them in the correct direction.

          I really don’t care that people have trees, just don’t say it’s secular and don’t try to include me by assigning importance to what is literally classified as a Minor Festival.

          1. AnnaBananna*

            “Although I have been known to quietly turn the bulbs off until sundown, and then light the correct number of them in the correct direction.”

            I love this! :)

        1. EPLawyer*

          Legit question. Would blue and silver tinsel around the walls NOT on the tree be better? It would brighten the place up but not look like one religion. Or still too dominant religion looking?

          Asking to be educated.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            To me it would read really similarly — a Hanukkah version of a Christmas decoration (because blue and silver are often associated with Jewish stuff), which reads as “assimilate into our holiday” and I’d be a lot more bothered by it than plain old tinsel.

            1. Seven hobbits are highly effective, people*

              Does it change the reading of using blue and white if it’s a snow/snowflake focused decoration theme rather than tinsel? I always do something snow-focused rather than holiday-focused (and leave it up through January or February until I swap it out for “ready for spring” stuff rather than take it down right after Christmas, for that matter), and it seems like blue is the really common non-white accent color for snow/ice decor stuff (with white as the obvious primary).

              Some of my snowflakes began life as ornaments, but I don’t put them on a tree, if that part matters.

              (I am neither Christian nor Jewish. Other people in my office who decorate go with a more aggressively Christmas-based decor scheme for their spaces. I do a rotating seasonal decor scheme all year long.)

              1. Shad*

                Yeah, I was thinking of suggesting snowflakes and/or snowmen for the future—things that are still festive and wintry, but less tied to the Christmas of it all (obviously not perfect—Frosty is still marketed as a Christmas movie/song, but that feels more like “just” decades of cultural hegemony rearing its head).
                Or, if it’s possible, maybe light year round customization of individual workspaces might keep the lab more cheery all the time? That’d also make changing your own up seasonally a bit less “boss decorating the office area” and a bit more “I like this on my desk”.

                1. Zil*

                  I think if you do “seasonal” decorations, but the only season you decorate for is winter, and you’re using tinsel or ornaments or things like that, it’s still contextualized as Christmas decorations.

                  If you decorate for spring, summer, and fall as well it’s going to be a lot more of an authentically seasonal decoration vs. an attempt to make Christmas decorations “secular.”

            2. EPLawyer*

              Got it. If it looks like trying to include by picking something associated with non-dominant religion, it doesn’t really help. I’m trying to learn.

              Thie site is soooo helpful.

            3. ANNIE*

              I’ve seen “Merry Chrismukah” on cards and decorations recently – which is a totally ridiculous (and offensive) way of assimilating Hanukkah into Christmas.

              1. Dr Wizard, PhD*

                Oh wow. The only time I’d ever heard of that was in the TV show ‘The OC’, which read as a mixed-faith family’s internal joke / way of doing a combined observance for their son. People using that phrase in real life? No.

          2. Alicia*

            Why does it have to be Christmas and Christmas decorations to brighten the lab?
            Why not decorate it in a non-religious way year round?

            1. Crooked Bird*

              I’m a devout Christian & a firm believer in non-religious rope-lights year round! (Especially in a place with no windows.) Or at least all winter, which is what we do. They’re not Christmas lights–we actually call them “happy lights” and we put them up as soon as the days start to shorten.
              (Now I’m wondering if they make rope-lights with those full-spectrum SAD bulbs. I bet they do and I bet they’re hideously expensive…)
              Maybe for a lab you could do rope-lights and science symbols…

              1. ThatGirl*

                Light therapy works best when you sit right next to it (so you can absorb the rays) so full-spectrum rope lights would probably not be terribly effective.

              2. Seeking Second Childhood*

                The little white ones are also known as fairy lights, which opens up a world of whimsy.

                1. JessaB*

                  I would so buy this instantly, here take my money, please. Winter SAD rope lights, what an awesome idea.

                2. minuteye*

                  SAD lights have medical risks associated with them (e.g. they can trigger mania in those with bipolar disorder), so they’re really not appropriate to use as decoration.

              3. CB*

                I love the year-round light idea! Target (and I’m sure other stores) has rope lights in a bunch of different styles, like globe ones in a bunch of different colors, rainbows, and even taco lights.

            2. Milk of Amnesia*

              I would decorate it in labels beakers, test tubes, and other small lab stuff. Ot bring in some lighted branches. For the longest time I had lighted palm trees. It is festive, but not the traditional tree.

              1. BB*

                This may be further downthread but my head went immediately to “Chemis-tree”. Every science teacher I’ve ever known did this.

            3. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

              I agree. It would be easy to decorate for winter in a way that looks magical without having to pick Christmas symbols.

              I’m also concerned about doing this at a public university, where it can be construed as speech.

          3. Lara*

            As a Christian, I’d associate those colors with the season of Advent and assume you were going for religious Christmas personally.

                1. Shiphrah*

                  Used to be. Now purple is mostly CofE and Catholic, blue more Episcopal, and the Lutherans & Methodists fall somewhere in between. None of which is etched in stone (as it were). Exceptions abound!

                2. Arts Akimbo*

                  Same! I never heard of an Advent celebrated with blue and silver. But, to each their own! :)

        1. crchtqn*

          It is a thing but also I know many Christian/Jewish couples who have a Christmas tree, a menorah and add Chanukkah ornament on the tree as well. They’ve said it to blend their cultures together.

          1. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

            and if a Jewish person is opting to decorate a Christmas tree with Hanukkah ornaments in their own space, more power to them. It’s a non-Jewish person doing it in public that would be skeezy and inappropriate.

            1. JSPA*

              Agreed. Decided for oneself ≠ had it decided for you. My grandparent spent their childhood yearning for a decorated evergreen tree like the Christians (and pagans) had; family tradition since then has been to treat ourselves to one if we feel like it (not always coinciding with anyone else’s holiday, FWIW, but not avoiding those days, either, if that’s when it’s convenient to travel).

      2. queequeg in his coffin*

        I grew up in an atheists-descended-from-christians household and it only just now with your comment occurred to me that the star on our christmas tree is a religious symbol. I specifically picked it because angels were too jesus-y, even though we always had an angel growing up. I thought the star was just a nice thing, maybe like for making a wish on or something. I never even knew about the star of Bethlehem until I’d been an adult for years and had my own christmas traditions already established.

        I think for people who are culturally christian but not religiously christian, it can be easy to miss the symbolism behind “secular” holiday traditions. Thanks for the reminder to always be thinking critically.

        1. Formerly Christian*

          We are also atheists-descended-from-Christians and our star on our tree is to represent the return of the sun (which is, of course, a star) that begins on (or around) December 21. We’re trying to keep our holiday more pagan but it’s good to be reminded that the things we do are still representative of the majority religion, whether we like it or not.

          1. WantonSeedStitch*

            I too grew up in an atheists-descended-from-Christians household, and am now a practicing Wiccan who still puts up a tree for Yule. I’ve decided against a star on top of the tree, personally–I’m waiting until I’m able to find a tree topper shaped like a sun (for the return of the sun at the winter solstice) to top my tree. And yeah, even if we do find one and use that, our tree and other holiday trappings could easily still “pass” as Christian, affording us a level of privilege that other faiths’ celebratory decorations don’t give them. It’s important to keep in mind.

            1. Alexandra Lynch*

              My star is very pentacle-ish. (grin) Of course it passes, cause they stole all the symbology from the pagans to begin with. There is a garland of holly and berries intertwined with ivy on the mantel, and most people would say how pretty. We know what it means, and I’m fine with running under the radar.

              1. JSPA*

                Glad I’m not the only person who giggles at “the holly and the ivy” being a hyper-Christian-symbolic Christmas song (melded awkwardly onto a pagan ritual). Cultural appropriation is nothing new. ; )

          2. Underinformed Librarian*

            Likewise. I was raised in an ADFC household as well, and I celebrate with the more “winter” elements because I LOVE WINTER SO MUCH <3, and I always thought of myself as celebrating the solstice with my tree and lights in my home. I hadn't considered the Christian affiliation with some of the symbols I thought of as more secular, so I'm very thankful for this post and its threads so that I can be more mindful in the future. For my office, I've stuck to some lights on my monstera plant and a "let it snow" snowman. Also working in a university means the holiday is very emphasized by our quiet month in December with no classes. I'll certainly be mindful of the symbols I'm choosing, especially since I was just headed out to get thank you cards for the winter break for my student employees today!

            1. EmbracesTrees*

              ALL of December is a quiet month for you? I’m envious! Our final exam week goes through the 20, with final grades due the 26th. =(

              In relation to the thread, though, I’m from now on (you get the last whine, sorry!) forbidding myself from complaining: how many other religious traditions are regularly interrupted, ignored, or disrupted by our Christian-dominant calendar? … I learn so much from this site, and the many really thoughtful, intelligent folks in the comments sections. =)

        2. Filosofickle*

          I’m largely unaware of Christian symbols and never thought about the star, either! My parents raised us without religion and definitely without church. Except we celebrate Christmas, because while we don’t identify as such, we come from Christians. So I’ll be reading this thread with interest to find out what else I’m blind to. I appreciate conversations like this.

          1. Gyratory Circus*

            I was raised in a totally secular house and for as long as I’ve had my own tree as an adult have used offbeat ornaments as a topper – for a while it was Darth Vader, then a Dr Who TARDIS, and now this year it’s a Beefeater ornament we picked up when visiting the Tower of London.

            1. MangoAngel*

              We have a red Krispy Kreme “Hot” Donut sign as our topper. It blinks red when flipped on, just like the sign on the stores :)

            2. Else*

              We have a pirate’s hat and parrot on ours. The rest of it looks very traditionally shiny, though. One of us was raised atheist by disaffected Christians, and the other is agnostic coming from way too much religious education.

              There’s a Christmas tree at my workplace, and when I tried to convince them to at least go for garland instead – I got a huge amount of pushback to a couple of gentle requests, and there is no institutional movement against it. My colleagues are all much older (and I’m not young!), and this is definitely a super hypersensitive war-on-Christmas Midwestern rural area, so… :/

            3. Mily*

              I was raised in a very religious home, but we had a felt Santa Claus sock puppet on top of our tree for my entire childhood because my mom couldn’t find an angel that she liked and could afford. Now my religious husband and I have a bird on top because our star broke and we can’t find a replacement that we like.

          2. Princesa Zelda*

            I’m ADFC too, and in my house we always put a Santa hat as the tree topper. We also hang a glass pickle for luck, which between us kids and the various dogs somehow never broke. Even when we knocked over the tree when I was 8 and broke all the *other* ceramic and glass ornaments. I was vaguely aware that the star had something to do with the Three Kings maybe? when I was a kid but didn’t really think about it.

            My dad’s a vaguely-pagan-mostly-atheist who celebrates Saturnalia and my mom’s an agnostic descended from disaffected JWs, so our Christmas traditions are much more cultural than religious for sure. My dad’s favorite tradition is lecturing the cousins about how the Christmas tree is a pagan thing, actually.

              1. JSPA*

                No religion has to be “inclusive” of another. Judaic holidays are not inclusive of other religions either–and so what? The problem is when one religion is so (globally or locally) common as to be mistaken for some sort of “secular default,” and foisted on people who recognize it as No Such Thing (and an active erasure of their own, other tradition). Pagan ≠ secular, but Pagan also ≠ the 800 lb gorilla that is Christianity in the US.

        3. Health Insurance Nerd*

          Yup. I like having a twinkly Christmas tree, but not any of the religious fanfare and goes on it. For this reason we tie a plush Darth Vader to the top instead of an angel or star :)

          1. Seeking Second Childhood*

            I was rather fond of the pic I saw a year or so ago that had a Dr. Who *weeping angel* on top.

        4. mrs__peel*

          My mother and I are both atheists and Star Trek fans, and we usually put a Hallmark ornament of Captain Picard on top of our tree.

          (At home– I’m also Jewish on my dad’s side and not a fan of Christmas stuff in the workplace!)

        5. Miss Pantalones en Fuego*

          I got a pointy silver plastic spear-like thing for mine. Not sure what that represents, exactly. Smiting my enemies in the new year?

      3. Clorinda*

        By ‘bauble’ I just meant shiny globes; is there a Hanukkah specific usage I was not aware of? If so, I apologize, and will use different language in future. Thanks!

        1. anon at work*

          I think that question was in reference to the Hanukkah balls comment. There was a post about that once – someone insisted on hanging “hanukkah balls” on a Christmas tree.

      4. Oranges*

        Thank you! I didn’t know how that would come across because I didn’t think about it. It’s patronizing as anything the more I do think about it.

      5. Grinch*

        Even worse because technically Hanukkah is the celebration of the Maccabee’s over the Seleucids, who were trying to force the Jews to assimilate! The irony!!

        1. Shiphrah*

          I once read a wisecrack that if Judah Maccabee had known what would happen to the observance he’d have started his rebellion on the 4th of July.

      6. EPS*

        I volunteer at a house museum and they have a menorah and some dreidels up as part of their holiday decorations. The justification is that one of the residents of the house was born Jewish (although forced to convert after her marriage).

        After a few of my fellow Jews asked why the menorah, I suggested to the curator putting up a label explaining that the house does have a Jewish connection and its complexities.

        As a Jew, I really don’t want to be tokenized, but as a historian, I love the opportunity to add tidbits of information, especially as pertains to anybody who wasn’t rich, white, male, and Christian, so I thought it was a good compromise.

      7. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        Absolutely, and will read as offensive (not inclusive) to a lot of religious minorities.

      8. CM*

        Ooh, I have some Chanukah ornaments that my kids made at daycare years ago. Blue stars with silver glitter, and their photo. We have them on our Christmas tree. I thought they were cute. But I admit, every year I think, is this appropriate? before putting them up. Looks like the answer is no! Thanks for the heads up that our Jewish friends might find this distasteful.

        1. Nana*

          As a Jewish grandma, I’ll speak up to say that pretty much anything the kindele (children) make is OK. You might check with Jewish friends…but I think it’s lovely and a wonderful way to remember that time in their lives.

    2. HoHumDrum*

      Ooh, can I use this to ask about lights in general?

      I like seeing string lights in trees, around railings, etc in winter because a) pretty and festive but also b) its a nice antidote to the long hours of darkness in winter, but I always wonder if they’re perceived as a secular winter decoration or they stick out as a Christmas trapping.

      When I’m working at a public institution that decides to put string lights up, should I consider pushing back against the forcing of Christmas as a universal holiday?

      1. BethDH*

        I’m culturally Christian so I’ll defer to others for more definitive answers, but I think maybe color scheme and timing might be relevant?
        Obviously red/green says something, but even multicolored lights seem more culturally associated with Christmas than plain white/yellowish lights from my experience.
        Timing also matters — if you put them up and take them down in alignment with Advent/Christmas (so say beginning of December to sometime between Dec. 25 and Jan. 6), then it’s pretty obvious that it’s driven by Christmas. If they’re up from November to March, that seems more connected with alleviating darkness in general.
        But I would like to hear from others on this question in particular!

      2. WantonSeedStitch*

        I feel like light is a part of so many wintertime celebrations to so many faiths. Yule has the return of the sun, Hanukkah has its menorah, Diwali is about the victory of light over darkness…

      3. Tzeitel*

        To me, lights are not secular. I used to feel very alienated growing up surrounded by houses with Christmas lights and my house the only one with a menorah in the window or simply nothing at all. It’s just not tradition to put those electric lights up in Jewish households where I grew up. (However, Hannukah is also the “festival of lights.”) That said, I enjoy decorations of white lights (not red and green colored) as festive/winter wonderland even though I acknowledge that lights are not truly secular. So while acknowledging it’s not a secular practice, I don’t think you should spend capital pushing back against lights unless it’s openly red and green Christmas colors or you hear that people of other faiths have concerns.

        1. tiredcat*

          I think timing of lights also matters. Winter is so, so depressing (sorry, I hate winter). My family would put up Eid lights, which I found really fun – if you’re putting lights up throughout the winter months (Nov – Feb?) I think its more fine than just DECEMBER AND NO OTHER MONTH lights, which feels more Christmassy.

          1. Tzeitel*

            I think sometimes it ends up being that since people put up their decorations so early nowadays and usually takes some time to take them down. Nov-Jan/Feb white lights for winter are lovely. I just know that it is still associated with the holiday season, Christmas in particular!

            1. tiredcat*

              Yeah, I think I would prefer electric (or real) candles because those are pretty well-unassociated with Christmas… or just, lanterns or other forms of pretty light display

          2. CoveredInBees*

            Yes! I would love to have some sort of winter festival in like late January to late February that is all the best part of winter holidays (lights, yummy foods, hot drinks, and fun music) just for the purpose of being festive. I find winter to be a serious downer, especially having grown up in areas that didn’t have as much darkness or cold weather as where I am now. Light therapy helps but only so much.

          3. Aggretsuko*

            There are a LOT of holidays in December for a lot of cultures, presumably because winter is so, so depressing. I hate winter too.

        2. Underinformed Librarian*

          I’ve got red, green, and… yellow? lights on my monstera plant in my office. I’m going to swap them out for white today after reading these threads, because I have them for winter. I like to have lights all through astronomical fall and winter but cultural Christians often complain if things are up before Thanksgiving or after New Year. :-/

        3. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          I think it’s the color and type of lights that matter, and I agree that the lights may not read as secular depending on how they’re put up.

          My family (religious minorities) puts up lights because we have several religious holidays from the end of October through mid-January. But my folks set up their lights so that the patterns and colors are distinct from “typical” Christmas colors. They also use string lanterns that look closer to our cultural background so they look less Christmas-y than typical string lights.

          But I recognize that others do not feel the same, and depending on how this is set up, it could easily go awry.

      4. Mockingdragon*

        I don’t think string lights are a problem. Maybe if they’re only red-and-green or have other symbols on them. But I have a string of lights shaped like peppermints, and rainbow or white lights don’t have any specific symbolism that I’m aware of. (Could be wrong! Speaking as a jew-turned-sorta-pagan, I don’t know a lot of things about Christmas)

        1. EH*

          Candy canes are Christian – they’re shepherds’ hooks to commemorate the shepherds who saw the star.

          1. Uranus Wars*

            round peppermints, too? who knew?! I admit as a non-Christian I often don’t know these things.

            1. EH*

              I’m not sure about the round ones, but the red and white ones are reminiscent enough that I’d count them in this kind of situation to play it safe.

              1. Mockingdragon*

                =O Well, I’m not giving up peppermints. Even knowing this I don’t think I’d read round peppermints as christmas-specific.

            2. Ego Chamber*

              Christianity’s whole deal has historically been about appropriating other religions’ symbols and festivals in a way that erases the original meanings until everything becomes symbolic of Christianity ~somehow~ so much that no one is willing to accept the validity of the original meanings anymore.

              Erasure is the reason for the season.

          2. Hush42*

            They are definitely religious- especially the red and white striped ones- the red is supposed to represent Jesus’ blood and the white his purity. The three fine stripe represent the trinity.
            Also, for a very long time candy canes were used in church to keep children still and quiet during the services. (As a Christian who grew up in a Christian household I tried to use this tidbit to convince my mother I should be allowed to have a candy cane in church each week- unfortunately she never bought that argument).

      5. DrTheLiz*

        I (Jewish) definitely read lights as Christian… BUT I also quite like them, as long as they aren’t too blinky, so… I guess point it out and then let yourself be overruled?

      6. Seven hobbits are highly effective, people*

        One other thing about lights on railings: make sure you’re not wrapping them around handrails in a way that makes it difficult to use them as places to put your hands. Nothing makes me go “no ho ho” more angrily and on a “find someone to take my complaint” level than essentially finding lit-up spikes on the handrail I need to navigate stairs safely in a public space. (I love (white, non-blinking) lights along railings in a way that doesn’t interfere with handholds, because the extra light makes it easier to see where to put my feet, but I need the railings for their intended purpose.)

    3. Sharkie*

      Yes this! My dad’s law firm would put up a tree but they would put up ” Law ornaments” lots of gavels, books, Judge ornaments that type of stuff. OP you said you work in a lab – there are so many cute science ornaments that you cant go wrong

      1. MtnLaurel*

        When I was in grad school and working in a computer lab, we found a small tree and put it up in the office. We decorated it with used printer ribbon, old non-working elements, CDs and the like. That’s what I’d recommend.

        1. Anonymeece*

          Library here – we put up little Chicago/APA/MLA Manual of Style Guides, book ornaments, etc. They looked super cute.

          1. Drago Cucina*

            Our local Autism Support organization puts up a tree at the library and it’s multi-colored puzzle pieces.

            1. Saraquill*

              Oh dear. In terms of dubious symbols, puzzle pieces are a sore point for many autistic people. Long history of neurotypical talking over us and treating us as objects to be fixed. I’m a bigger fan of rainbow colored infinity symbols to represent neurodiversity.

        2. Seeking Second Childhood*

          At my engineering startup job, we decorated a tree with old ribbon cables and prototype devices. Our Jewish boss passed me cash to get a tree from a fundraiser down the street, our Hindu senior engineer had a string of lights, and the rest was taken from storage cabinets.

      2. PollyQ*

        Those may be cute and funny, but if you’re putting them up in December on an evergreen tree, they’re still essentially Christmas ornaments.

    4. Jules the 3rd*

      On the plus side: I think people in my org may read this blog, as the xmas decorations went from ‘angels and lambs’ to ‘snowflakes’ after this came up two years ago. Still have a tree, but all ribbons and ‘balls with donation opportunities’.

    5. Just wondering*

      What about winter-themed decor? Think snow, snowflakes and snowmen. We have an end of year winter party every year and this is always our decor theme. Some people at my office may find it repetitive, but we are trying to avoid any religious symbols and just sticking with nature/seasonal decor.

      1. AccountantWendy*

        I mean, Christmas decorations are pretty repetitive too, so I applaud your office for sticking to snowflakes, snowmen, etc. Maybe they branch out to penguins, polar bears, and llamas? (IDK but holiday llamas seem to be this year’s trend).

      2. soon*

        There are some who identify as Christians (Jehovah Witnesses) who do not celebrate Christmas and reject everything it stands for. However, I once drove past the house of a JW family I knew and saw lights in the window around Christmastime. I called the mom (our kids went to school together and she was a very nice lady) and asked about it, and she said she had a “winter scene” in her window, not Christmas stuff. Dickens characters, little villages, stuff like that. I laughed, and told her to us non-JWs it sure looked like Christmas and she was cutting it close, LOL. She just hated her children not having any of the fun that Christmas brought to most of her classmates, so she went out on a limb a little bit. I bet the brothers at the hall wouldn’t have approved, and me not being a JW of course I wouldn’t rat her out. I did wonder for a moment if she had got out.

        1. Róisín*

          Oof… as someone who grew up one of the Christians-who-do-not-celebrate-Christmas, I’m really uncomfortable with the “haha, it sure LOOKS like you aren’t following your faith properly!” joke. I’m sure in context it was (probably?) fine, but without any context it just sounds like… being the self-appointed faith police.

          What if someone had used your statements to bully her into taking down the winter village, because it “looked like Christmas and she was cutting it close”?

    6. OP*

      I agree! The tree has multicolored lights and plain ball ornaments, and there’s nothing on the top. And there are definitely not any stars, lambs, or angels.

      I also strongly agree with the various commenters who pointed out that we should not put Hanukkah-themed ornaments on the tree. (That was never even under consideration!)

  3. ArtisticScientist*

    I personally find it a bit alienating. Not the singular tree, but the fact that it’s always Christmas decorations that are up. Even the fact I’m planning to wear a Chanukah sweater at my department’s holiday party feels less of a celebration of my culture (though it is) and more of a defiance.

    1. Violet Fox*

      Not to mention the fact that there is no escape form them pretty much anywhere. I ended up switching brands of milk around where I am to the *one* carton that wasn’t decorated for Christmas. The carton itself might be cute, the tree might be pretty, but it is the level of pervasiveness, the expectation of normalcy of it, and the inescapable ness that overwhelms me.

      I also don’t tend to say anything unless it gets really bad because having to explain yet again that I’m Jewish, yet again that I don’t celebrate Christmas, and no it isn’t sad, or poor me because of it. It also makes it a lot harder for me to pick and choose what I do or do not do. Btw being told off for eating a gingerbread cookie because apparently gingerbread can only be eaten at Christmas now even though I ate it all year growing up because it becomes “Look she’s doing Christmast stuff!” and the murmurings that go with it just too much.

      Some years it’s okay, and some years it very much feels like being alone in a crowd.

      Ontop of the students and supervisors have an unequal power arrangement, with the students not having the power. Even if you say it is okay to speak up, their own life experiences might very well tell them that it is not okay to speak up and that the negative consequences are not worth fighting it.

      The other thing to think about is if the lab is that dreary, maybe having some all-year decorations or additional lighting to cheer it up that isn’t holiday linked.

      1. Can I hear a Wahoo?*

        Agreed. Maybe I’m just feeling especially grinchy this year, but as a public university I would steer towards brighting the space in non-holiday ways.

        1. Violet Fox*

          I am too, and I work at a public university where Christmas decorations go up, and people in my department had their third annual “Christmas workshop” (which almost no one showed up to this year because exams are a thing). It’s deeply alienating. The month of various Christmas hats and sweaters are alienating, and the hats at least are worn by a person that I have had conversations about this with, and reminded her that we do work for a public institution and because of that we should respect that our students come from all sorts of cultures and backgrounds, and at least chill out with it.

          I actually asked if people could have some chill with things this year. Not stop, just less of it and the answer I got was basically no because.. reasons.

          1. maoz tzuris*

            Because for some unknown reason (okay, probably extending the shopping season), Christmas is now three months long. And people feel the need to celebrate it for three months straight.

            I don’t get it. Christmas is one day. It’s at the end of December. You would never know this from contemporary American culture.

            1. Ashley*

              In most Christian traditions it is 12 days. this is why most churches don’t decorate until Christmas Eve (or the Sunday before) and you leave everything up until Epiphany January 6th. The commercialization of the three month shopping season and Christmas movies starting in October is why I think it can falsely feel secular.

              1. Oh So Anon*

                Also, Advent is a 22-28 day affair in most Christian traditions, starting from late November or early December.

                1. Shiphrah*

                  Advent is supposed to be a penitential season akin to Lent, so no decorations or carols, etc. As if.

            2. Grits McGee*

              To be fair, the traditional Roman Catholic Christmas lasts for several days, from Christmas Eve to Epiphany, with multiple discrete religious ceremonies and traditions.

              1. Elizabeth West*

                Yep. Our tree went up on Thanksgiving weekend (probably for convenience sake), But we did the Nativity scene too. It stayed up until January 6. We put the shepherds, sheep, and wise men far from the manger and made a game out of moving them closer and closer as they “traveled.”

          2. Burned Out Supervisor*

            I’m a Christian and experience Christmas fatigue. I tire of the incessant merriment, santa crap, talk about gifts, etc. We haven’t had a tree up in 2 years because our cats are complete buttholes and would destroy it, but I gotta say, I’m loving not having to drag it out of storage again only to take it all down in 3 weeks.

        2. ArtisticScientist*

          I’m at a private. But I might push toward purchasing both Chanukah and Kwanza decor, and decorations of other celebrations that take place around now through our graduate student association.

          1. curly sue*

            My question to many of these threads is ‘why only holidays that are in this season’?

            Putting up other December holiday decorations is still declaring, even unintentionally, that Christmas’s timing is the important thing, and all other faiths may be considered, eventually, during Christian Decorating Season. If winter decorations are necessary to brighten up a space, why does that space not also need brightening in spring? Or autumn? Why aren’t people looking for Passover decorations in March and April when the skies are grey and gloomy? Or bright colours for Holi?

            If inclusivity is the point, then be truly inclusive and be conscious of the multitude of the world’s faiths and traditions year-round. If the intent is to fold the rest of us in under Christmas Decorating Season’s umbrella so as to alleviate guilt, please reconsider the policy entirely.

            1. SongbirdT*

              I think it would be awesome to decorate for holidays of all origins all throughout the year! That would be amazing!

              I guess, tho, that as an atheist decorating for most any faith-based holiday other than Christmas feels a little bit like cultural appropriation and icky. Like, I’d love to do a menorah because they are SO PRETTY. But wouldn’t that be gauche since I’m not Jewish in any regard?

              1. Róisín*

                I am also not Jewish, and I have a menorah! I also make challah for Rosh Hashanah, and last year I wound up sitting with two Jewish friends sharing the challah and apples with honey. Both of them told me I made their week by helping them celebrate even in a small way. I’ve found that if you do your research and respect the traditions, people of pretty much all religions are delighted to have you join their rituals.

                So, don’t just light all the candles and call it a day. Know the days and times to light them, know the order to light them in, read the history of the holiday and understand its purpose.

                1. Oaktree*

                  Roisin, others may disagree with me, but honestly, I feel it’s pretty icky and appropriative for a non-Jew to perform Jewish rituals. The only exceptions are if they are invited to a specific event where those are happening and are invited explicitly to take part. (This includes intermarried people.) But what you’re doing makes me really uncomfortable.

                2. writerbecc*

                  Why would you do this? As a Jew, I find it appropriative and…not cool. If you want to celebrate with Jewish friends, that’s one thing.

                  Celebrating Jewish holidays without being Jewish would be like me taking Communion at a Catholic Mass.

                3. Director of Alpaca Exams*

                  I just full-body cringed at this. This is pure appropriation. If you want to respect the traditions, maybe… don’t… take them over?

                  Challah bread isn’t just an egg bread that’s shaped a certain way; the actual challah is the bit of dough you take out and burn in the oven as a remembrance of Temple sacrifices. Hanukkah candles recall a miracle—a divine act—as well as efforts to fight assimilation. It’s not just baking some bread and lighting some candles. These are religious and spiritual acts. If you read the history of the holiday and understand its purpose, you understand that part of its purpose is the glorification of Hashem. That’s why our blessings aren’t “bless these candles” but “blessed are you, our god, who invites us to participate in holiness with you through lighting these candles”.

                  There are certainly plenty of atheist, agnostic, and secular Jews who bake or eat challah or light Hanukkah candles as ways of acknowledging tradition and culture rather than with religious intent, but they are Jews and they get to do that. By all means bake challah with your Jewish friends, light candles with your Jewish friends… but if you’re not a Jew, please don’t take the lead or do it by yourself and then call it respect.

                4. Burned Out Supervisor*

                  I’m not Jewish and find this very presumptuous. I know you’ve had some positive feedback, but I’d invite you to think about actually asking people of other faiths who you’re not close friends with how they really feel about you doing this.

                5. BenAdminGeek*

                  It sounds like your heart is in the right place, but I’d recommend against doing this as your own thing, versus coming alongside your Jewish friends to celebrate their holiday with them. Celebrate with your friends! But it feels very “appropriationy” to just perform the ritual itself.

                6. Dolorous Bread*

                  So my ex-husband was Jewish, and I was the best cook in the family, in-laws included. I made amazing latkes for Hanukkah, mouth-watering brisket and tzimmes for Passover, and an apple cake for Rosh Hashanah that would knock your socks off. Before I met my ex I worked in a conservative Jewish home for 4 years, so I was used to celebrating these holidays for nearly 15 years.

                  Well, I got a divorce this year. And while I’ll miss lighting the menorah and taking part in seder, I’m not Jewish and I’m not about to appropriate it for myself. I think your heart is in the right place but by the feedback you’ve received here, I think it’s something to reconsider.

                7. emuroo*

                  Róisín, I’m also Jewish, and like a lot of the people who’ve responded I sort of cringed at this, but I want to give a little more detail, because it’s not that all of this is upsetting, just parts of it. To me, at least, there’s a huge difference between bringing a round challah and honey and apples and sharing it with Jewish friends and lighting a menorah in your own home without any jewish friends.

                  The former is celebrating with your friends, and it’s something where some people might not want to do it, but others would be totally comfortable. The latter feels really appropriative and sort of like playing with other people’s holy practices as if they’re just games that anyone can play.

                  Sometimes I find that people conflate the two – my best friend once had someone tell her off because every year we invite her and her family to come to our house during Chanukkah and have latkes and brisket, and that’s silly, because that’s a case where we’re inviting her to come celebrate with us. What would be bad is if she then decided to light candles on her own on other nights. To me the difference is whether you’re sharing a celebration with the people it belongs to, vs. claiming it as your own by doing the rituals even though you aren’t Jewish.

              2. AuroraLight37*

                As a Jew, I am not cool with people not of my faith using my religious symbols because they’re pretty. Hanukkah has meaning behind it, so does the menorah. Thank you for not using one.

            2. MayLou*

              Not disagreeing with your overall point that Christmas-flavoured inclusion is exclusive, but in the northern hemisphere at least, this time of year needs brightening up more than most.

              1. curly sue*

                If that were the main reason, may I present Tu bishvat, which falls in January / February. A feast of fruits / festival for the trees would be a lovely reason to decorate in the cold, dark months of winter. And yet…

                1. EH*

                  That sounds lovely!

                  Wicca-flavored Pagans have Imbolc (fire/candles/etc) in early February too, iirc.

                2. Alexandra Lynch*

                  Pagans usually do celebrate Imbolc on February 1. Lots of candles and lights, and the group I led usually sat down and sort of brainstormed what we might want to work on in the coming year. Not just in a religious or magical sense, either; one can as easily say that you want to get your body to where you can run a marathon, or learn self-defence, etc. Not so much the time to dig in and start on it. Time to sit with the idea of “What if I could? What if I did? Very useful holiday.

            3. Dahlia*

              “If winter decorations are necessary to brighten up a space, why does that space not also need brightening in spring?”

              I think this goes back to why we have winter holidays at all. It’s cold and dark af and you need an excuse to not hate everything :P

            4. tiredcat*

              I definitely agree. As a Muslim, we currently have *no* winter holidays – so it’s always weird when Eid falls in December and suddenly everyone is putting up some crescent moons w/ their Christmas trees – but whenever its not in December, no one cares. I find that super, super alienating and still v. colonial.

            5. AllTheNope*

              People have celebrated the return of the sun for millennia. That happens around December 21st in the northern hemisphere. That’s why so many christian sects have jumped on the bandwagon. It was a cheap and easy way to gain converts aside from the many forced conversions throughout history.
              Humans used to have a connection with the movement of the earth through time/space.

            6. ArtisticScientist*

              We do do things for Dewali and for the Chinese New Year. We haven’t done anything while I’m here for Passover, though there are Passover-friendly snacks for the snack break we have once a week.

              I’m worried about the tokenism that’s mentioned downwards in the comments, but I’d also like something that could counter out the obviously Christmas decorations.

            7. BRR*

              This definitely always bothered me. You could see a menorah put out but then the mandatory staff meeting on Yom Kippur.

            8. Nic*

              Agreed. If there’s a work area that you want to decorate, then decorate it year-round.

              Either pick completely secular themes like the local seasons or “this month’s unknown scientist”, or compile a calendar of the world’s major religious holidays (or at least, those celebrated by the people in your office) and spend time showcasing each of them.

          2. TheSnarkyB*

            Don’t lump in Kwanzaa just to be inclusive. If there’s no one in the department who truly celebrates that and *wants* to guide the inclusion of Kwanzaa or Chanukah, please don’t incorporate them on your own. It’s lip service, and it doesn’t help your cause.

      2. New Job So Much Better*

        The gingerbread thing reminds me of Sheldon on The Big Bang Theory saying no, he is not drinking eggnog due to the holiday season. He’s been known to enjoy an eggnog poolside!

        1. JustaTech*

          I was amazed to read in one of the Little House on the Prairie books (Farmer Boy) that they considered eggnog a summer drink to keep the workers fueled during the harvest. (It is a lot of calories in a quick-to-consume format.)

          1. Elizabeth West*

            I enjoy eggnog year-round. I used to make it as a kid from a recipe in an old Childcraft book. Raw eggs; didn’t die.

            I think Barbara Walker’s Little House Cookbook has one also because of the Farmer Boy thing, although I can’t look because my copy is packed away. It has recipes (receipts, back then) for nearly all the food mentioned in the books. You can get it on Amazon.

            1. JustaTech*

              I have that book and I love it! I still cook a few things out of it (mostly the fried apples and onions). My mom *hated* that book, mostly because I think it reminded her of the food my grandmother cooked badly when she was a kid.

      3. Clisby*

        Gingerbread is for Christmas? I completely overlooked that one – I wonder what gingerbread men have to do with Christmas.

        1. MsSolo*

          It’s because proper gingerbread (not the biscuit kind of gingerbread men) keeps really well, so it’s a winter food, and has ended up entangled with Christmas traditions in a lot of countries.

        2. Violet Fox*

          I grew up with it being a regular bakery treat and moved to a place where it is much more of a Christmas thing. I also grew up eating ginger cake all year because my mom and I both like it, and it was one of the few things we could agree on regularly.

          1. Blueberry*

            Hearing about people hassling you for eating gingerbread makes me want to find my Hanukkah cookie cutters and make you a box of gingerbread dreidls.

            1. BookishMiss*

              I’ll make you gingerbread dinosaurs in the non-winter months, and I’ll DEFINITELY make you Halloween gingerbread if you want.

              1. Violet Fox*

                I make bat cookies a lot of years, and even brought them into work once or twice, too much confusion of my coworkers.

                I actually make bats all year, because I like bats but that’s besides the point.

                Gingerbread dinosaurs sounds amazing!

              2. Jaydee*

                Even at Christmas, all the cookie cutters come out! We’ve had gingerbread shamrocks, gingerbread woodland creatures (moose, bear, squirrels are my fave), gingerbread cookies shaped like our state, and gingerbread bats and cats in addition to the more traditional gingerbread humans and evergreen trees.

                1. Elizabeth West*

                  This sounds fun. I have a shitload of cookie cutters in all different shapes and I never bother. Perhaps when I’m settled again, I will.

          2. Clisby*

            I did too – you could always get gingerbread men at a bakery. I might very well have missed the segue into gingerbread men have something to do with Christmas.

            When I posted my previous comment, I had forgotten about gingerbread houses – I know some people do that at Christmas. I don’t remember those as being a thing in my childhood, but maybe – I associate gingerbread houses with Hansel and Gretel.

        3. Spero*

          I grew up making valentine’s day gingerbread hearts (a German tradition I believe) and making gingerbread and spice cake throughout winter months! What do you eat on a cold mid-January day if not gingerbread?

      4. Boomerang Girl*

        For me, it’s the assumption that it’s sad that I don’t celebrate Christmas or that I am not spending it with family that is super annoying.

        1. Director of Alpaca Exams*

          I called a customer service line about a messed-up order, and while the agent was waiting for her computer to load my order, she asked me about my Christmas plans as casual chit-chat.

          “I don’t celebrate Christmas,” I said.

          She gasped like I had just announced I’d be living on bread and water while everyone else enjoyed a month of feasting. “Why NOT?” she asked.

          “Well, I’m Jewish,” I said.

          She calmed down a bit at that, and later she said it was her first time working in a call center, so I think she was very young. I guess I broadened her horizons and I hope she’ll find some different chatty question to ask future callers. But it’s just exhausting having to go through an entire month of this.

          1. Richard Hershberger*

            The Puritans–at least the more hardcore among them–didn’t celebrate Christmas, dismissing it as Popish. There are still some branches of Protestantism that don’t do Christmas, though they tend to be pretty far out of mainstream American Protestantism. The ones most people have heard of is the Jehovah’s Witnesses.

            1. Clisby*

              The JW’s don’t celebrate Christmas (or Easter), but I’m not sure it’s because they think it’s Popish, exactly. They regard both holidays as largely rooted in pagan tradition, and not Bible-based.

            2. Lara*

              I’m in a lot of Reformed circles (typically Presbyterian and Dutch Reformed) and I see a lot of people who don’t celebrate Christmas for exactly this reason still.

              1. Burned Out Supervisor*

                Some Protestants don’t celebrate in the modern way that we’ve become accustomed to because it distracts from the message of Jesus’ birth (same reasoning for rabbits during Easter and the completed disregard for Halloween). I have a lot of relatives who are born-again and will bore you to death about it.

            3. Anonymeece*

              My family – diehard Calvinists – didn’t put up a Christmas tree because they felt it was too pagan.

              Now I’m pagan Lite and love Christmas trees for that reason, lol.

              1. Honoria Glossop*

                I grew up die-hard Calvinist/Reformed, and every year it was an emotional decision whether we were celebrating “pagan” Christmas or abstaining like good Christians do. Then I married a man from a very Evangelical Christian family that rails against “The War On Christmas”. All I do now is laugh and go skiing for the final week of December to avoid everyone.

                1. Richard Hershberger*

                  The “War on Christmas” is a curious cultural construct. A half century ago it was a commonplace to decry the commercialization of Christmas. This is the entire point of “A Charlie Brown Christmas.”

                  The Fox News construct plays off this, but in a Bizarro World way. Now the “War on Christmas” is a fight against private businesses using “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas.” As a Christian, I am all in favor of the “Happy Holidays” formula, not merely because it is more inclusive, but because it does not conflate Christmas with commerce. The “War on Christmas” crowd is fighting to do exactly this: the reverse of the old complaint.

                  It gets weirder. The discussion about “Baby It’s Cold Outside” has been sucked into the “War on Christmas” argument. This is weird on every level. First off, it isn’t a Christmas song. I may not even be a winter song. The claim about the temperature is made by a decidedly unreliable narrator. But regardless of the season, it is a song celebrating extramarital sex, playing out the seduction dance leading up to the act. The “remember the reason for the season” crowd ought to be denouncing radio stations for playing this in the Christmas music mix, not denouncing the people who want it removed. We live in interesting times.

            4. Arts Akimbo*

              Heck, some of my relatives who are Roman Catholic don’t celebrate Christmas except by going to Mass.

          2. Ev*

            I got that one last year (curse you, library circulation small talk!), and then the lady spent the next 10 minutes trying to convince me that Jesus loved me and that I should come to her church for Christmas anyway. (I am pagan, not Jewish, and telling people so seems to leave them with the idea that I am more in need of conversion.)

            It’s the worst.

        2. Tongue Cluckin' Grammarian*

          This so much.
          I grew up culturally-Christian, but as I get older I find myself disliking all those trappings more and more each year. I haven’t personally celebrated a Christmas in at least 5yrs, though I’ve sorta participated in work traditions (minor decorating, Secret Santa, etc).
          This year, I’m not participating in anything. The only nod to this holiday from me is sending my nieces gifts.

          I’ve tried pushing back at work, but aside from myself, everybody seems to be rabid about Christmas, and the bosses declare it secular to boot (despite all my evidence to the contrary). So, I hide in my office and just get work done while others fool around with Christmas stuff. I also say nothing anymore on my position because then I have to deal with their FEELS about me not believing the same.

        3. Róisín*

          “What are you asking for for Christmas?” or
          “Are you going to visit your parents for Christmas?” or
          “What are you getting your siblings for Christmas?”
          My family doesn’t celebrate Christmas.
          “Oh. Are they Jewish?”
          No, they’re not.
          “Then why not?”

          I don’t want to talk about this. They just don’t, okay? It’s not something that needs to be universal.

          I’ve recently adopted paganism and am shifting from Christmas — which I’ve been celebrating alone for 4 years because all my friends are with their families and as mentioned above, mine does not celebrate — to Yule, which I will celebrate alone because I’m a solitary witch and my rituals are personal. It’s a nice transition, but it’s leaving me right back in this “I don’t wanna talk about it okay” place the entire month.

          1. Alexandra Lynch*

            What I finally settled on is that I celebrate both. But they’re somewhat different. Yule is about the religious meaning of the rebirth of the sun. I may well keep an overnight vigil, and do other less-social things. Christmas is for my mother and my niece and my grown sons, who are some vague sort of “spiritual” instead of being either pagan like me or Christian like my mom. And I don’t mind spreading it out; it would be a little difficult to stuff it all into 24 hours. There’s a lot of overlap in the decorations, and the instrumental versions of a lot of traditional carols are very nice, and, well, I like celebrating. Which is good because my birthday is a week before Christmas Eve. (grin)

        4. Keepin' it to myself*

          Oh, so very this! At some point I let everyone in my life know that I no longer chose to participate in secular Christmas celebrations, including exchanging gifts. The only reason I celebrated Christmas before was for my mom’s sake — I threw a party, invited all our friends, and it was a terrific day! I decorated my house for the event. Now, she’s living in assisted living, and is a tad demented. I attend the holiday feasts thrown by the (truly wonderful) management at my mom’s facility, and I no longer decorate, nor do I have a tree. Once my mom dies (she’s 90, so still a lot of life in the old girl yet!) I will dispense with it altogether. And no, it’s not tragic that I spend Christmas alone! Actually, it’s kinda wonderful. I politely decline invitations from friends (who mostly invite me out of unfounded pity) and have a beautiful day in nature, all to myself.

          Last year I decided to forgive Christianity for pissing me off for so many years (for oh, so many things), and I have begun attending a church in my town. The minister has been wonderful about educating me on the true historical and spiritual significance of all of the Christian holidays, and it’s been eye-opening and deeply moving. There is nothing in the teachings that point to a tree, gingerbread, or gratuitous gift exchanges. I like this version of Christmas so much better!

      5. tiredcat*

        I think the frustrating thing is that there are also so, so many great winter decorations. Decorate for New Years! Put up party hats and pretty snowflakes! Light beautiful candles that make the office smell like sugar cookies! Put up general pretty lights because winter is dark and sometimes sad! There are so many good options that are not Christmas-oriented

        1. ItchyCat*

          I agree with most of this except — please please please don’t light scented candles (which, technically you can’t do anyway due to fire prevention rules) or have other things to scent the entire office. When someone does that at my office, I am stuck spending the entire day taking dose after dose of meds so that I don’t end up peeling every bit of skin off my body due to scent-sensitive triggered itching.

      6. Anal-yst*

        Oh man. I deeply resemble and appreciate this comment.

        Last year I had myself a bit of an incident at work where I was inexplicably called out for wishing a Christian colleague a merry Christmas (Full context was, oh haha we have more of a type of work we dislike merry Christmas). This meant I was engaging in Christmas Things and got drilled for opting out of making Christmas cards.

        Yo tacit acknowledgement=/ whoops I tripped and converted and am definitely down for the whole thing.

    2. rayray*

      That’s a good point, I’m religious myself and think we should be allowed to celebrate those kinds of things but we should make room for all. I wonder if you could ask about putting up some decorations or bringing some traditional foods. I personally really like learning about other religions and cultures from others and I would enjoy that if someone at my workplace did that. I’ve never been to a Chanukah celebration and I think it would be cool to see that incorporated into the work party.

      1. Violet Fox*

        Honestly I would rather keep all of that out of work. I’m just too tired and grumpy to have to be the department Jew who teaches a teachable lession that other cultures exist, and look at this really incredibly minor holiday that has been elevated because it just happens to hit right around when the big important (modernly) Christian one does.

        1. Doesn't Celebrate Xmas, Not Sad About It*

          Yep – it started as a kid when I was the one Jewish child in school and was volunteered to “teach” the class to make latkes. I don’t want to be the office ambassador. I don’t want a Chanukah bush, or 8-day “advent calendar”, or dreidel ornaments on a tree. I don’t want people to express sympathy that I don’t celebrate Christmas!

          1. Monica Bird*

            Same! Every year my teachers would be so excited that I was Jewish and different and want me to talk to my classmates about Hanukkah. Eventually I put my foot down because honestly, I had the same classmates year after year. They already knew the story, and as a kid it was not my job to teach diversity. Can’t I just have a personal celebration that doesn’t involve needing to educate?

        2. rayray*

          Ahh sorry. I just live in an area where we don’t have many Jewish people so I’ve never had much of an opportunity to learn about traditions from Jewish people instead of a textbook or movie. I also have a lot of interest in learning about faith and culture, probably more so than the average person. That’s just why I would like it, but I understand if people wouldn’t want to.

          1. Violet Fox*

            I’m sorry, but minorities don’t exist to be your teachers. Try books, or try a rabbi if they are actually interested in doing that sort of outreach.

            1. rayray*

              Wow. Okay. I didn’t mean to imply that I’m entitled to anyone’s time or anything, just expressing a genuine interest. No need for you to apologize for that, no one owes me anything. I just like to learn, and it never occurred to me that asking questions or trying to learn about different people would be offensive.

              1. Will "scifantasy" Frank*

                That…wasn’t an apology as such. And while I appreciate your “never occurred to me,” one of the fundamental truths of this whole thing is that while you, as a member of the majority culture, might never have been around many of this minority culture…everybody who is a member of the minority culture has always been around members of yours.

                Put it another way: it may be your first opportunity to encounter Jews, and you may be eager to learn, and have this great idea that everybody could contribute their own cultural aspects…every Jew in the room has been asked to do that time and time again, which means extra work for them teaching people about their culture. Explaining their traditional food and symbols and symbolism. While your interest may be genuine, your approach is to ask the Jews to do the work of spoonfeeding you.

                1. Violet Fox*

                  I’ve been put on the spot for that sort of thing since elementary school and I am just tired. I’m tired of doing it, tired of being singled out, tired of people using it to try to convert me (yes that has happened, a lot actually).

                2. Will "scifantasy" Frank*

                  (As see above, with Doesn’t Celebrate Xmas, Not Sad About It*, being voluntold to be the Judaism Teacher as an 8-year-old.)

              2. Grinch*

                This is really hard to explain and I’ll likely muck it up, but here it goes:

                Rayray, I know you mean well, but there’s something inherently privileged about being – even genuinely! – interested in learning about other religions/faith/culture. Like, the only way you don’t already know about them is because you’re part of the majority. Minorities (well, myself and those I know at least!), don’t feel the need to learn about Christian faith, have any desire to attend church, etc. because we’re already inundated with it.

                So, when you say something like, “I’m interested in learning about your faith and culture” it’s yet just another reminder of how privileged you are in your current ignorance (that I understand you’re trying to get over!). Not that this is helpful, but it reminds me of the issues of anthropology; like, my culture isn’t just an Interesting Thing that you get to understand/study to satisfy your desires for knowledge!

                I’m sure others will disagree with me. But there might also be some who agree, and it could explain why they may bristle – more than you might expect – when they hear people say they want to learn about their culture.

                1. Your Friendly Neighborhood Enby*

                  This makes a lot of sense. I try to Google a bunch and read up on things I’m interested in rather than asking people to educate me – there are 101s and other primers on almost everything online, and plenty of books on most stuff as well.

                  It probably helps that I’m non-binary but not very “out” about it because I don’t want to have to be the Gender Ambassador to all the folks who aren’t educated about it. I don’t want to cross-examine people who aren’t explicitly offering their time and knowledge to me because I know how exhausting that can feel.

              3. Det. Charles Boyle*

                rayray, sorry people are jumping all over your desire to learn more. We’re all doing the best we can, so maybe we can extend kindness and compassion to everyone here, instead of shutting down honest interest.

                1. Blueberry*

                  Here we go again with demanding kindness and compassion only of the minority group. Perhaps people could extend kindness and compassion to those who have been asked time and time again to teach everyone about their group, just because they exist as a member, since they were vulnerable children, and try to understand why people can be utterly exhausted with being asked to do so one more time?

                  Honestly, not least as a Black woman who’s been made to be an ambassador time and again, my heart goes out to every single Jewish person in this thread who’s saying “please don’t ask me to teach you, I’ve done too much of that for one lifetime.” I don’t see why that’s such a terribly unsympathetic position (except that I know full well why people in the majority find it such an unsympathetic position.)

                2. AuroraLight37*

                  No one is stopping anyone from learning more. People are objecting to being asked to do Judaism/Other Minority Faith 101 in the workplace when that’s not part of their job. At work, I’m Aurora the Librarian, not Aurora the Educational Jew. Likewise, my pagan coworkers don’t necessarily want to spend their time explaining that yes, they worship Thor, and no, Thor from the Avengers has nothing to do with their faith, for the fifteenth time that week.

              4. Monica Bird*

                You have the ability to look it up on your own. I hear a lot of ‘oh I’ve always been curious’ and yet, somehow these people never took the time to educate themselves.

              5. Timothy (TRiG)*

                If you want to ask about Jewish religion and culture, try going to Mi Yodeya (focused questions and answers on Jewish life) or to /r/Judaism (discussion, mostly between Jews but questions from others welcome).


              1. Oranges*

                This was a reply born by hundreds of interactions with the majority culture. I’m surprised there are minorities willing to explain at all. It’s something that the majority (which I am in this particular case btw) has to understand. It’s not their job to educate us. It’s our job to educate ourselves or to seek out willing instructors.

                1. Health Insurance Nerd*

                  Right, but rayray didn’t comment that they thought it was anyone’s job to educate them. I understand where the frustration may have come from, but that in no way makes it ok to be rude to someone, especially in this forum where folks are really expected to be better.

                2. Will "scifantasy" Frank*

                  Rayray didn’t say they wanted to be educated in so many words, but there’s really no other way Jews were going to hear this:

                  “I wonder if you could ask about putting up some decorations or bringing some traditional foods. I personally really like learning about other religions and cultures from others and I would enjoy that if someone at my workplace did that. I’ve never been to a Chanukah celebration and I think it would be cool to see that incorporated into the work party.”

                3. Oranges*

                  To me, that reply read like a) they were stating their lack of knowledge (okay!) b) they had the expectation of getting educated by the minority people they met (not okay). Rayray didn’t know this and I agree that the reply could have been more tactful. BUT shutting that stuff down is important and if the reply is not tactful in doing so, I’m okay with that.

                4. Oranges*

                  Another way of stating it: Your -or Rayray’s- discomfort about the rudeness is less important then minorities not getting pestered with “teach me!” even if the “teach me!” wasn’t explicitly stated.

                  By a lot in my equations.

                5. Burned Out Supervisor*

                  No to pile on, but the sentiment expressed, IMO, was “I’m open to learning” not “I have been reading/learning”. It’s the passive voice that’s indicative of the alienation and erasure that people of other faiths experience. There’s nothing stopping rayray or others from using Google to learn about other faiths’ winter celebrations/decorations/rituals other than their lack of inherent desire to except when these types of discussions pop up. Not that that’s a bad thing per se, but sometimes it’s better to really think about what you would be willing to do to learn about a culture (other than comment about it once or twice a year) before you join said conversations.

                6. RecoveringJD*

                  I get that being the ambassador of diversity and inclusion in your space/community is unfair/ unreasonable/tiring/frustrating. I’m sorry. That sucks. Agree 100% that those in the majority need to educate themselves. Agree that the majority needs to understand the context of their questions. Disagree that asking respectfully within a discussion on a public comment “board” is not ok.

                  I’m in the majority, working in higher ed, and I’ve done some reading about various elements of diversity and inclusion and attended forums and presentations –but sometimes I’m even more confused than when I started. I wish I could ask someone, but (for reasons made so clear here) just can’t. I’m sure the result is that I get things wrong or offend. Unfortunately, discouraging someone (in the majority or not) for asking a question (in a public space, respectfully and with an intention to truly learn) doesn’t further diversity and inclusion. It makes that person (and all the other people who are lurking) less likely to learn more. And honestly, that doesn’t do any good for anyone. (See current political things and such.)

                  If you think that you shouldn’t have to/don’t want to answer a question -ok! Just keep scrolling. The world might be better if we all took a deep breath once in a while instead of responding.

              1. Harvey 6-3.5*

                I suspect the minority faith experience differs based on location. If you live in a small town as the only Jew/Muslim/Hindu/etc. etc., you feel like you will set the paradigm for how your group is viewed by everyone, with more pressure to “get it right.” I had that feeling when I lived in a southern city. But in my current large East coast city, with many different faiths well represented, not so much of an issue.

            2. Chaich*

              I’m sorry, but minorities don’t exist to be your teachers. Try books, or try a rabbi if they are actually interested in doing that sort of outreach.

              Well, no…but it is also true that one of the biggest predictors of how tolerant someone is of LGBTQ+ people is whether they know any LGBTQ+ people. And this also has a lot to do with why society has become much more accepting of LGBTQ+ over the past decade. I think this is likely to be true of groups such as Muslims as well.

              So while I would never say that you’re *obligated* to “be a teacher,” I can see it as being a morally praiseworthy thing to do.

              1. ...*

                There’s a lot going on in this thread, but also, maybe someone just cares about another person and wants to know about their life? I would ask another christian what their plans are and I might ask another person too not knowing their faith or knowing its different than mine. If they say oh we make X food and do X ritual. Is it rude for me to then say “tell me more about that” or “what ingredients go into food X”. is it wrong for one minority to ask another minority what their religious practices entail? Or can you never ask only if you’re the majority. Since I am an athiest that is technically a minority…

                1. Elizabeth West*

                  While one may be well-intentioned when asking about traditions, context matters. I don’t think it’s wrong to ask a couple of questions in the flow of a casual, organic conversation.

                  If you were talking with someone and they mentioned [insert thing you’re unfamiliar with] and you said, I don’t know [thing]; what is that? and they explained it, and you said Ah, gotcha, and moved on, that would be fine. It might lead you to more questions, but as with any subject, you gotta read the room.

                  To demand the minority group present their traditions under the guise of “education” is pretty clueless. And yes, it obviously feels like a demand, one Jewish people here, who experience it frequently, are telling us they find tiresome.

          2. Monica Bird*

            The thing is, I’m not a rabbi or a religious teacher and I don’t want to be viewed as one. Yet, as soon as people find out I’m Jewish I get a lot of questions and I am cast into that role. It’s exhausting to have to re-establish my boundaries over and over again, but also know that I am supposed to do it in a tone that doesn’t offend someone because I’m now a representative of my people.

            If someone is curious about various faiths, there are countless of resources out there. It’s not my responsibility to educate someone, and it also shouldn’t be my responsibility to make sure my tone doesn’t offend them when I want to say no.

            1. Arts Akimbo*

              Yes, this!!

              It is so exhausting to have to be an exemplar of human awesomeness because you know if you slip up that error will be held up as proof of your group’s inferiority in some way.

              Being known as a member of a minority group is to be constantly under scrutiny. We just want to… *not* be under scrutiny for a minute? Please?

          3. Elizabeth West*

            There are plenty of places to do it outside work and on your own. When I became interested in Buddhism, I found a sangha by myself and books online.

            I recommend visiting your local library; they can help you find books targeted to your interest from basics through more comprehensive information. Plus yay, supporting libraries.

        3. TiffanyAching*

          Yes! I’m Jewish, and when my boss found out, she was all “Oh! Well I guess we should put up a menorah with the Christmas tree this year!….um, where would we get one?”

          Which is sweet and all, and Hanukkah happens to fall in line with Christmas this year so the timing is appropriate but like…I shouldn’t have to be telling my boss where to acquire religious paraphernalia and also that we’re closed the whole week of Hanukkah so it’s not like you should be lighting it anyway and oh BTW, coworkers, if you didn’t know I’m Jewish and that’s why the office now has a weird candelabra tucked in a corner.

          1. CL Cox*

            I think it was appropriate for her to ask where to get a menorah, how else is she to know? I mean, if she just goes on Amazon and orders whatever she finds, it might be OK or it might be inaccurate or even offensive. She’s not asking you to get it, she’s asking where you recommend she look. You could gently point out that it’s not appropriate this year (and explain why), but if you don’t want to have a menorah or anything like that, you can let her know that too. If you do want to have a menorah or other decorations in the future (when Hanukkah does fall on work days), you can let her know and encourage her to note it on her calendar so you aren’t the one who has to nudge her.

            1. Oranges*

              Yeah, but a quick google could tell her that. It’s the death by a thousand cuts. Cmon, don’t put one more cut on them.

              It reminds me of a demotivational poster: “No single raindrop thinks they are responsible for the flood”

            2. nonethefewer*

              I wonder what about “minority folk are expected to educate members of the majority ALL THE TIME” is escaping people. Like, I get annoyed when someone asks me any question about anything where it’s obvious they didn’t even bother doing any research at all first. I have this feeling times a thousand when it’s some clueless person who is part of the majority asking me about some minority-culture stuff.

              (Of course, I’m considered to be rude if I get snappish about it, even though I’m bleeding out from the papercuts of “but I’m just asking a quick question!”.)

              1. Blueberry*

                From what I’ve seen, not least in my own experiences of being a minority of whom teaching and handholding were constantly demanded, it’s about who’s in a marked group, and thus required to explain and justify their existence, vs who’s in an unmarked, “normal” group.

                Which is the wordy way of saying, I totally hear you.

        4. Clisby*

          I would rather keep all that out of work too. Not because I don’t like Christmas, even though I’m now atheist. I don’t want to have July 4 celebrations or New Year’s celebrations or Thanksgiving celebrations at work, either.

      2. RockProf*

        I think, particularly in the question’s example, that would be a lot to ask of students or employees with the inherent power imbalance. I think would be one thing if it’s led by someone who is interested in sharing, but asking someone to teach you about their holidays/beliefs could lead to a lot of their time spent on that instead of on their actual jobs, schoolwork, etc.

      3. NYCBanker*

        Ugh I hate that. When people say things like that it makes me feel like the “token Jew”. That it always has to be my responsibility to teach about it and my religion feels like something at a zoo

      4. Liberry Pie*

        The thing about “mak[ing] room for all” is that in practice it means including all holidays *that are celebrated in December*. So it’s still driven by Christmas, since that’s the reason we tend to focus on December holidays. And they aren’t necessarily the most important holidays in every religion.

        As a Jew my major holidays are in the Fall and Spring. I don’t really have any desire to celebrate them at work. What I’d love, though, is for people to know that the holidays are happening! Just so you can wish me a happy holiday and not schedule major things on those days. That would mean so much more to me than remembering to include my holiday because your own holiday made you think of it.

        1. AuroraLight37*

          Exactly, it would mean a lot more to me if people wouldn’t insist on scheduling meetings on Yom Kippur than it does when they throw a menorah ornament on their Christmas tree.

      5. Sylvan*

        I know you mean well, but I don’t want to be a learning experience… I just want to be left alone about religion at work. It’s not a safe or comfortable topic for everyone.

    3. DoctorDog*

      I actually find the Christmas tree quite alienating as well. Growing up in a town with a very substantial ratio of Jews to non-Jews I think I had a skewed perception of what it feels like to be a Jewish person in most of America. I frequently encounter people who, knowing I am Jewish, still insist that I must do something for Christmas completely innocently. Not to be too bleak but, many Jewish (and Muslim, etc. etc.) people died in lieu of conversion. Christmas trees are festive, FOR CHRISTMAS. not just “the season”. I am a proponent of the holiday season, I like seeing lights, I am not a grinch. But a Christmas tree in my workspace would be challenging for me.

        1. Naomi*

          …Haven’t we? I’m Catholic, and I’d consider the religious Christmas season to include Advent, which started over a week ago.

          1. EOA*

            No, we haven’t. Advent is its own season. Christmas season comes after Advent, according to the Catholic liturgical calendar. So from a religious perspective, Clisby is right – we haven’t gotten to Christmas season yet and that won’t start until we get to Christmas.

          2. Jessen*

            Christmas season starts when the priest switches from purple to white and ends when he switches back to green.

            Actually in Catholic tradition Advent is supposed to be a penitential time. So you’d be saving the parties until at the earliest Christmas Eve.

            1. Chinook*

              My Catholic church choir is is learning the difference between the seasons as there are some sings we shouldn’t sing until the 25th and one only on Epihany. The struggle is real as most are Filipino and have a limited repertoire of English Christmas carols and we need to come up with enough for 9 days of Advent services for novena masses. All the popular songs that we here everywhere right now end up getting dismissed a the wrong season.

              1. Clisby*

                Yeah, I was thinking about this the other day and the only obvious Advent songs I can think of are “Oh Come, O Come Emmanuel” and “Come Thou Long Expected Jesus.” I guess “Ave Maria” might be OK.

                I grew up Episcopal, and we never sang “We Three Kings” until Epiphany – is that the one you mean?

            2. Ikinai*

              ugh, trying to find the right colored cords for acolyte robes so they match the priest was The Worst when I used to be a good little Christian kid and do all the church stuff. People were always putting them in the wrong place in the robe closets.

            1. Clisby*

              Calling Advent part of the Christmas season is like calling Lent part of the Easter season. They aren’t.

          3. Gumby*

            I consider Advent to be its own season and the Christmas season to start on Christmas and last until Epiphany. But I’m not RCC.

            I find the 3-month ramp up in public – stores, radio stations, etc. – highly annoying (because I’m a curmudgeon, not because I’m religious). Alternately, when in a religious context – like in church – I find the “it’s Dec. 26, done with Christmas for another year” to be equally annoying (for religious reasons not curmudgeon reasons).

        2. QCI*

          Christmas season starts earlier every year. Pretty soon, they’ll start putting out decorations after july 4th.

          1. That Girl from Quinn's House*

            Christmas seasons starts when enough of the Halloween decorations have been sold that there’s visible gaps in the shelf space of the seasonal aisle. It is known.

            1. QCI*

              When Walmart starts making space in lawn and garden you know the seasons changing, just not the actual weather related one.

          2. One of the Spreadsheet Horde*

            We were decorated on July 4th with a garland on our pod of cubicles but that’s more because we were too lazy to remove it last Christmas.

      1. KitKat*

        You can just remind them that Catholics stole the christmas tree from pagans and Jesus wasn’t even born in December.

        1. Cookie Captain*

          This point never makes much sense to me. As a Jewish person, I’m not pagan any more than I am Christian; something originally being a fusion of the two doesn’t make a difference when it comes to feeling like an outsider when it comes to all the Christmas stuff.

          1. Traffic_Spiral*

            Yeah, I’m like “is anyone going to point out the pagan erasure, or are we just gonna ignore it?” Because the trees are about as Christian as Krampus. Also Russian new-year’s trees are thoroughly atheist.

            1. Sophie Hatter*

              That’s a good point, but in the US I think it’s a hard sell to separate “evergreen trees indoor in the wintertime” from Christmas.

              1. Batgirl*

                Which is exactly why other faiths don’t want to be likewise subsumed by that same approach to make everything short of the nativity a fun decorative tree-ball like those cute pagans.

              2. Batgirl*

                Which is exactly why other faiths don’t want to be likewise subsumed by that same approach; to make everything that coincides with Christmas a fun decorative tree-ball like those cute pagans had.

            2. Oranges*

              Yeah, my Brother in law is Jewish and Russian so they actually have both a menorah and a tree up. It works for them but the tree now reads as Christian. Regardless of the fact that it was “stolen” from pagan rites.

              Everything is context.

        2. NYCBanker*

          Except let’s be real, the tree and Christmas’s date have become religious symbols no matter their origin

        3. Hapless Bureaucrat*

          And yet, we pagans can also feel alienated by this time of year. I was raised Christian and have retained the tree and cultural practices, but many friends do not. Solstice celebrations vary, and for some pagans the assumption that we can just be lumped into cultural Christmas is… fraught.

          (Actually, I suppose that an office Christmas tree might even be difficult for those Christians for whom cultural Christmas traditions are TOO pagan.)

          1. Helena*

            Yep – I wouldn’t really describe a tree as a religious symbol as such (although of course it is culturally associated with a Christian festival). Plenty of Christians object to them (and Santa, tinsel, gluhwein, mince pies and all the rest) as a distraction from the actual religious meaning of Christmas. I certainly can’t imagine seeing one up in a church, any more than you’d see a statue of a bunny carrying a basket of eggs on the altar at Easter.

            1. Hapless Bureaucrat*

              Oh growing up, our church had one. Not in the sanctuary, of course. At this point the tree has absolutely been associated with Christmas by mainstream Christians long enough that trying to divorce it from Christianity is an exhausting, continual battle for both Christians and pagans.

              Because the tree can be a religious symbol to some pagans, so we end up right back at the same “the tree isn’t a neutral secular symbol” argument just from a different religious direction.

              1. Clisby*

                You can definitely see Christmas trees in some churches. The one I’ve seen most recently (like, 5 or 6 years ago) was in the Catholic cathedral here. It definitely was not in the sanctuary – I can’t even imagine that happening. It was at the very back of the church (close to the entrance door but about as far away from the altar as you could get.)

                1. Megan*

                  Our Catholic Church puts up like 6 Christmas trees in the sanctuary, but during actual Christmas, not during advent.

        4. tired anon*

          On the one hand, I get this point; on the other hand, as a Jewish person, it’s very clear that Christmas trees are not being put up to celebrate paganism despite their roots. Within the current cultural context, they’re about Christmas, and their pagan origins don’t make them not alienating.

          1. Clorinda*

            You can always point out that, for the most part, Christmas trees don’t even have roots! (Sorry, stupid pun presented itself and I could not resist.)

            1. AccountantWendy*

              Oh, man, as a pagan who gets really annoyed about the “Well actually….” about Christmas trees and their origin, I am totally using your “they don’t have roots” pun! And I super appreciate those who have pointed out that if you aren’t Christian and aren’t pagan, the tree symbolism is still alienating.

          2. Impy*

            I get what you’re saying and I have a firm belief in an ‘all religions or none’ rule for shared spaces. So if you’re putting up a tree, you better be celebrating Diwali etc as well. As in practice, certain traditions have cultural priority, it’s better to go with none.

            I do get frustrated when people insist things like Santa, decorated trees, midwinter celebrations “Are Christian and you can’t say they’re not!”

            I can actually. These traditions pre-date Christianity by thousands of years. My (thousands of years old) religion and cultural practices shouldn’t be erased purely because Christianity conducted a few successful cultural assimilation practices over the past few centuries.

            I’m also curious – I was brought up Catholic and have literally never met a Christian who thought any of these symbols were religious. We were taught that they were vaguely sinful guilty pleasures. Are there Christians who genuinely see baubles as religious?

            To be clear, and most importantly, everyone deserves to be comfortable and feel safe at work, and beyond say, ‘holiday leftovers in break room’, it should be kept out of the workplace. I just wish I could challenge the cultural appropriation of winter traditions by Christianity without being seen to promote the cultural assimilation i’m actually railing against.

            Oh well. This is my brain on two hours sleep. Hoping everyone gets the serotonin we all sorely need at this time of year.

            1. EH*

              Raised Methodist here, and yep, they’re religious. Lots of lambs and stars on the Christmas tree in the sanctuary of the church, for example. Santa is a Saint, so he’s DEFINITELY Christian (even if he’s been sort of watered down – my protestant self was taught that he’s the spirit of generosity – like how God is generous with love). Lights are for the Light of the World, etc. Candy canes are shepherds’ crooks.

              My church had all that stuff, made kids’ activities around it for Sunday School, etc. There are so many different kinds of Christianity, views on this stuff can vary widely.

              1. Impy*

                Eh, for us Santa was Father Christmas (basically a Victorian symbol of debauchery), and under pagan traditions, Odin gave out winter gifts. I appreciate the different perspective though – our tradition was very much “you can put up a tree but shhhhh”

              2. Clisby*

                But don’t Methodist churches limit tree decorations to those with religious significance? I’m thinking of Chrismon trees, but since I wasn’t raised Methodist, I’m not sure.

                1. Impy*

                  Honestly my experience of Methodism included the minister encouraging us to come up and show our toys on a Christmas (which to me felt terribly sinful) and my Methodist Grandmother sneering because the minister asked for sherry every time he visited. Whereas Father Sean was probably the first in the Catholic Club after every mass, and no one thought the less of him. Different strokes.

                2. EH*

                  Oh, interesting! Mine didn’t have that limitation, it may depend on the church. I grew up in a social-justice-oriented United Methodist congregation that was pretty laid back, but I know there are other Methodist congregations that are really different. The church is currently (last I heard) having a crisis around gay rights because many of the conservative congregations are adamantly anti-LGBTQ+.

                3. Burned Out Supervisor*

                  The current crisis, if I remember correctly from my minister friend, isn’t necessarily about being LGBTQ+ friendly, it’s whether or not it’s OK to perform same-sex wedding ceremonies and whether or not gay clergy have to remain celibate. Sadly, the UMC conference voted strongly to not only continue it’s ban on performing same-sex marriage rites and banning gay clergy from having consensual non-celibate relationships, but they have a new plan to actually enforce it. This is often the tricky part in Protestantism, considering that the church’s main governing body is its congregations, which given their location, could often skew quite liberal. However, with overall growth in the Methodist (and other) faith, the predominant congregations are based overseas in countries that are currently unfriendly to LGBT issues. There are many clergy and congregations who are very upset at the continued exclusion of many of their beloved parishioners, and I foresee a schism coming down like we saw in the ELCA when they voted yes to allowing gay clergy to marry.

            2. Ev*

              If you see a house with a Christmas tree in the window, or a Santa Claus display on the front lawn, do you think, even for a moment, “Oh, a pagan lives in that house”?

              Of course you don’t. Because those are symbols that are associated with Christmas, which is a Christian holiday. Back in the mists of time, they may have had pagan origins and there may be pagans making an effort to reclaim them, but that doesn’t change the fact that they belong to the Christians now.

              Just because those particular symbols aren’t used in solemn religious rites doesn’t dissociate them from the Christian religion.

              1. Clisby*

                I would not think for one moment that a pagan lived there. Nor would I think for one moment that a Christian lived there. I would have no idea.

              2. Impy*

                I wouldn’t think for a micro second that anyone with those symbols is remotely Christian. Those are symbols of winter. As I very specifically said, I was taught those symbols were not Christian. You clearly think differently, which is your prerogative!

                But it was very clearly differentiated at Church and with relatives. Lambs, crucifixes (preferably made from palm leaves), haloes, angels, nativity scenes, the wise men; these were Christian symbols.

                Santa, decorated trees, lights, penguins, polar bears, snowflakes; these were non religious symbols.

                To my (fairly religious) parents credit they taught me to recognise and respect the cultural signifiers these cards and symbols signified. E.g. you wish Auntie who sent you a card with the nativity on a “Merry Christmas!” And you wish the uncle who sent you a Santa card “Happy Holidays!”

                I wonder if there are cultural differences at play here. I am wondering if religious differences are more acute in America? (I am genuinely asking btw)

                1. EH*

                  That’s so interesting! Cultural differences are almost certainly in play.

                  I am pretty sure religious differences are like other differences here in the US – we have a massively wide spread of opinions/observances/etc. and some groups of folks who are pretty intense about their beliefs and how they think everyone else should do things.

                  Your average American probably thinks of gifts, Santa, candy canes, et al as secular — but as mentioned in other comments, that’s because so much of American culture is basically Protestant Christian.

                2. Lehigh*

                  As an American Christian, I see the distinction as well, and I certainly wouldn’t assume that my neighbors with the blow-up Santa decor are my coreligionists!

                  Saint Nicholas was of course a Christian saint (who gave to *the poor* based on *need*, not to his own or his buddies’ children based on warm feelings of holiday cheer.) But Santa Claus today, who brings gifts to children based on their parents’ socio-economic class and sends an elf to watch them for December to see what they deserve? Not remotely Christian. Culturally Christian, sure. I don’t mind at all if we want to keep all that out of the workplace because of its religious or cultural implications. But it does not have anything to do with the actual Christian religion or Jesus.

              3. Kate2*

                “mists of time”? “may have had?” Christmas only started to become associated with evergreen trees in the 1500’s! Factually, definitively, evergreens have been pagan symbols for thousands of years. Erasing and eliding pagan history is just as hurtful and bigoted as erasing jewish history.

            3. Question*

              To be clear, and most importantly, everyone deserves to be comfortable and feel safe at work, and beyond say, ‘holiday leftovers in break room’, it should be kept out of the workplace.

              Out of curiosity, why do you think holiday foods/leftovers are appropriate if trees are not?

              1. Impy*

                Because sweets are not religion. I’m thinking specifically of the poor guy who brought in leftover Diwali sweets and was written up for ‘promoting religion at work’. To me that’s absolute bull. He was handing out sweets.

            4. Nic*

              According to the TV programme QI, up to the early 1800s or so, Christmas trees were decorated with apples and snakes to commemorate the story of Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden. And then the decorations got more abstract, and they turned into baubles and ribbons/garlands. So yeah, even the plainest baubles (perhaps especially those!) still hold a certain amount of religious symbolism.

              1. Impy*

                Except that trees have been decorated for midwinter for millennia, way, way before Christianity appropriated it. So I can’t agree that baubles are religious.

              2. Impy*

                To clarify, to me that’s like telling a Christian that them putting a star on a tree is a celebration of Lugh, the Celtic sun god. They’d probably find that insulting, due to context. Equally they don’t get to tell me that me putting lights on a tree to honour Lugh (which pre-dated Christianity by thousands of years) is inherently Christian.

            5. Burned Out Supervisor*

              I was raised ELCA Lutheran, and while we wouldn’t consider a tree a religious symbol suitable for liturgical reasons, certain symbols have been folded into the lexicon of our Christian celebrations in order to make religious conversion of other peoples palatable through the last 1000 years. Lambs and eggs symbolize the new life offered by the crucifixion of Jesus, the star a representation of the star that guided the magi, etc were all symbols used in Pagan or multi-theistic religions.

        5. Richard Hershberger*

          Highly unlikely. The modern Christmas tree tradition dates only to the 16th century. Also, it was Lutherans, not Catholics, doing this.

    4. Hey Nonnie*

      I also think that working in a public university changes the calculus a bit. Being a type of government entity, in the US it has additional responsibilities around the separation of church and state.

      If it were me, out of an abundance of caution, I’d ask a dean about official policy on this.

    5. Zil*

      This reminds me of a thread I recently saw on Twitter (sadly I can’t locate it now to give proper credit). It was written by a Jewish librarian who who was frustrated with the fact that her library always decorates for Christmas and includes Kwanzaa and Chanukah decorations to be “inclusive,” yet they never do anything for major Jewish holidays or Muslim holidays. When non-Christian holidays are only acknowledged based on their proximity to Christmas, it kind of makes it even more obvious how shallow their commitment to being inclusive is.

      Not saying this applies directly to this letter – LW putting up a decoration in their office vs. a library decorating for the community is a different context, but I do think it reflects the same sort of cultural dominance of Christmas.

      1. DoctorDog*

        This is a really good point, Chanukkah is not an especially religious holiday (as you may know). But taking off for Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashannah is cashing in chips I don’t feel I should have to use for that purpose. Chips = “excused absence” from school or an approved day off etc. that actually makes you fall behind because everyone else is working.

      2. Shadowbelle*

        Yeah. That’s not inclusivity — that’s maintaining the dominance of Christian culture while acknowledging the existence of other cultures.

      3. ThePirateBee*

        This is my bugaboo as well. Chanukah is only popular because of its proximity to Christmas – and that’s reinforced on two fronts. One, by well-meaning but obtuse Christians trying to be inclusive, and two, by Jewish parents making sure their kids don’t grow up resenting Judaism for lacking in wintertime presents and merriment. I, my parents, and other Jews I know work on that second part by pointing out Chanukah’s relative lack of religious importance to our kids, but nobody seems to care very much about the first part. I wish people would stop asking me if I’m going to temple for Chanukah and start asking me about my Passover Seder or letting me take You Kippur off without using PTO.

    6. (((Person of Interest)))*

      I’m on the side of no religious decorations in the workplace – yes that includes your “secular” tree. Religion is personal and belongs at home. Trying to also bring in symbols of other (non-equivalent) December holidays is not inclusive, it’s a misguided attempt at being respectful. I can tell you as the person who has frequently been the only Jew in a workplace that your people who are not comfortable with it will not feel comfortable speaking up about it and “ruining the fun for everyone.”

    7. Ayko*

      Christmas trees were also appropriated from pagan traditions to begin with (bringing evergreen branches indoors as a symbol of the yearly cycle of birth-life-death-rebirth and of hope/faith that life/plants/food sources would come back in the spring after the “death” of winter). Which can cause additional friction for those of us who practice indigenous European faiths. I can’t put up evergreen or a Yuletide tree without people making incorrect assumptions, because that symbol has been so thoroughly appropriated. Would I say anything, especially at work? No, because that’s more emotional labor than I’m willing to put into educating people who will forget everything I’ve said by next winter. Do the assumptions bother me? Hell yes. It is erasure. I feel pretty invisible.

      1. Impy*

        Thank you for saying this. I find the insistence that decorating midwinter trees, hanging lights etc is Christian – that’s erasing, inaccurate and rude. These were European, indigenous, pagan rituals long before Christians appropriated them – which they did as a process of cultural assimilation.

        1. Chinook*

          Non-snarky question – how should a religion that is cross cultural/lingual/national choose to celebrate if they are not suppose to assimilate the oroginal culture of the people who join it? Many Christian traditions come from pagan roots because the ancestors of Christians are converts and often took their traditions and gave them a Christian twist which are then carried on by future generations (just like athiests descended from Christians do when they celebrate Christmas). Should Christians just drop all these traditions out of respect for others?

          1. Impy*

            Not at all. I just think non Christians should be able to celebrate the traditions that pre date Christianity without being assumed to be Christians. The history of cultural assimilation in all cultures is fraught. Some pagans embraced Christianity, some were forced into it. As I say, I just wish people would refrain from going “You decorate a tree therefore you are Christian!”

            I was brought up Christian and very specifically rejected my faith aged 12. It was a huge decision that has affected my familial relationships and my life. So I guess I don’t appreciate people saying I’m still Christian, especially when those faith leaders would describe me as an apostate.

          2. Kate2*

            Many pagans did not choose to assimilate but, like Jews and Muslims were forced to, tortured until they did, and killed if they didn’t.

        2. surprisecanuk*

          Lol midwinter tree. Decorating a Christmas tree and hanging lights is Christian. It is not something other religions do. It is a something that Christians appropriated, but it has become a Christian thing. If you see a home with a Christmas tree they probably are christian.

          1. Impy*

            Maybe this is cultural differences – America? – but every house on my British street has a tree except for the one that has a menorah and literally none of them are Christian. I’m pretty sure this ‘fact’ comes from Bible Belt America.

    8. EPLawyer*

      I am overjoyed that fabric stores FINALLY started carrying Hanukkah fabric. I can finally make my Jewish friends holiday appropriate gifts.

      1. ShanShan*

        Since I truly believe you are doing this in the spirit of being inclusive, may I delicately suggest that rather than making them holiday appropriate gifts for Hannukah (which is not really much of a Jewish holiday), you make them holiday appropriate gifts for holidays that are significant in the Jewish calendar, like Passover or Purim? Purim is a really fun one: associated with costumes, noisemakers, and cookies!

        You seem like someone who really likes to give gifts that are appreciated, and I can’t tell you how much this would mean to them.

        1. curly sue*

          And Purim is traditionally the holiday where we give gifts to each other! Mishloach manot are goodie-filled baskets that we give to friends and neighbours. They usually contain little things like home-baked cookies, ready-to-eat foods like packages of candy, and fruit like oranges.

          If I came in to my office on Purim – because I don’t get my holidays off of work – and found a basket at the door I would quite likely burst into tears. (It’s never happened. I’ve been given lots of candy canes this week, though.)

        1. Ayko*

          No, All Souls Day was appropriated from a variety of day of the dead indigenous traditions. Celtic Samhain, Central American Day of the Dead, etc. etc. Honoring ancestors is much older than Christianity, and is found across multiple cultures around the world.

        2. Engineer Girl*

          No, it did not.

          As stated by others, All Souls’ Day (Nov 1) was a Christian holiday.

          But the mere fact that Halloween focuses on witches, magic, familiars, etc ought to be a mega indicator that it isn’t Christian.

    9. Director of Alpaca Exams*

      Ha, I was just about to go put on my hamsa jewelry for my office holiday party. I had been vaguely thinking of wearing red or green (because I like forest green and garnet red and own a lot of things in those colors) and then went “waaaaaait a minute, I’m Jewish, why the hell am I assuming I need to wear Christmas colors in order to be de rigueur?” This stuff is so insidious.

  4. Observer*

    Alison put this REALLY well.

    Just also keep in mind that any professor who actually claims that if “it bothered a student, the student could speak up” is either clueless or disingenuous. A lot (probably MOST) students will most definitely NOT speak up. Especially once it’s up because then you’ve got the issue if “spoiling things for everyone” as well as the power imbalance.

    I do agree with Alison over all. I think your tree is ok, as long as you recognize the context.

    And please do NOT put up a dreidel or Menorah/Chanukia as a companion piece. I don’t know what other faith traditions have at this time of year. but if there is something seasonal and you find out about it, please talk to someone who actually knows the ins and outs of that tradition before you put that decoration / item up.

    1. Devorah*

      Why not put up a menorah alongside? As an observant Jew, I like seeing them, even if the people responsible don’t know the details like when to light each candle, etc. It makes me feel noticed!

        1. maoz tzuris*

          I’m FFB and while I loved Chanuka growing up, I have started hating it since entering the working world because of this stuff exactly. Oh, yes, $supervisor, thank you for offering to let me go home early on Chanuka *roll eyes* now where’s this understanding on winter fridays when I need to run?

      1. Observer*

        I get that. The problem is the false equivalence and tokenization are grating and frustrating. I do NOT want people “noticing” the “Jewish Christmas”. That doesn’t exist and again subordinates Judaism and Jewish practice to Christian norms and framing.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Right. Hanukkah is a minor holiday. It’s not the Christmas equivalent, and it’s off-putting to have it treated that way (while, say, Yom Kippur is totally ignored).

          1. SarahTheEntwife*

            Disclaimer: DO NOT DO THIS IT IS A TERRIBLE IDEA

            I suddenly now want to see what a well-meaning vaguely-Christian office would come up with for “Yom Kippur decorations”. :-b

            1. maoz tzuris*

              This year, a very well-meaning coworker told me to have a happy Yom Kippur.

              This was absolutely one of those moments where “it’s the thought that counts”. :P

              1. 867-5309*

                I Google what to say during major religious holidays that are not familiar to me for just this reason.

                1. Chinook*

                  Ditto. When my supervisor was Muslim, on my first day, I added Muslim holy days to my work calendar so I would remember to get correct greeting, when to check with him about business lunch requirements and when he may take time off. He was always shocked when I would get vegetarian food (halal is more difficult to find here) but, to me, it is what a workplace should do.

            2. Jaid*

              Oh. My. Gawd.

              No lie, I’ve seen the Holocaust themed holiday ornaments…The Auschwitz Museum had Amazon take them down.

              1. Janet, Sower of Chaos*

                That wasn’t someone trying to decorate for Hanukah; it was one of those stores that sells on-demand printed kitsch with photos automatically mined from some image library (in this case, travel photos).

          2. Cookie Captain*

            And there is also an actual holiday traditionally associated with gift-giving on the Jewish calendar! It’s Purim.

            1. MsM*

              I will never, ever understand why Purim hasn’t caught on at a mainstream level. It has everything! Costumes! Sweets! Alcohol!

              1. maoz tzuris*

                I was about to say “because it’s about killing your enemies who were trying to commit genocide” but then I remembered that, from the point of view of cultural genocide, so is Chanuka. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

                1. Avasarala*

                  Jewish holidays have too much suffering in them to catch on with mainstream. It’s really hard to sell “remember that we suffered! now have some goodies!”

              2. Jennifer Thneed*

                Because it’s not in December? I mean, that’s what’s really going on. And I *hate* the years when Chanukah is super-early, like, starts in November, and all the well-meaning xians start wishing me Happy Chanukah sometime in mid-December.

                Ooh, I’ve got a link to a song to share. I’ll put it in another comment, since I know it will be auto-moderated.

                1. Jennifer Thneed*

                  Huh. Apparently I am being moderated anyway? Okay…

                  Anyway, The Leevees did a terrific song about a decade ago that asked The Important Question (okay, the OTHER important question, because “applesauce or sour cream” is also important):

          3. Sneaky Ninja for this one*

            Raised Catholic, turned atheist here. I didn’t realize Hanakkah was a minor holiday. All of my Jewish friends seem to celebrate it rather enthusiastically. I can also say, though, as it a kid, it baffled me that Easter was more important than Christmas to Christian. Still does, to be honest. One can’t die if one hasn’t been born.

            But anyway, I learned a new thing today. Thanks!

            1. Will "scifantasy" Frank*

              It’s a defense reaction…when you’re a kid, and one of the few Jews at Christmas, it’s a damn lonely time. The fact that there’s a holiday at all, and one that has now widened to have presents (and eight days of them even!) is a lifeline.

              1. Zombeyonce*

                Exactly this. We play up Hanukkah to our preschooler because most (all?) of her classmates celebrate Christmas and have been talking nonstop about what Santa is bringing them this year. All she understands is that they’re getting extra presents from a magic man and she’s not. We’ll explain more when she gets older and lessen Hanukkah’s importance in the household but, for now, we’re just trying to make December gifts seem more fair.

            2. Tzeitel*

              Part of the reason Hannukah has become so mainstream and celebrated with gift giving is because it is around Christmas and you don’t want Jewish children to be sad or want to convert etc. So yes, it is really exciting for kids to have a holiday to celebrate during that time, but it is not a high holiday.

            3. Harvey 6-3.5*

              Absolutely. When I was a kid, we went “sukkah hopping” for Sukkot, carried elaborate “mishloach manot” to all the neighbors for Purim (including the few non-Jewish neighbors), had seders for Passover and Tu B’shevat, and danced in the street on Simchat Torah, and this was in a conservative/modern orthodox type neighborhood. All of these holidays are more fun than Hanukah (and other than Tu B’shevat, probably more important, as well).

            4. Clisby*

              From a religious standpoint, Easter is FAR more important than Christmas. Probably because everybody is born, so there’s nothing special about that. Not everybody then dies (taking on the job of scapegoat for the sins of humankind), is resurrected, and ascends into heaven.

              Not that I believe any of this – but it’s the Christian narrative.

            5. Pebbles*

              Because Jesus wasn’t actually born on Christmas. There is an early Christian tradition that Mary was told of her pregnancy on March 25th (the Annunciation) and 9 months from that gets us December 25. However, it is more probable that the Catholic church usurped the winter solstice holidays in order to more easily convert people, and then worked backwards to give us the Annunciation. Given that shepherds were tending their sheep and that Mary and Joseph were traveling to Bethlehem for a census, winter would not have been the time that Jesus was born. Various people have put Jesus’ birth in the spring (theologians looking at the shepherds tending their flock), summer (astronomers looking at Venus and Jupiter coming together to be the Star of Bethlehem), or fall (other various theologians), but winter is the least likely time for his birth.

              Also, while Jesus’ birth is important for being the representation of both man and God on earth, it is that he was crucified for our sins and resurrected to give us everlasting life that puts Easter as the more important holiday for Christians (at least, for this Christian).

              1. Clisby*

                I don’t think there’s any question about Easter being more important than Christmas (from a religious perspective, not a retail perspective). I think it’s arguable that Pentecost is more important than Christmas, so where’s the tongues of fire candy?

                1. Pebbles*

                  I was replying specifically to Sneaky Ninja for this one’s statement that “I can also say, though, as it a kid, it baffled me that Easter was more important than Christmas to Christian. Still does, to be honest. One can’t die if one hasn’t been born.” You were much more succinct than I was though.

                  Not sure what tongues of fire candy would look/taste like. Cinnamon red hots?

            6. Triplestep*

              Many Jews who do not celebrate the major holidays in a big way will play up Hanukkah. This is not to say that everyone who makes a major deal of Hanukkah is NOT observing the High Holidays or Passover, but it’s quite common to see people who aren’t particularly observant year ’round make a big deal out of Hannukkah. It’s kind of a conflict-filled time of year, and if you’re not finding Jewish stuff engaging other times of year, it’s hard to know how to assert your Jewish identity this time of year. I’m one of those people who fell away from Judaism as a young adult only to re-embrace it when I had kids, so I can identify with what I’m describing here.

          4. Muriel Heslop*

            We do apples and honey in my classroom for Rosh Hashanah and I do a brief 2 minute talk about the significance of the holiday. It’s usually close to the beginning of the school year and we talk about how for kids, school starting is really their New Year. Time for fresh starts, new goals, etc .

          5. Engineer Girl*

            To be fair, Yom Kippur gets ignored because it’s about fasting and self reflection. From a secular viewpoint, where’s the fun in that?

            I think creating floating holidays would really help with this.

            1. Clisby*

              Yeah, when my daughter was in preschool her teacher was Muslim, so every year she’d tell the kids a little bit about Ramadan. I remember thinking, man, this is a hard sell to preschoolers: Today you get NO SNACK! So many other holidays involve food, so they’d get potato latkes for Hanukah, cookies at Christmas, little candy skulls for Day of the Dead. (Of course, the preschoolers got their snack during Ramadan – but there wasn’t any memorable special food for them, so they probably forgot all about it.)

          6. Human Form of the 100 Emoji*

            Right? I want Rosh Hashanah decorations, and maybe for my coworkers/professors to consider Yom Kippur when scheduling important meetings and whatnot so that I don’t have to do all the work.

          7. Orthodox*

            Of course Hannukah is not a high holiday.

            But it is worth remembering. First, Christmas was not, historically, the most important Christian holiday, either — that would easily be Easter, to say nothing of Good Friday or Palm Sunday, or holidays like the Dormition/Assumption. And second, that most scholars seem to think that Jesus of Nazareth was born in July, not December.

            So the point is that cultures *do* interact and change each other. Attaching a religious significance to December probably helped early Christianity piggyback off of the much older tradition of a midwinter festival. So I do not think it is surprising that Hanukkah has acquired a secular significance beyond its religious one.

      2. Emily K*

        I would rather see an invitation for others in the lab to bring in any other office-appropriate decorations – seasonal or otherwise – that they think would brighten the place up.

        You avoid it becoming tokenism, where it looks like you just slapped a menorah and an ear of corn up there more like a CYA to justify your Christmas tree’s existence than because you care about or understand the other traditions, and it also opens the door for folks who are non-religious but might want the opportunity to bring in something meaningful to them, and folks whose major religious festivals don’t coincide with Christmas who might want to bring in, I don’t know, a shofar in September for Rosh Hashanah or something.

        If December is the only month that religious-related decorations are allowed then you’re showing pretty clear bias in favor of Christianity even if you allow Hanukkah or Kwanzaa decorations to be put up, too.

        1. KHB*

          Although with graduate students’ notoriously tight budgets, you might want to avoid implying that if they want inclusion, they have to pay for it themselves.

          (As a culturally Christian atheist myself, I can’t speak to the non-Christian-faith side of the experience, but I have plenty of experience with the penny-pinching-grad-student side.)

          1. Chinook*

            If there is a decorating budget, let it be known and give limits for them to be reimbursed. If there isn’t but there are Christmas decorations, then that probably means someone already paid to do that themselves. Brining in personal or even homemade items to decorate is not unusual.

        2. Chinook*

          I like the idea of inviting others to decorate for their cultural/religious holiday. It means the celebrant is the one deciding on the appropriate decorations (so avoiding tokenism) and, if it is important to you, it would be nice to see at it work. A poor grad student may even have decorations from family that they don’t get to use or see because of how much they work. And, if food is brought in, even better.

    2. Grinch*

      Definitely agree!

      Quite honestly, *I* wouldn’t be comfortable speaking out against a Christmas tree in my workplace (also a university) and I have a very kind and welcoming team – certainly no power imbalance like a student/professor!

      No one wants to be the person who ruins the fun and cheer for other people. Period. And there will always be the risk that if you speak out, other people will view you negatively for it.

    3. YouGottaThrowTheWholeJobAway*

      I was penalized throughout school for speaking up and trying to get any accommodation for religious holidays, and it’s pretty naive to assume there will not be negative consequences for non-Chrisitians in much of America….I still hold a grudge against a teacher 20 years later because she dinged my grade really heavily for being absent on Yom Kippur even though it was pre-approved by the office and I offered to do double work in advance. This was a public school, by the way.

  5. AnotherSarah*

    100% on board with this response. I also work at a public university, fwiw. I’m Jewish and don’t celebrate Christmas, but we have a little tree in our office and it doesn’t bother me at all; I feel like it’s really cheery. But I do mind, as Allison and a prior commentator noted, the idea that it’s not a Christmas tree or that Christmas is for everyone (no thanks, it’s not for me!). The *other* thing that bothers me, and about which I haven’t spoken up because I feel like it’s somehow *for* me, is the hanukkiah (menorah) next to the tree. To me this is tokenization. Hanukkah doesn’t always fall around Christmastime. It’s not somehow an equivalent holiday in the least, other than the Middle Eastern origin stories of the holidays. And there’s no “Hanukkah season” in the way there’s a Christmas season–it’s weird to have it up right after Thanksgiving. It’s not what the OP asked, but I feel like it’s relevant because it points up 1) that people might not speak up and 2) the way in which people who don’t celebrate Christmas can really get patronized in December. I think if you keep those two caveats in mind, and are willing to take a tree down without reverting to “well actually it’s not a Christian symbol…”, then you should be fine.

    1. AvonLady Barksdale*

      Very well said! I work for a company with an unusually high concentration of Jewish employees for the area (I am Jewish myself). They put up a tree every year. Every single year I have been asked to put a photo or some kind of ornament on the tree, and every year I nod and ignore it because the first year I said, “Oh, I don’t do Christmas trees” and I got, from someone who was raised Jewish no less, the whole “tree is for everyone” business. I disagree, and I am not a child who needs to be educated about this. I just don’t do Christmas trees. I’m not telling YOU that you shouldn’t do them either, it’s just not for me. So leave me be.

      1. Chinook*

        Last year it was my Muslim supervisor who asked why I hadn’t put up the Christmas tree on Dec. 1st.

    2. Fellow Jew*

      I love a menorah if it’s a) actually Hanukkah and b) lit on the correct days. Take 10 minutes and look up the dates, and sure – put up a menorah in your lobby or conference room.

      If it’s just there next to a tree and lit all month, no thank you.

        1. Coffee Librarian*

          I went to a “holiday” reception hosted by the head-of-government and there was a Hanukkah candle lighting, complete with blessing. IT WASN’T HANUKKAH.

          1. Director of Alpaca Exams*

            Oops, my reply was supposed to have a sob emoji. I guess emoji aren’t allowed in comments here. Picture a comment full of little crying faces!

      1. LizB*

        Last year my workplace asked me to put up Chanukah decorations (I said we didn’t need them, it’s a minor holiday, I was overruled). I made a big menorah out of paper for the front bulletin board with separate paper candles, and wrote out detailed instructions with pictures so the evening staff could add a candle each day as appropriate. If I’m going to decorate, I’m at least going to do it accurately!

        (That workplace was actually pretty great – they didn’t put up the Christmas tree until Chanukah was over because I asked them to wait since there was such a time gap, the person who made the monthly event calendar would come to me every month to ask which of the Jewish holidays in a given month were major enough to put a greeting into the calendar, and they also made sure that Ramadan and Eid greetings got put up on the correct days.)

      2. Triplestep*

        Interesting. You don’t find it at all problematic that a Hanukkah Menorah is an actual religious symbol and not a decoration? It’s more akin to a Crucifix than to a Christmas tree. I don’t balk at them, but I would much rather not see them at work.

    3. Clisby*

      To me, it’s also weird to have Christmas trees up right after Thanksgiving. When I was a child, my parents put the tree up on Christmas Eve and took it down Jan. 6, to celebrate what the church actually considers the Christmas season.

      1. Asenath*

        My family too! When she moved to the US, she simply refused to adjust to the expectation that she start Christmas decorations any earlier than it started in her tradition!

      2. LaSalleUGirl*

        Except “the church” isn’t a monolith. The Catholic Church considers the Christmas season to include Advent, which does generally start right after Thanksgiving (…although with the way Thanksgiving moves around, it’s not exact). Most Catholics I know, in a very heavily Catholic / culturally Catholic part of the US, leave their decorations up until Epiphany (Jan. 6), which the Catholic Church considers to be the end of the Christmas season.

        1. Isabelle*

          And then in the Catholic liturgy, Advent and Christmas are separate seasons and some Catholics feel strongly about keeping Advent for preparation/waiting, and beginning the Christmas season on Christmas Eve/Day. Which has not much to do with the office question at hand, but does further illustrate the diversity of opinions!

        2. Jessen*

          Wait what? All the Catholic churches I’ve attended (and I’m also in a pretty Catholic part of the US, although I’ve lived in several different areas) are pretty explicit that Advent is NOT part of the Christmas season. Advent’s supposed to be a penitential season. Christmas decorations don’t go up until Christmas eve, except for the Advent wreath. I actually find it pretty frustrating as a Catholic that all the Christmas parties and whatnot are in Advent, although I realize it’s not a battle worth fighting.

        3. Pebbles*

          The Catholic church my parents attend would always put up a huge Christmas tree at the beginning of Advent for the purpose of promoting an adopt a family for Christmas charity (i.e. pick a card from the tree for a family that outlines each family member’s sex and age and what they need/want and buy presents for them that year). Other than that, my recollection was that everything else was all Advent related.

      3. Kheldarson*

        My family of origin always put the tree up on the third Sunday of Advent and then down with Epiphany. With my family, we’ve started putting it up at Thanksgiving slowly (like the tree went up Thanksgiving and we just put the lights and garland on this past weekend and still need to do the rest of the ornaments…) but that has to do with the fact that my husband and I both worked retail for ages, and he *still* works retail now. We got to fit decorating in when we can.

        I don’t get the blitz to get everything done on Thanksgiving. Aren’t you supposed to be in a food coma?

        1. Helena*

          How are your trees lasting so long? We put ours up on the 3rd Sunday in Advent (which happens to be the weekend after my mum’s birthday, so has the secondary advantage of not overshadowing her celebrations) and our trees have still shed most of their needles by 12th night.

          1. EH*

            Gotta get a fresh-cut tree (if you get a pre-cut one, it’s a good idea to saw a slice off so you have a fresh end) and use a holder with a big water reservoir, and keep an eye on the water. My family usually put the tree up the first weekend of December, iirc, and we took it down early in January. One of my jobs as a kid was checking the water.

            Basically, treat it like a flower in a vase. As long as it wasn’t half-dead when you got it, it’ll last a surprisingly long time.

          2. Kheldarson*

            Fake trees, ftw! My parents have had the same tree since I was a kid, and the one I use in my house was a hand-me-down from my MIL. I’ve never had a real tree for Christmas (I’m not sure I could stand the mess of pine needles!)

            1. Elizabeth West*

              We begged for one as kids. One year, my parents caved and got a real tree, and we hated it because we kept stepping on sharp little needles. After that, we were happy with the fake one.

              I DID enjoy this: every year that the original bosses were still at OldExjob, a friend of theirs would send them a live wreath, which they would hang on the conference room door. It was my job to spray water on it so it wouldn’t croak. I loved that because it smelled wonderful.

      4. Pretzelgirl*

        My grandparents did this. We never put our tree up in our home til the week before Christmas, because my Dad wanted it up on Christmas Eve and my Mom wanted it up longer. So they compromised.

        Now in my own house it goes up the first week of December! :)

      5. ImJustHereForThePoetry*

        I try to follow the traditional seasons for Advent and Christmas – putting the tree up the weekend before Christmas and then keeping the tree and decorations up until after epiphany. It would be great to wait until Christmas Eve to do all the decorating but it is just not practical. Instead I look at Advent as a time for preparation. Both spiritually and doing all the stuff that needs to get done.

    4. fed up*

      Sorry, but as a descendant of a holocaust survivor… Goodness, what a fuss American Jews make over some holiday cheer. There’s some real anti-Semitism out there, why get so upset over a tree and a little ignorance? Is it such a crime that people are trying to be inclusive and maybe hit a wrong note sometimes? You should try living in a country where it’s acceptable for politicians to call each other Jews as an insult.

      1. ShanShan*

        Someone literally wrote a letter to this blog asking us what we think about it. Are we supposed to lie, or what?

      2. Charis*

        As another descendant of holocaust survivors (though I’m not sure how that magically improves my credentials), whose parents experienced some pretty intense antisemitism and who’s gotten some herself over time, it’s not about “a tree and a little ignorance”. It’s about a pervasive *forced* inclusivity, and being treated as if you’re defective or deficient or deprived somehow if you *don’t* celebrate. It’s about having to explain ourselves time and time again, year after year. The wrong note isn’t a one-off so much as a frequent interjection, and with how “the holiday season” gets longer and more pushy every year, is it any wonder people who don’t subscribe to the dominant cultural hegemony find themselves on edge?

        I can be upset about ‘real’ antisemitism and cultural erasure at the same time.

      3. The Gollux, Not a Mere Device*

        Let’s not do the Oppression Olympics, where my suffering doesn’t count because it’s not as bad as yours, and yours doesn’t count because it’s not as bad as our grandparents’.

        My mother is a child survivor; she’s 88 years old and is spending her retirement years doing Holocaust education in British school. I’m fairly sure that if I asked hers opinion about Christmas trees in public places, she wouldn’t say “don’t complain, it’s not as bad as the Holocaust.” If you don’t want to spend your energy worrying about this because there are worse problems, by all means go ahead and deal with those worse problems. But telling American Jews that it could be worse doesn’t do anything to counter anti-Semitism either.

      1. Murphy*

        Haha, should have specified the Santa’s workshop area of the North Pole!

        It’s my first year here (coming from another public university) and I’m surprised that it’s….everywhere. There’s a big Christmas tree in our reception area.

    1. Heidi*

      I work at a children’s hospital, and it is also very festive (with lots of trees). I suspect the rationale is that if we decorate, there might be some objections, but if we don’t decorate, there will definitely be a lot of objections.

      1. maoz tzuris*

        My Jewish grandfather died surrounded by Christmas decorations in an ICU that just wanted to be “festive”. Some of your patients aren’t Christians. Their parents aren’t Christians. Please think of them, too.

        1. Róisín*

          Oof. I’m sorry for your loss, and for how uncomfortable that ICU made that loss on top of your grief. May his memory be a blessing.

      2. Observer*

        Please pay attention to Maoz Tsuris. My father’s final weeks were difficult enough as it was. Had he been surrounded by Christmas decorations? It would have been a horror for him and for us.

        People mostly won’t object – family really, really don’t want to tick off the nurses. Instead, everyone would just hurt just a bit more at a time when they are already hurting badly.

  6. Phony Genius*

    Since you work at a public university, they may have policies about such decorations. If you are in compliance with those policies, you should be fine. (As long as the ornaments are not overly-religious.)

  7. Trout 'Waver*

    I’m always a little weary of this line of thought. Christianity isn’t some monolith. It’s a bunch of different branches, some of which are very offended that pagan symbols got morphed into Christian ones.

    Personally, I would rather live in a world where everyone, majority or minory, got to celebrate their culture and their religion openly, without homogenizing it into one generic holiday season.

    1. Observer*

      I’m not sure what you ar disagreeing with here?

      Alison did not say that all Holidays should be homogenized into one blob. On the contrary, she said that you should NOT try to pretend that it’s all one thing. Also, keep in mind that the question is not about what individuals celebrate, but what official public institutions celebrate and how.

      1. Panda Bear*

        I can kind of understand what Trout ‘Waver is saying. I grew up in anti-Christmas Christian religion, so it’s true that those people exist, and also feel annoyed about the cultural and religions imposition of Christmas music/decoration/etc. So maybe its an addendum to say that even if your office mates/students/whoever are ‘Christian’, they still might not be Christmas celebrators and in fact might be rather put off by it.

        But to Observer’s point, I think the bigger issue is to just to recognize that members of any/all non-dominant cultural and/or religions groups aren’t necessarily going to want to partake in so called non-religious aspects of Christmas.

      2. Trout 'Waver*

        It’s a little dicey for non-Christians to decide what is and isn’t Christianity. Christians themselves can’t even agree.

        There’s giant pile of things, both religious and secular, that get thrown into the term Christmas. As a Christian, it’s pretty obnoxious for people to tell me all the generic winter stuff is actually my religious holiday.

        To elaborate, there are cultural practices that are associated with Christmas, as Alison points out. However, if you strip out all the religious components and just leave in the traditions, you’ve hollowed out the holiday. Advertisers, politicians, content creators all want to avoid the religious messaging, but want to convey the spirit of a generic winter holiday. So they amplify all the non-religious stuff and remove the religious messaging and call it Christmas. Religious folk point out that it’s not Christmas without baby Jesus, and others tell them no, we’ll tell you what Christmas is. Mall Santa, Rudolph the reindeer, Jingle bells, and a Christmas tree are not Christmas without Jesus, Joseph, and Mary.

        1. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

          It’s a very weird sort of cause-and-effect thing.

          As another Christian, yeah, I fundamentally agree that the generic holiday pap, scrubbed of anything sacred, feels like a gross parody of what should be a really holy day for the people who observe it. But at the same time, all this generic-winter-holiday pap is going up when it’s going up very specifically because of and oriented around the date of Christmas, so trying to pretend like there’s a total separation is also a no-go.

          I think it basically takes the worst of all possibilities. It’s not a thoughtful observance of something sacred, nor is it something that is equally inclusive to all regardless of faith (compare with, say, New Year’s).

          1. Trout 'Waver*

            I agree 100% on the weird sort of cause-and-effect. Christmas is celebrated on Dec 25th because it already was the winter holiday season, between the winter solstice and New Year’s, and probably others too.

            I really wish we could separate the generic winter holiday where we celebrate with our families in good cheer from the religious holiday, but I think the genie is out of the bottle on this one.

            1. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

              That’s actually somewhat contested, too. There’s some interesting evidence that the date of Christmas was based off the date of the Annunciation, which was in turn based off of the date of the Crucifixion. It’s not smoking-gun evidence, but looking back at the record of the discussions (what records that have survived, anyway) back when the date of Christmas was being nailed down in the late 200s-early 300s, there’s a lot more attention given toward that than toward any existing celebrations. It also accounts for the variation in dating that gradually coalesced to January 6th in Orthodox Christianity and its descendants vs December 25th in Roman Catholicism and its descendants.

              1. D'Euly*

                Yes! Super interesting stuff. (However, the Orthodox Church switched to December 25th when Rome did–they were still in agreement on most calendar feasts then–it’s only very few traditions, like the Armenians, who kept the older date of January 6. Confusingly, today the Orthodox who follow the Old Calendar celebrate on January 7, but that’s because it’s actually their December 25th and it’s just coincidental that the Gregorian/Julian calendars are thirteen days off from each other.)

                1. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

                  Yes, good correction, thank you — I’d forgotten about the calendar jump undoing the merge.

            2. Amy Sly*

              One of the things that struck me about Terry Pratchett’s Hogfather was the description of the Santa Clause analog that he was a god. He rewards the good with toys, punishes the wicked with coal, answers prayers via letters, receives offerings of milk and cookies, and even has public spaces dedicated to encounter him in the flesh at the malls. Seen from that angle, there’s the Christian religious holiday of Christmas on December 25th, but there’s also a whole religious holiday about celebrating Santa, also on December 25th. (When I worked at the mall, I joked that I was an acolyte at the temple of Santa.)

              I do totally understand people who aren’t interested in either one objecting to the decorations of the two related holidays.

              1. Clisby*

                Watching Hogfather is one of our Christmas movie traditions – Ian Richardson as Death was inspired casting.

        2. Dragoning*

          I think, honestly, an outsider perspective on what is and isn’t Christmas is incredibly useful. Because where culturally Christian people see “generic winter stuff”, Jewish people and Muslims will think “we don’t do that for winter, it’s not generic.”

          Like a fish not not noticing water, but a rabbit drowning definitely does.

        3. Observer*

          No one is trying tell Christians what Christianity. An, honestly, most of us just really don’t care.

          What we ARE trying to say is that even when the trappings are so hollowed out that if feels likes a grotesque parody (something I totally sympathize with!), for who are not religiously or culturally Christian, it is STILL part of the celebration of a religious holiday, just with an attempt at disguise. Because none of this would be happening if this fundamental religious holiday were not happening on the exact same day (what a coincidence!)

          1. Rose*

            My workplace (science department of a small university) has an annual Festively-But-Research-Appropriately-Decorated-Vaguely-Conical-Objects competition. There’s a volcano.
            The Conical Object I helped with this year is a massive tinsel-coated rocket with Buzz Lightyear on the top.
            The whole thing feels vaguely sacrilegious and totally secular to me (Christian) and I don’t think it had entirely sunk in that it would still register as Religious Holiday Malarkey to other people.
            Something to think about. Thank you.

            1. Observer*

              I think that a question worth considering is why it feels sacrilegious, After all, if it’s TRULY secular, then there couldn’t be sacrilege involved.

              This stuff can be tricky.

          2. JM60*

            You seem to contradict yourself. First, you say:

            “No one is trying tell Christians what Christianity.”

            Then, you say:

            “it is STILL part of the celebration of a religious holiday”

            Isn’t calling Christmas a religious holiday telling Christians what is Christian (that Christmas is Christian)? I can’t imagine you having any other religion in mind.

            “Because none of this would be happening if this fundamental religious holiday were not happening on the exact same day (what a coincidence!)”

            Just because a holiday has its origins in religion doesn’t mean that it can’t become co-opted as a holiday celebrated outside that religion. Halloween use to be a religious holiday (and some Christians still celebrate it as the eve of All Saints Day).

            1. Rebecca1*

              And indeed, while most American Jews celebrate it, Halloween isn’t observed in Jewish-affiliated schools or organizations.

        4. D'Euly*

          I understand the irritation that others are adding to your (our! I’m Christian too) holiday what you consider inappropriate to it, but…that doesn’t mean we get to say that they’re not doing that under the impetus of our shared religion. I do really disagree that it’s “dicey for non-Christians to decide what is and isn’t Christianity.” Obviously every Christian denomination, and probably every Christian individual, will come up with a different list, but non-Christians have every right to make that determination as well, and in many cases may bring a clear-sightedness to the question that Christians will lack.

          1. Trout 'Waver*

            I would never presume to tell someone whether something was a part of their faith or not.

            I get it when someone says, “Christmas trees make me think of Christmas.”
            I also get it when someone says, “There’s too much Christian symbolism during the winter holiday season.” Totally agree.
            I also would understand people who said, “I feel excluded when all I ever see is Christian symbolism for the entire month of December.”
            Where I draw the line is when non-Christians say that this is all Christmas. Without the religious elements, it’s not Christmas to a Christian. When non-Christians do that, they’re telling Christians that the non-believers’ definition of the believers’ own religious holiday takes precedence.

            1. JM60*

              “Where I draw the line is when non-Christians say that this is all Christmas.”

              I think this is the main reason why I get annoyed whenever this topic comes up on AAM. When I was a Christian, I wouldn’t have appreciated a non-Christian telling me that something was part of my religion when I tell them it’s not. As a current atheist, I get annoyed when someone tells me that something is religious, when I tell them that I do it for non-religious reasons.

              IMO, Christmas had some religious origins (in both Christianity and Paganism), but it can be (and nowadays often is) celebrated apart from those origins. It can be both a religious holiday to some people, as well as a non religious holiday to others.

              1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                Let me try to address this. You can celebrate Christmas and your religion however you like! Religious, not religiously, whatever you prefer. We’re only asking that you recognize that while symbol X may not feel part of *your* observance, it is connected to the holiday for enough other people that statements stating or implying that Christmas trees (or Santa, or so forth) are (1) “for everyone” or (2) not in any way exclusionary or (3) not connected to a holiday that has its roots in Christianity … are alienating and untrue. That’s it.

                1. JM60*

                  I get your point Christmas decor isn’t all-inclusive (though I have some doubts regarding how much root originate from Christianity vs Paganism and other sources), and I further recognize the implications this has within the workplace. What annoys me is when people in AAM seem to go beyond “I associate Christmas with Christianity” to “Christmas is not a secular holiday [for anyone].” The latter is swinging the pendulum too far. It’s telling me (an anti-Christian, former Christian atheist), that I’m celebrating a Christianity. It should be up to me what my celebrations are or aren’t celebrating.

                  As an imperfect analogy, there are some die hard American football fans who hate turkey. For some of them, Thanksgiving is (partly or completely) about watching football (though Thanksgiving football was a bigger deal before weekly Thursday games). If someone says, “Thanksgiving is about thankfully feasting with your family, and has it’s roots in giving thanks”, they’d be correct. If a football fan says, “I don’t want to spend time with my family or ponder what I’m Thankful for, but I like Thanksgiving decor and that day is all about watching football on my day off”, they’d be right too. Those aren’t mutually exclusive.

            2. Sylvan*

              Please don’t describe all non-Christians as non-believers. There are other belief systems.

              None of the things you’re describing as non-religious would be present if it weren’t for Christmas. They might be commercialized and meaningless to many Christians, but they’re not secular. Asking us to pretend otherwise doesn’t make sense to me.

        5. Petunia Cakes, The Atheist*

          Disagree. To me, Christmas (if you celebrate it at all) is whatever you want it to be. To you, it’s religious, which is fine. To me, it’s about presents, Santa, time off work, etc., and I couldn’t care less about Jesus, Mary, and Joseph.

        6. Traffic_Spiral*

          Yeah, I also grew up being very familiar with a lot of Christians who *hated* all the “holiday” stuff. See, Jesus is the “reason for the season,” and misteltoe, snowmen, everything santa, and even an over-obsession with the Christmas tree (and the presents underneath) are all part of Satan’s plan to destroy the sacred commemoration of Christ’s birth by burying it under pagan and/or commercial distractions. As such, when non-Christians insist that no, trees and snowmen and Santa are inherently Christian, I’m just like “I think the Christians beg to differ?” It’s basically up there with “Muslims worship a moon-god” in terms of religious accuracy.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            No one is saying Christians worship a tree. The tree, Santa, etc. are culturally Christian. They are cultural markers of Christmas, for a large number of Christmas celebrators.

            1. Petunia Cakes, The Atheist*

              That’s an interesting perspective since I know many Christians who HATE xmas trees, Santa, etc. and consider them to be secular things.

              1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                I mean, this is exactly what the post itself is about. There are pieces of the holiday that aren’t strongly linked to its faith traditions, but are still markers of the holiday. The fact that not all Christians use those markers doesn’t change that.

              2. Orthodox*

                For what it is worth, I worked in Moscow in the late 1990s and early 2000s, back when we had good relations with the country. People over there definitely viewed holiday trees as secular symbols. Jewish and Muslim households commonly put one up. I finally asked the Muslim superintendent of my building about it, and he replied that they were New Year’s trees, just as they were in Soviet times.

                (To be clear, I’m posting this as an anecdote, not to imply that the same thing is true in other parts of the world. Here in the US, trees are Christian symbols. I also don’t think that means they need to be banned from workplaces, though.

            2. Allie*

              But isn’t calling the tree culturally Christian also an erasure of the many Christians who do not celebrate Christmas? Maybe I see it differently because I was raised in a Christian household where Christmas trees were not allowed and Christmas decorations were seen as pagan holiday. We were told some of the same things Traffic_Spiral mentions above. And the fact that so many people who don’t consider themselves Christian celebrate the cultural aspects of Christmas and see the Christmas tree totally apart from the religious side of it. I just feel like it means different things to different folks. So I’m not sure a non-Christian can claim that Christmas trees are decidedly Christian symbols. The symbol has a different meaning to different folks. And the meanings change based on culture, upbringing, dominant culture, family traditions, etc. Even though Christianity is dominant culture in American society, many Christians are not part of this dominant culture.

              1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                As D’Euly says below, it’s an intra-religious disagreement among different types of Christians about proper observance of their shared religion. Those things are still widely seen to be markers of the holiday, even if not all celebrators of the holiday practice them.

                1. JM60*

                  This isn’t really an intern religious question because Christian almost unanimously agree that Christmas trees aren’t really a practicing of the Christian religion. The only inter-Christian issue for Christmas trees is whether or not they’re permitted.

                2. JM60*

                  Meant “intra religious”, not intern. It’s hard commenting on a phone.

                  Regardless, there is disagreement amoungs Christian whether or not Christmas trees are prohibited, but not whether or not they’re religious. There are lots of things that aren’t prohibited by religion, but aren’t part of that religion.

                3. EH*

                  “Christian almost unanimously agree that Christmas trees aren’t really a practicing of the Christian religion.”

                  What? Maybe your denomination unanimously believes that, but I was raised Methodist (so, Christian), and very involved in the church until I converted. Christmas trees are 100% part of Christmas, and so part of the religion as much as the midnight Christmas Eve service is. We sang “O Tannenbaum” along with “We Three Kings” in service, for crying out loud.

                4. CAIM*

                  “Christian almost unanimously agree that Christmas trees aren’t really a practicing of the Christian religion.” Raised Christian; this is straight-up not true, lol. Christmas trees are for celebrating Christmas, Christmas for many Christians is about celebrating Christ; Christmas trees are not secular regardless of intra-religious conflict about the validity of Christmas and the celebration thereof.

                5. Gaia*

                  Nope. Literally not a single Christian I know (and I know Christians from almost every denomination) would agree that Christmas trees aren’t part of Christmas. The only person one I know that even gets slightly miffed about trees still accepts that they are a symbol of Christmas culturally, if not religiously.

                6. JM60*

                  @EH, CAIM, Gaia

                  I think you’ve all misinterpreted what I said. I’m not saying Christians don’t associate Christmas trees with Christmas (they obviously do), I’m saying that most churches don’t consider the tree to be a religious object. I too grew up Christian, and my Catholic parish did occasionally have a Christmas tree and reefs in the church, but they weren’t considered any more religious than the American flag 20 feet behind the altar. That being said, EH’s example of “O Tannenbaum” has me convinced that this isn’t as unanimous as I initially thought.

                  That being said, even if I’m wrong about the unanimity of Christmas trees not being religious objects, there are other “Christmasy” things where I think this does hold true. For instance, very few (no?) Christian denominations would consider toy soldiers to be religious objects, yet they’re considered Christmas decor.

                  Regardless of what Christian denominations are arguing amongst themselves, if people of other beliefs are telling Christians what is or isn’t Christian, then they’re not standing outside the argument.

          2. D'Euly*

            But that’s an intra-religious disagreement, not an inter-religious one. Those Christians are arguing with other Christians (possibly entirely secular ones!) about proper observance of their shared religion. The non-Christians are the ones standing a good way away from this argument saying “yep, this is all Christian”, and rightfully so.

            1. Trout 'Waver*

              If they’re saying what is and isn’t Christianity, they are most decidedly not standing outside the argument, but rather participating in it.

            2. Traffic_Spiral*

              No, pretty much *all* christians agree that Rudolph, frosty, mistletoe etc. are non-christian. The debate is over whether it’s disrespectful or not. Sorta like how pretty much all pagans agree that modern Halloween culture isn’t part of Samhain, but disagree on whether or not celebrating all the halloween shit is disrespectful.

              1. Helena*

                I agree they are clearly not religious symbols. But they are tacked onto a Christian holiday, and the debate is whether tacking them on is disrespectful to that holiday. They are not generic winter paraphernalia, and the fact it is all taken away in January (which is still pretty early in winter) demonstrates that.

                1. CAIM*

                  This. That stuff isn’t “winter season” stuff, it’s Christmas stuff, and Christmas is a religious holiday. The symbols themselves aren’t religious in nature but they’re intrinsically tied to a religious event, or else we wouldn’t take them all down as soon as Christmas was over.

              2. Gaia*

                No one is saying they are religious symbols, we’re saying they are cultural symbols of a religious holiday. But they wouldn’t exist if not for the religious holiday therefore they cannot be considered to be completely separate.

      3. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

        My Christmas is on an entirely different day and has entirely different traditions. What we do wouldn’t even be recognized as Christmas by the majority population in the US. The pervasiveness of the dominant culture’s practice can even feel alienating to other Christians

        1. Blueberry*

          Yeah, as someone raised in American Evangelical Christianity I was downright shocked to learn that other traditions could exist, let alone that they do exist. It’s not just Christianity that’s hegemonic in the US but a few particular distinct denominations thereof.

    2. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

      It’s worth pointing out that there’s not much evidence that Christmas trees have a pagan origin. Historically, the earliest attestation of comparable traditions first shows up around 1400, well after the Christianization of Europe.

      1. One of the Sarahs*

        Especially as here in the UK, there’s no reliable historical sources for what (non Viking) Paganism actually looked like here. The Pagan cultures were oral rather than written, and the sources for the Celts in Britain are Roman propaganda that was specifically designed to show that the Roman empire was doing A Good Thing in wiping out the druidical religion, as it was so bloody and uncivilised, and that the Celts were a super-fierce enemy that made the Romans even stronger. The non-Roman writings that (supposedly) describe Celtic religious practices are from the Middle Ages, and were written by Christians (eg

        Similarly, there’s no contemporary sources on Anglo-Saxon paganism – what we have is supposition based on archeology, and the accounts of the early Christians, which are super-biased, because they’re designed to show Christianity in a good light (see

        I loved the British Museum show on Celts a few years ago, for the juxtaposition of the gorgeous archeological finds and information about what we do know about Celts, and the Victorian interpretation of it all. Basically, as the British Empire really stepped up a pace, there was a cultural movement to show British exceptionalism that wanted to change the view that “history”, culture etc started when the Romans showed up, and so took Celtic archeology, and the Roman writings, and “extrapolated” from it (ie made a lot of things up). Of course it’s possible to talk about mid-Winter Pagan festivals, the importance of the Solstice etc (although no one really knows what eg stone circles are *for*, even when they aren’t like Avebury, where the stones had been pulled down, and were put up again by an enthusiastic landowner) but there just isn’t reliable evidence to say things like Xmas trees, Xmas decorations etc are inherently Pagan, unless “Pagan” = any religions that isn’t Christian.

  8. Amber Rose*

    Out of curiosity, do lights/other decorations have the same not-really-secular status? If, instead of a tree, I just covered my area in lights and stickers of snowmen and snowflakes and stuff, is that still considered culturally christian?

    Technically I am also Jewish, but since I never pay attention to these things most of this stuff never really occurred to me.

    1. RabbitRabbit*

      You’re probably OK there – especially with lights, as the dark times of winter tend to inspire a lot of holidays/celebration centered around lights.

    2. Diatryma*

      That was going to be my suggestion– seasonally appropriate decorations are for winter, not Advent. Snowflakes, lights, sleds, all about the season rather than the holiday.

    3. Admin of Sys*

      imo, snowmen / snowflakes / winter things are definitely not culturally christian, twinkling lights are a tiny bit ‘christmas’ rather than ‘winter’ but mostly secular (because darn it, I like twinkling lights all year round and I had this fight with my hoa so I’m standing my ground here), ditto with candycanes and such, pine boughs are more christmas but still secular, and anything that includes santa and such is solidly christmas whether it’s secular christmas or not.
      (I was raised christian, but am no longer such, and I had an involved discussion with my public university a few years ago about what felt othering imo )
      tl;dr snowflakes and snowmen have nothing to do with christmas, no matter how christmas specific the Frosty cartoon is.

      1. Amber Rose*

        That’s a relief. As much as I enjoy decorating a tree, I just like sticking up ribbons, twinkly lights and little battery operated candles everywhere. Warm and bright things. But I don’t wanna fall into the Hanukkah balls trap.

    4. Violet Fox*

      It’s different, especially if there are also leaves and acorns for the fall, flowers and butterflies, etc for the spring, beachball etc for the summer. Otherwise a lot of that says that someone wanted to do Christmas but could not so they substituted in winter things.

      I go back to, if the lab is that dreary, looking at doing something to brighten it up all year is very much a good idea. If you can get your department to pay for it, cleaning, lighting, and painting are very much good things. Having a clean, well lit, pleasant workplace all year is far more important than any amount of decorations.

      1. Jay*

        Red and green lights read as “Christmas” to me. Twinkly white lights are less Christmasy, and twinkly blue lights feel like Chanukah (I’m Jewish). That, of course, is a decidedly individual opinion!

      2. Yorick*

        But the lab may actually be more dreary and in need of cheery decorations in the winter (there’s not much natural light coming in, people experience more depression, etc)

    5. drpuma*

      A bunch of other commenters have mentioned timing and I think that would matter here, too. Lights and snowflakes that come down in early January would still imply Christmas, I think. If you keep your ice-skating polar bear up into February or March, that really sends the message of “here are fun things for winter” and not just the Christmas season.

      1. Renamis*

        That depends where you live too. If you have your winter things up in march in Florida we’re gonna look at you funny. :-P

        1. Clisby*

          Hah! I didn’t take my Christmas tree down until February this year. It looks so cheerful – I hate to have to let it go, but eventually those needles are carpeting the floor.

    6. theelephantintheroom*

      People have been holding some form of a light celebration for millennia in the darkest parts of winter, regardless of religion. So I think you’re safe.

    7. OyHiOh*

      Fellow Jewish opinion – I love the lights this time of year. Snowflakes and stuff don’t bother me either – they’re symbolic of the season, not of a specific holiday. I don’t have lights up on my house but if I did, I’d turn them on every night until March.

    8. Iamagoodwitch*

      I am a Pagan and many many Pagans, (Wiccans, Druids, Spellcasters, Pagans who do not subscribe to a particular tradition, etc.) celebrate the winter solstice with a Yule tree or Solstice tree. Our Solstice tree and house in general is decorated with traditional winter things like snowflakes, icicles, snowy owls, white tinsel to represent snow, deer (not reindeer) holly, doves, and other things. We also keep the colors all blues, white and silvers but that’s because of the specific Pagan traditions we personally follow.

  9. Bryce with a Y*

    I practice Roman Catholicism and am also culturally Jewish (distant ancestors used to practice Judaism but converted to Catholicism)…and I have seen workplaces and other public spaces that have both menorahs and trees. What I recall happening in my town was that the trees at the town hall were OK, but the Nativity scene was not. So the town got rid of the Nativity scene, kept the trees, and put up a menorah. The idea was that the local churches were the right place for Nativity scenes, but not the town hall. For some reason, nobody said anything about the menorah. Eventually, the synagogue took over the menorah, and the town hall only had trees. (A bad storm blew down and broke the menorah, and the town didn’t have the budget to fix it. The synagogue did, and that was how it ended.)

    I personally thought that was way it should have been, but had far better things to do than complain.

  10. Grinch*

    Agnostic here. Yes, I would be annoyed to have a symbol of Christian holiday displayed at a public university. If it were a Christian university that would be different.

    1. MonteCristo*

      That’s very interesting to me. I’m an atheist myself, and I love x-mas trees. But because I was raised in a very strict fundamentalist christian religion that forbade the celebration of “pagan” holidays, I think I just don’t associate the x-mas holiday with Christianity. I get the connection when I think about other religions being excluded, but never in conjunction with my own atheism.

      1. Petunia Cakes, The Atheist*

        Same with me. I never think of Christmas as overly religious (although I realize that a lot of people do).

            1. Janet, Sower of Chaos*

              Okay but “Christmas” is from “Christ’s Mass,” like Michaelmas (the Feast of St. Michael) or Candlemas (The Feast of the Presentation, because of the tradition of bringing candles to Mass to be blessed).

            2. Grinch*

              Ummm….false equivalency? Christianity is named after Jesus Christ, whose birth is celebrated on Christmas. (Whether that is the true birth date or not.) Easter doesn’t contain the name of Christ in it. So it’s not as religious in name, which was my point.

              But, sure, if you want to play that game, I’ll say East is problematic because it normally assumes a Euro-centric view. As in the “Far East,” for example.

              How about everyone just keep their holiday celebrating to themselves and not foist it on their co-workers? Whether it’s Christmas, St. Patrick’s Day, Easter, or something else.

              1. Petunia Cakes, The Atheist*

                I’m fine with people keeping their holiday celebrating to themselves. But if I walk past a window and see a religious decoration hanging there, I’m going to shrug and walk past it as opposed to crying and wailing that I’m offended by that. I seem to be the only one.

                1. Clisby*

                  I haven’t seen anyone here saying that. I haven’t even seen anyone saying people need to keep their holiday celebrating to themselves – just that you want to be careful about bringing that kind of thing into the workplace. I’m atheist, but if my neighbor wants to put a giant Nativity scene on his lawn, I have no objection.

              2. Koala dreams*

                Easter is named after the pagan goddess Eastre. In many non-English speaking Christian countries, the name for Easter is based on the word for the Jewish holiday Pesach (spelling?). Obviously, the etymology of a word has very little to do with the meaning of said word, otherwise we would have to accept that Easter is a pagan-jewish holiday with no relation to Christianity at all. And that would be wrong, wouldn’t it?

                1. Clisby*

                  Pesach is Passover. Easter is inextricably entwined with Passover. Hence, part of the Episcopal liturgy (possibly others too) when people are taking Communion is for the priest to say “Christ our Passover has been sacrificed for us …”

          1. MonteCristo*

            I get that, and I know at the very least the proliferation of the celebration of the Christmas holiday as we know it is based in Christianity. But since my personal Christmas celebration is completely secular, I find it interesting that other atheist/agnostics that are culturally christian, don’t enjoy the holiday. I’m certainly not trying to foist my personally celebration of Christmas off on anyone, I just find it interesting how two people from a group that many outsiders like to think of as homogeneous, can have two very divergent opinions on the same topic.

      2. thesubversiveatheist*

        I’m also an atheist, but many of my friends and family celebrate Yule. Some for religious reasons and others because it’s a more secular holiday that gives them something to look forward to in the dark of winter (basically why winter celebrations exist at all). They feel very erased when people claim that things like trees and lights are “Christian,” because they’re technically things that Christians stole as a way of getting more people to convert. Yule trees, for instance, we around long before Christianity. And now reclaiming them for what they originally were gets backlash from…well…everyone. A tree is not a nativity scene. I think this professor is fine having a tree up as long as he decorates it carefully.

        1. MonteCristo*

          I think it is important for us to remember that there we are dealing with both religious Christianity and cultural Christianity here in the U.S.

        2. Hapless Bureaucrat*

          Speaking as a practicing pagan, I find I feel fairly erased by the concept that because traditions are rooted in paganism, they’re religiously inoffensive or naturally more secular.
          The winter solstice is a natural event but Yule and Solstice rituals are part of active faith traditions.
          The argument is more than academic; it’s a matter of whether our faith traditions fall under protections for religious speech, thought, and belief.

  11. Stephen!*

    I am do not adhere to any religion, but I do enjoy having a tree. I call it my Solstice tree and put a t-rex puppet on top. Because, damnit, winter is dreary and trees smell good and look pretty with lights.

    1. Quill*

      I am seriously considering getting some christmas lights to put up on a longer term basis because it’s too dang dark all the time.

      I have a theory that a lot of the preponderance of lights and fires traditions around the winter solstice may be early historical attempts to fight off seasonal depression.

      1. Stephen!*

        I agree! I keep my tree up through February because it makes me feel cheery and I don’t care about dried up needles. It’s got nothing to do with Jesus and everything to do with making the lack of sunlight more bearable.

        1. Clisby*

          I do the same thing! Granted, I don’t generally put the tree up until a week or 10 days before Christmas. I’d love to continue my childhood tradition of putting it up on Christmas Eve, but all the tree lots would be closed by then and I’m not using an artificial tree.

          1. Quill*

            Oh, we always got it on the 1st of december (or first weekend of december) and it was out by epiphany.

      2. Dasein9*

        I used Command hooks and put long-lasting LED string lights around the windows in my living room when I moved in. I turn them on in the morning, while it’s still dark, and leave them on so I don’t leave the cats in a dark house when I’m not home yet. My electric bill is quite low and the glow of the lights really makes my space look attractive.

      3. Amber Rose*

        Fairy lights! They’re literally non-secular since you mostly see them used to light up backyard parties in the summer. I have them all over the darn place, I love little twinkly lights.

      4. Jules the 3rd*

        There’s a ton of ‘garden’ lights available, with a lot of pretty casings, like flower or hummingbird. I have leaves installed in my living room. Like track lighting, but softer, we just use them year-round. Unfortunately, edison bulbs seem to be A Thing right now in the online search, but I saw flowers last summer.

    2. Daisy-dog*

      I’m in love with the quote from Community on the meaning of Christmas: “It’s the crazy notion that the longest, coldest, darkest nights can be the warmest and brightest.”

    3. MCMonkeyBean*

      I bought a Halloween decoration from Michael’s this year that is a spooky looking black tree with a big face that glows purple, and decided to leave it out through Christmas. I will be putting presents around it this weekend :D

      1. MayLou*

        My dad and stepmum have a festive twig. They decorate it differently every few months. It’s rather endearing.

  12. JJ*

    I agree with Allison, Christmas trees are not “inviting” to everyone, but good for you for asking this question! It’s very thoughtful. Is there anything you could add to the space to promote year-round non-dreariness? Posters of nature? Non-overhead lighting/lamps, or round bulb string lights? Clearing out some of the old/outdated academic junk? A plant with no religious significance that people could add random labby decorations to throughout the year? I.e. like the Official Lab Nonsecular Ficus?

    1. BRR*

      This is what I was going to recommend as well. Instead of “seasonally appropriate cheer,” it sounds like the space would benefit from some 365 day cheer.

      1. 8DaysAWeek*

        Agree. This is what I got out of it.

        For instance, I have a money tree that I have decorated with battery-operated lights that I keep up year round. It has done well, requires little care and makes me happy.

    2. Barefoot Librarian*

      I love the idea of an “Official Lab Nonsecular Ficus” that is decorated all year round lol. I actually might rename our tree an “Official Family Nonsecular Abies” since the husband, kids, and I enjoy a tree in our atheist household. Depending on our mood that year it’s been decorated with everything from family photos to Star Wars to a D&D theme (complete with a papermache beholder topper).

    3. Helena*

      Put the tree in a pit, and keep it up all year! Decorate it in different festive styles depending on the time of year (yellow flowers in spring, something seaside-y in summer, autumnal colours in autumn). If people want to decorate it for Eid, Diwali etc as well, make it clear they are very welcome to (maybe do something for end of semester, 4th July, Thanksgiving and other genuinely secular events in the calendar so it doesn’t turn into the Multi-Faith Tokenism Tree).

  13. WMM*

    I’m always looking at ways to brighten things up this time of year that aren’t tied to holidays. Of these, which are truly neutral and which do people still tie to christmas?

    Icicle lights, snowman decorations, snowflakes cut out of paper? These are all things I leave up through winter, but I grew up in the bible belt, so I have no idea if others find them particularly tied to christmas.

    1. MCMonkeyBean*

      I love snow-based decorations. I think a lot of people will still associate them with Christmas, but as an atheist I don’t think Christmas should get to keep snow all for itself lol. Or peppermint!

      1. Filosofickle*

        Recently I was looking for a sparkly holiday item to wear and came across a bunch of snowflake designs I loved. But I live in warm CA! Feels weird to decorate in snow motifs here.

      2. Elizabeth West*

        Considering climate change, I was tempted to decorate my tree last year with little paper tornadoes. :P

    2. hbc*

      I think these are great, and definitely what I’d recommend to brighten up the space in a seasonally-appropriate way, versus a There’s No Christ In “Christmas” tree. Bonus points if that dreary lab space now has some secular seasonally-appropriate stuff up year round, or random non-seasonal stuff up.

      A seashell spread during summer would look nice, and I bet you wouldn’t get complaints about a March baby sloth theme as long as you didn’t involve live animals or taxidermy.

    3. LizB*

      One Jewish opinion: icicle lights, snowflakes, hats and mittens, mugs of hot cocoa, penguins and polar bears, are all great winter decorations that do not say “Christmas” to me as long as they’re not all red and green.

    4. Jamie*

      An example from my POV, my penguin décor where they are just ice skating, or wearing earmuffs, or sliding down a snowhill with polar bears are not Christmassy – they are winter. Any Santa involvement, Christmas trees, etc make it Christmas décor.

      IOW my penguin cookie jar where he’s just wearing earmuffs is winter and stays out through February. My cookie jar with the snowmen decorating a Christmas tree gets put away when holiday stuff comes down.

    5. Antilles*

      Those read as more “winter” than “holiday season” to me.
      My quick rule to judge whether something’s more Christmas than winter is to ask myself: If I left this up until January 25th or February 25th, would it look weird and make people wonder why I haven’t taken it down?
      If the answer is yes, then it’s almost certainly too linked with the holiday; if the answer is no, then it’s likely just generically winter and probably okay.

    6. TiffIf*

      Do people in the southern hemisphere (where it is summer in December) put up, I don’t know, flowers and sunshine decorations?

      (Things I have never thought to wonder.)

      1. Pathfinder Ryder*

        I wish! People still put up snowy, wintery decorations here in New Zealand and they are my pet peeve. There is the occasional pohutukawa (a tree that flowers red in December) decor, and various summer activities for Santa (Santa on the beach, on a jetski, on a tractor), but the main secular decor is still wintery.

        1. Liz*

          I was just reading this thread thinking, “If decorating in December was really just about a secular yearning for the end of winter, I’d be seeing tinsel in July.”

  14. Anonymous at a University*

    I’d consider, too, what lines you don’t want to cross. A few years ago at my university, there was a group of students who put up, “Jesus is the reason for the season” signs urging people to pray…an utter no-go at a public university. They got ripped down right away, and when the students were asked why they’d done that- because no one ever had before- they replied, “We have Christmas trees up, why is that different?” Some Christians who are really deep into their religion are absolutely not going to think the same thing about the tree as you do. I doubt it would go that far at your school, and I was shocked that it did at mine. But please, if you hear your students talking about wanting a nativity scene, crosses, etc., nip that in the bud right away.

    1. Jenny Next*

      I like to say “Axial tilt is the reason for the season!” But I can be a killjoy that way.

      (That said, I like trees, but I loathe modern Santa and all of his accessories.)

        1. Jenny Next*

          Please do. I stole it myself. But I think I made up “You can’t spell Christmas without Mithras”.

      1. AuroraLight37*

        I’ve been considering getting a t-shirt with that on it. But then I’d have to deal with people freaking out at me, and they would, so if I do, I’ll get one for home wear.

    2. Flyleaf*

      “… an utter no-go at a public university”

      That’s incorrect. A public university cannot ban religious messages any more than they can ban anti-religious messages. Any rules need to be content neutral. As long as the signs are compliant with non-content related rules (e.g., size of sign, where they are posted, etc.), the university is constitutionally prevented from censoring the speech.

      That being said, it’s not uncommon for students to rip down posters that they disagree with. It happens across a wide variety of issues. But it is not something that the university can do.

      1. Anonymous at a University*

        The university took the stance that permitting signs that urged people to pray and told them they had to follow the religion “or else” (the last line of the sign) was not just a religious message, it was an imposition and a threat. You may not agree with that, but they weren’t going to screw with it, and I can see why.

        1. Flyleaf*

          It would be interesting to see this litigated. The university would likely lose. It’s nowhere near what the courts have defined as a threat (not imminent, not specific, not violent) — see Brandenburg v. Ohio (1969).

      2. The Lemon Test*

        That’s incorrect. A public university cannot ban religious messages any more than they can ban anti-religious messages.


  15. Hazelthyme*

    A college housemate of mine explained this very well. We lived in a 25-person co-op in the early 1990s, so while you knew all your housemates, you didn’t necessarily know them all well, and may not have known anyone before you moved in.

    At an early December house meeting, one resident suggested that we put up a “holiday tree” in the living room. Another resident, who was Jewish, said, “No, it’s not a holiday tree. It’s a Christmas tree. I like Christmas trees, and I’d love to help decorate it — but it’s a Christmas tree, not a generic winter holiday decoration. Chanukah starts next week, and I’m going to light a menorah and sing some songs. Anyone is welcome to join me if they want, but we’re lighting a menorah — not a holiday candelabra.”

    It got the point across, and we had both (and undoubtedly would have embraced any other celebrations our housemates observed at that time of year, since most college students jump at any excuse for making merry during final exams).

    1. Róisín*

      I lived in a 117-person student housing co-op until this summer (no, not a typo: one hundred seventeen people) and we have an annual tradition of, ahem.. a pornament tree. Yes. Adult magazines, construction paper, copious amounts of glitter, googley eyes… It’s delightful hilarious mid-finals arts and crafts, and then we stick it all on a Christmas tree with an adult toy on top. Best Christmas tree ever.

  16. Turquoisecow*

    I think if your workplace has other holiday decorations, it’s okay. It sounds like this is a small tree and not especially ostentatious, but if it’s the only piece of decoration in the office, it might feel ostentatious.

    Every office place I’ve worked at has had small decorations around the office, and I even had a boss with a small Christmas tree (she put it up on a filing cabinet in her office and I forgot it was there half the time), and at my current workplace, one woman decorated her cube with Hannukah decorations, partly because she was proud to be Jewish but also I think so she wouldn’t be the only person with an undecorated workspace.

    So in a situation like that, a small tree in a conference room would be fine. But if no one else decorates and the walls are bare and then there’s a Christmas tree up, it might feel awkward.

  17. Anona*

    I’m at a public university. It always creeps me out when I see departments decorating for Christmas. There’s one that has a huge tree up. We have enough people who don’t celebrate Christmas that I don’t think it’s a great message.

    In your situation, I’d probably leave the tree up, but wouldn’t do it next year.

  18. GooseTracks*

    THANK YOU, Alison! This argument about Christmas being “secular” is so frustrating. We don’t need to all have the same perspective on what holidays are or aren’t, but the shouting down and erasure of minority voices saying “I don’t regard this as secular holiday, please don’t try to sell me on that” is hurtful and frustrating every year, especially when it comes from otherwise open-minded and thoughtful people.

    1. ThatGirl*

      As someone who always bought into the “oh anyone can celebrate Christmas if they want to” I really appreciate the new perspective that Alison brings to this. I do think if people want to have a non-religious Christmas it’s entirely possible, but I recognize much better now the point that it’s still a symbol of a religious holiday, from a religion that dominates US culture.

      1. Bagpuss*

        I think you can celebrate without it being, or feeling, religious *to you*, but that doesn’t stop it being a religious symbol (or a symbol of the dominant religion) to an outside observer – which is why in publlic spaces it tends to be more of an issue than in personal spaces.

      2. NYCBanker*

        You can celebrate Christmas without religious symbols but that doesn’t change the fact that it’s a Christian holiday.

    2. Eng*

      +100. Allison, I appreciate you putting the message out there every year (even if I wish it weren’t necessary)

  19. lyonite*

    My work has put up (in addition to a lot of red-and-green decorations) a white artificial tree with blue decorations and a star of David on top, and I’m just like, that’s not how it works. That’s not how any of it works.

    1. Observer*

      I just gasped at that. Uch, ugh, and arg!

      This is going to be alienating in a way that a standard Christmas tree won’t be. Because anyone who has ever dealt with missionaries who co-opt Jewish symbols and practices to do their work is going to recognize this playbook.

      If I saw this, I would TOTALLY be on the alert for other forms of missionizing.

      1. lyonite*

        I don’t really get that sense here–there’s just a bunch of people here who are *really* into decorating and it feels more like a badly thought-out “seemed like a good idea at the time” thing. But it’s the first thing you see when you come through the front door, and I do a little cringe every time I pass it.

        1. Observer*

          I’m not going to argue with you – you know your workplace and I don’t. But if anyone else comes through, they are not going to know that. I’m going to be VERY, VERY wary in dealing with an office where this is my first major contact.

    2. Loosey Goosey*

      It’s also pretty ironic if you know the story of Chanukah, which is that the Maccabees fought a war to preserve their faith and protect the Jewish people from forced assimilation…

      1. Susie Q*

        What’s even more interesting is that the book of Maccabees (1 Maccabees) isn’t in the Tanakh but is considered canonical by the Catholic church.

    3. maoz tzuris*

      …I have never vandalized anything at work, but I would be hard pressed not to stay late one day and after everyone left, take that tree with me and throw it into the dumpster.

      That gets the “I don’t think you even tried at all!” gold star. :S

    4. AnonForThis*

      I see the problem with this, but it’s what happens when people say the workplace has to be inclusive about holiday decorations, but Christians can’t ask someone from a minority religion for help doing so.

  20. MicroManagered*

    I work at a public university, and the guidance we’ve been given is to keep decorations and party themes religiously neutral. So call it the “Staff Holiday Party” not “Staff Christmas Party.” Trees tend to be topped with a more neutral bow, rather than an angel, for example. I think as long as you keep the ornaments/theme of the tree to the more neutral aspects of the holidays, rather than like, a full-on Nativity scene, you’re fine.

    1. IDK My BFF Jill*

      Meh. If you set up a fir indoors and decorate it with lights and ornaments, it’s a Christmas tree whether you call it that or not. This is making a lame gesture at “inclusivity” while actually celebrating the dominant culture. I’d prefer an all-out Christmas celebration; at least it’s honest. Also, the whole point is that Christmas is NOT “religiously neutral,” whether you’re topping the tree with a bow or an angel. It is a Christian holiday either day, and thus will exclude people who are not Christian.

      1. Emilia Bedelia*

        Definitely agreed that Christmas in general is not “religiously neutral”, no matter what the items are.
        However, I think celebrating “secular Christmas” is more appropriate for work than a sincerely religious Christmas. As a practicing Christian, I’m still not interested in praying with my coworkers, singing religious Christmas carols, reading the Biblical Christmas story, or decorating with overtly religious items. Even though it’s still Christmas-y, I’d argue that lights, snowflakes, bows, and general sparkly/festiveness is better than a Nativity scene.

        1. tiredcat*

          I mean, it’s better, but its still not appropriate. It’s like, “ah, well, I broke your plate, but at least I didn’t break all of your plates and glasses” – sure, but that’s still not the goal.

        2. IDK My BFF Jill*

          That is definitely more appropriate for a workplace, but calling it a “holiday party” vs “Christmas party” doesn’t change anything. The point is that, in the eyes of *many* non-Christian people, “secular Christmas” just isn’t a thing, no matter what label you slap on it.

        3. 10thmoon*

          calling a bow-topped Christmas tree “religiously neutral” is like calling cream-colored bandaids “skin toned”.

      2. MicroManagered*

        Sure… I mean tell that to my Jewish friend who puts up a Christmas tree, but I get what you’re saying. My point was more that if OP is worried about offending people, a tree decorated with Star Wars ornaments (or something) is probably less likely to offend than something unequivocally religious like a Nativity scene.

        1. Allie*

          Personally I almost never notice decorations on the tree unless someone points them out. To me a Christmas Tree is a Christmas Tree however you choose to decorate it. If you decorate with say, Star Wars ornaments I might think it’s odd and do a double take but it’s still a Christmas Tree.

      3. TiffanyAching*

        Ugh, yes! My work holds several “holiday” parties, and they are very clearly Christmas parties — trees, the mascot dressed as Santa, Dickensian-style carolers, and not a single bit of decor related to any other holiday.

        I’m Jewish, grew up non-practicing Christian. I like Christmas decorations, I don’t mind people celebrating Christmas, and my university is technically officially affiliated with a branch of Christianity, so like…go ahead, have your Christmas party! Please just call it a Christmas party and none of this false inclusivity.

    2. blackcat*

      I’ve been at more than one university where a science department (generally physics, but I’ve seen engineers do it, too) have a “Isaac Newton’s Birthday party.” It’s an excellent work around, and they are particularly fun when accompanied by building games like Jenga.

  21. Anon4this*

    Alison, thank you for this perfect and eloquent explanation. it perfectly sums up exactly what I (a Jewish person) have felt all these years about Christmas trees, candy canes, gingerbread men, Santa and the rest of the “non-religious” Christmas decor that comes about this time of year. Personally, I don’t find these items offensive, I just dislike the constant imposition of Christianity upon me this time of year. Since its unavoidable, I’ve found its best to just try to ignore it.

    1. Prof Ma'am*

      The last few Christmas seasons I’ve found myself to be what my husband has playfully described as a grinch. I’m trying to work on ignoring it because feeling crappy from Halloween to New Years kind of sucks.

    2. Petunia Cakes, The Atheist*

      I enjoy decorating with those things, and I’m an atheist. If you feel “imposed” by someone else’s decorations, I don’t see what the alternative would be. It would be either be to somehow include all sorts of decorations from many different religions (which people claim is offensive) or to celebrate nothing and have no decorations at all. So, is the only option to remove all holiday decorating altogether?

      1. Trout 'Waver*

        I’m Christian, personally, and I feel the imposition too. Every TV show, every commercial, every piece of media has a Christmas* theme for 4 weeks.

        Christmas* = everything but baby Jesus.

        1. Petunia Cakes, The Atheist*

          What are you feeling imposed by? If you’re meaning all the commercialism, that’s less of a religious freedom thing and more of a marketing thing.

              1. Jules the 3rd*

                The two things (religious freedom and marketing problems) are not mutually exclusive. The marketing happens because we have a dominant religion. Dominant religions often erase others. Pushback has caused marketers to camouflage the religious aspect a little, but it’s still there.

                And marketers who do more than a vague nod in the direction of inclusion get pushback from members of the dominant religion (see: Starbucks, wishing people ‘happy holidays, etc).

                The issues are entwined, not separate.

        2. Amy Sly*

          Hence why I distinguish Christmas from Santamas, The latter is actually the focus of the holiday season.

          1. Ethyl*

            But Santa is a Christian saint. It’s still religious. Same with decorating a tree with university sports doodads, or science-themed decorations, or whatever. It’s still a Christmas tree, it’s still Christian! Google “invisible knapsack” for more information.

            1. Amy Sly*

              Nicholas of Smyrna is a Christian saint for most Christians. His holiday was Friday.

              Santa Claus is an American amalgamation of the English Father Christmas, the German Christ-child who brings gifts, and the Dutch Sinterklass. He is as authentically part of Christmas as Chinese food is.

              1. Ethyl*

                Guess what? All those things you referenced? Part of CHRISTmas. An inherently religious celebration. Sounds pretty “authentically” part of CHRISTmas to me! Nice try trying to separate Santa from CHRISTmas though!

      2. SarahTheEntwife*

        If you need to decorate your office (and while I generally would cover everything in stickers and glitter if left to my own devices, I’m not sure why decorations at the end of the calendar year are somehow mandatory when they’re not common any other time of the year except maybe Halloween), why not stick to purely seasonal decor? Snowflakes, snowmen, mittens, that sort of thing.

      3. Brass*

        “So, is the only option to remove all holiday decorating altogether?”

        Yeah, maybe. Does you really need decorations as much as other people need religious freedom?

        1. Jules the 3rd*

          Or go with seasonal decorations in shared spaces (work, school) and leave specific holidays to individuals in their individual spaces.
          Flowers, Rain, Umbrellas
          Seashore, Shells, Sun, Flowers
          Harvest, Leaves, Apple Cider
          Snowflakes, Mittens

          Four seasons of physical sciences: Bio, Chem, Physics, Math – there are some gorgeous posters out there.
          You could probably do something with the social sciences too, but other than Anthro and Econ, I am not sure what the divisions are these days.

          1. The Lemon Test*

            +1. By saying “no decorations whatsoever” you are also infringing on religious liberty.

          2. Brass*

            Did you read the post or any of the other 900 comments? If you did, you’d realize that decorations celebrating one person’s religious holiday can make another person feel alienated. Freedom from other people’s religion is just important as the freedom to practice your own religion.

            1. Public policy anon*

              I have. Feeling alienated does not restrict people’s freedom, and in fact, insisting that others allow you to be “free from” their expression seems to be advocating a restriction on *their* religious freedom, no?

              1. Zillah*

                This is reframing the issue in a way that’s pretty disingenuous. Literally no one is saying that people can’t celebrate Christmas – the only thing being said is that Christmas decorations shouldn’t be in the workspace. Things not being okay at work =/= unfair restrictions on them.

      4. Zillah*

        That’s not what’s being said, and jumping to “what, so you want everyone to take down all their decorations?” is pretty disingenuous.

        1. Zillah*

          Also – I’d urge you to go into the conversation with a little more of an open mind. People aren’t “claiming” that something is offensive – they are saying what they actually find offensive.

            1. Will "scifantasy" Frank*

              When someone’s been breathing into your face for decades, and you finally speak up, and they say “oh, so I can’t even BREATHE these days?”…

            2. Blueberry*

              People have always been offended by being told they don’t belong and their religions aren’t real. It’s just that now people can express these annoyances without immediate and violent reprisal, at least sometimes.

            3. Ethyl*

              Jeez yeah it sucks how people are sick of being oppressed constantly. Why can’t they all just shut up about it!

              1. Anon4this*

                Thanks Alison, I hadn’t meant to spark a debate. My point really was to let you know that your response made me feel “seen,” for one of the first times ever. I genuinely wanted to thank you for putting this into words.

        2. Petunia Cakes, The Atheist*

          It kind of is what’s being said, though. I suppose I’m asking what decorations would be appropriate and would not offend anyone, but the only answer I can come up with is none. I can understand some decorations being obviously offensive to some (crosses, angels, etc.). But there are many people who even get offended at snowflakes and other basic winter things. It’s just silly.

          1. Jules the 3rd*

            Literally no one here has has objected to snowflakes. They are actually mentioned a dozen times or more as a valid ‘Winter’ alternative to Christian imagery, an experience that people in the same geographical area actually share.

            You might want to dig into why you’re intent on dismissing the solutions people are offering you. At least one of my atheist friends is so frustrated by Religious Christmas that she gets really absolutist about any aspect of it, and it can carry over into discussions like this in ways that look a lot like ‘It’s just silly’. (disclaimer – I’m an atheist, I don’t care about Christmas decorations)

          2. Proofin' Amy*

            You are willfully refusing to read what Alison explained and what many of us who are not Christian have explained. It’s fine that you’re not offended, but decorations get put up because it’s Christmas, and those of us who aren’t Christians can feel excluded. Are you putting up lights in February? Please stop invalidating our feelings and calling them silly.

  22. Prof Ma'am*

    “But the fact that you’re able to see a Christmas tree as secular or universal is because Christmas has the privilege of dominance in our culture. For many of us who don’t celebrate it, it’s not secular and it’s not universal — and saying it is really erases non-Christians from the picture.”

    As a fellow Jew, THANK YOU AAM for writing this and so perfectly expressing this deep feeling of discomfort I’ve had with Christmas but couldn’t quite put into words.

    1. Amy Sly*

      I’m curious … and maybe there isn’t anyone here who could speak to this from their own experience … but would anyone feel differently about their answer if Christianity wasn’t the dominant religion in question? Say, a Jew in Israel was asking about what kind of Purim work party would be appropriate to be sensitive to their Muslim coworkers?

      1. stem bem*

        Most of the commenters are from the US and truly can’t imagine what a society not controlled by Christians looks like. Anyways, we live in a country that has a long history of discrimination against people who don’t fit the “Default” (white, christian, largely male). I don’t think anyone in Israel insists that Purim isn’t a religious holiday, but given that Israelis also have a history of discrimination against Muslims I imagine an Islamic advice columnist would feel similar to Alison given a similar-ish question.

        1. Amy Sly*

          We are human beings. As such, we all have a history of discriminating against other people who don’t fit our default.

          1. Blueberry*

            That’s really dismissive and untrue. I’m not going to write an essay about the shapes of history in this thread, but I had to push back against the false equivalence here.

      2. Prof Ma'am*

        My opinion is that this would be true for any majority and minority religious situation. It just so happens that the Christian dominance in the US, coupled with the month+ that Christmas is celebrated over, makes it the perfect example. Of course in a different country there may be other issues, like having an official religion, that muddy the waters. Anyway, maybe I’m getting in the weeds but your question is valid and in my eyes no different a situation than what’s being discussed here.

      3. Anon for this*

        Well yeah, it hinges in Christianity being the dominant religion because that’s the only reason people have for thinking Chritmas is neutral. It’s impossible to think that when other religions are dominant. No one in Israel thinks Christmas is a secular default because Christianity is not the default.

        To the Purim part of your question, secular Israeli Jews know they are secular Jews. There isn’t really an equivalent to the American atheist cultural Christian who claims they have no ties to Christianity. So it’s unlikely someone say “it’s fine because Purim isn’t Jewish”, it would be more “it’s fine because this is a Jewish country”. (Not picking sides here, just saying arguments that may be made.)

        Source: am secular Israeli Jew

        1. Amy Sly*

          Yeah, I guess what I’m trying to determine is that if “we’re celebrating Y religious holiday because it’s a Y-ian country” is an acceptable statement when Y is not a Christian religion.

          And if it is, is that because Christians just have to suck it up as recompense for the last 500 years of world history, or because most historically Christian countries also have cultural expectations of protecting minority rights so that minorities feel empowered to say “Yes, you’re the majority, but I should have my religious view respected too”?

          1. Shira*

            America isn’t a Christian country, though. There is no state religion. Religious minorities in America are sensitive about this, for obvious reasons. I think that’s part of the reason why trying to blur Christmas decorations into “secular seasonal decorations” in publicly run spaces is so grating – it feels like an attempt to alienate religious minorities while maintaining plausible deniability about church/state separation.

        2. Shira*

          And look at American Jews, some of whom celebrate Jewish holidays culturally despite being atheist – but I don’t think any of them would claim that the holidays aren’t Jewish. They might not be observing them for religious reasons, but they’re clearly still Jewish holidays. I feel like Christmas is the same – you can take part in some of the traditions without subscribing to the religious beliefs, but that doesn’t mean you aren’t celebrating a Christian holiday.

      4. Anna*

        I think majority vs. minority power dynamics can exist anywhere, regardless of the specific religion, so I am sure that muslims in israel do feel alienated during major jewish holidays. So I don’t see why the advice would be any different. That said, jews are .2% of the world’s population and outside of one tiny country we recognize that most people have never even met a jew before – so we don’t automatically assume that our religious traditions are going to be culturally celebrated or even known.

      5. Edamame*

        So I am a culturally Jew-ish, mostly agnostic/atheist living in Asia, where I would argue that Christmas is secular. Offices put up Christmas trees, malls play Christmas music, but everyone seems to have missed the Jesus memo. Actually it’s considered a romantic holiday like Valentine’s day, and lucky people usually spend the day/evening on a romantic date, not with their families. There are Christians here of course but it’s not a day off, most people go to work normally and go home (also like Valentine’s Day).

        I am MUCH chiller about Christmas here, because it’s so much lower stakes. If you don’t go shopping it’s not shoved in your face. There’s no religious element, it’s purely corporate marketing, and feels very foreign (Halloween is recently getting the same treatment). It’s a lot easier to celebrate or not when all you have to do is avoid the mall. Plus fairy lights are up until February (or even March) so there’s a lot more to enjoy.

    2. Fed*

      THANK YOU!!!!! Put my feelings into words that I was unable to do.
      I don’t mind people putting up a tree, but it’s not a holiday tree and there is no such thing as a Hanukkah bush.

  23. Shhhh*

    I also work at a university, and I had a conversation about this with my boss at my last job (also at a university). To be honest, I’m sure he and my coworkers thought I was a pain/killjoy for trying to steer the department away from Christmas-specific decorations. My reasoning was that we were a student-facing department that generally does and should try to make our space as welcoming as possible to students and that putting up decorations that could alienate some of our students didn’t feel right.

    Anyway, where we landed (and then never did anything about, but that’s a whole other thing) was that it felt more appropriate to put up winter themed decorations but not decorations related to any particular religious or cultural holiday. Maybe you could do something like that?

    I celebrate Christmas as a religious holiday and while I’d be okay with putting up Christmas-specific decorations in my own office, I wouldn’t be okay with doing so in common areas because I’ve heard from enough people that it is alienating. For what it’s worth, my current workplace does not decorate public or otherwise common areas.

    1. Zillah*

      I just want to say thank you for being so aware of the issue despite celebrating Christmas religiously – IME, the burden is usually on non-Christians to raise concerns, which can be isolating all on its own.

    2. Marny*

      I appreciate your being thoughtful about other people’s feelings. And honestly, as a Jewish person, I often feel like we’re considered the killjoys of the holiday season for people who celebrate Christmas. Whenever there’s resentment about stuff like not saying “Merry Christmas” or not putting up a nativity scene, it’s super-fun feeling like it’s us ruining the holiday by simply existing in the world during December.

      1. JustaTech*

        As an atheist/cultureal Christian I feel like one of the helpful things I can do is be the person who speaks up and says “hey, not everyone who works here celebrates Christmas” when it comes time to plan the holiday (Christmas) party.
        I think we generally did a good job this year; the blatant Christmas tree was still there but the overall decor was very “winter”. It was certainly better than the year the director of HR suggested that the company hand out hams as a “Christmas bonus” (something we’d never done before). I thought it was a joke and then the rest of the social committee stared at me like I had three heads when I reminded them that not everyone eats pork (or any meat) for religious reasons.

        Also, anyone who claims that a holiday is “ruined” by the existence of people who don’t celebrate needs to get a grip on reality.

        1. Rose F*

          And not just religious reasons either! My atheist stepbrother and his wife are vegans because they want to be, not because religion demands it. Giving them a ham would be just as weird as giving me one (I don’t eat pork because I keep kosher).

    3. joriley*

      I’m in a very similar situation. I lost the battle on the “winter” tree (it’s a Christmas tree decorated with snowflakes) but I probably irritated our office manager the first year by pushing pretty hard against things being Christmas-y. We’re a Christian institution, but one that ostensibly celebrates religious diversity and has plenty of students who are not Christian. My view is that even if it’s “okay” because the university is Christian, that doesn’t keep students from feeling alienated.

  24. Blarg*

    I’m a Jew and I honestly dislike Christmas trees in the office, especially when it is a government building (like a public university). But if my boss asked about it, I’d never say anything. When I was in elementary school, my mom complained about the tree in my second grade classroom and I was forever the girl who ruined Christmas for everyone. A lot of non-Christian kids have similar memories.

    For the record, I’m not a fan of the “tree and menorah” thing because I don’t think religious symbols belong in the office like this. And Hanukkah has little religious significance and isn’t “Jewish Christmas.” Decorate with snow flakes or string lights or whatever. Penguins and walrus and cold weather animals are cute. Decorate year round if your office is boring.

    I am well aware I’m in the minority here. But it just seems so unneeded. You already get the federal holiday while the rest of us take leave for our observances. And you get the whole culture. All the stores. The media. The music. Maybe, maybe, offices could be less a reminder of who doesn’t belong?

    1. wittyrepartee*

      The second grade thing is rough. Yowch. That would feel terrible.

      I work in a government office. Your take seems pretty fair. I think our office has come down on “decorate your desk, not the common space”. We have a door decoration contest at the winter holiday party, and we decorate with public health slogans.

      1. mrs__peel*

        “and we decorate with public health slogans.”

        … hmmm, I’m a health care lawyer and I might start doing this at home, too. Just for fun. “Happy Holidays, and Use a Separate Cutting Board for Meat and Poultry”. “TB Testing: The Reason for the Season”.

    2. Observer*

      Well, let’s put it this way – you’re a minority because you are a Jew, and Jews are a minority. But, I think that a really large swath of Jews feel the way you do.

      I think that a LOT of us feel like “Enjoy your holiday. But please don’t make me engage with it, especially at work.”

    3. Laszlo Whitaker*

      I agree with you, and I think your first paragraph is a perfect example to indicate why students who are bothered by the tree might not feel comfortable saying anything.

    4. NYCBanker*

      I so agree! It always ends up being some sad little dingy menorah that no one pays attention to. Then someone gets the idea to light the thing but they put in all the candles and then forget about it again

    5. Jay*

      This. SO much this. I was in my 30s and well above the bottom of the medical hierarchy before I was comfortable telling my coworkers that the Christmas decorations bothered me. And the poinsettia that was sent to my by the hospice organization, and the ornament that I was given as a gift by the office manager, and all the stockings with my name that were hung up on various office walls over the years. I would never have told my boss when I was a student or a trainee.

    6. AuroraLight37*

      This. It is not pleasant, being seen as the fun-squasher/killjoy who “takes our fun away from everyone!” (direct quote- apparently I wasn’t included in “everyone.”)

    7. Blarg*

      I actually expected a bunch of pushback to my comment. So thanks for affirming my experiences and feelings. I should have known AAM commenters would be great!

  25. AndersonDarling*

    I worked at an office where this discussion went down a rabbit hole. If an evergreen tree with lights is religious, then can we decorate with wreaths and garland? Isn’t mistletoe is mentioned in A Christmas Carol, so is it religious? Santa Clause is a persona of a saint, so that is out of the question.
    So they put up an orange evergreen tree with no lights and no ornaments. That seemed to be the safest route.
    Not saying any of this is right or wrong, just that it got confusing and no one knew the answer.

    1. Phony Genius*

      I have never heard of an orange evergreen tree. Googling it results only in mentions of trees that are dying.

      1. AndersonDarling*

        It was an orange plastic monstrosity. The thought was that if it was orange, then it isn’t an evergreen tree, therefor it couldn’t be mistaken for a “Christmas” tree. It really looked like a Muppet that was about to jump up and dance.

        1. Leslie Knope*

          The university where I graduated from had a lot of those plastic orange monstrosities in December…but our colors were black and orange so it made sense. Didn’t make them any more appealing, though!

        2. Admin of Sys*

          I would be so tempted to cover an orange tree with black bats and spiders and just argue that halloween officially triumphed over christmas…

        3. MsM*

          No one tell my Flyers-loving husband this thing exists, or Gritty the Tree will be the new holiday tradition.

        4. Dahlia*

          There are ones that are rainbow now and they’re ugly as sin and also kind of amazing and I think having a queer pride Christmas tree would be really realy fun (not for Christmas).

          I also have seen cool orange/black/purple Halloween trees.

    2. Allypopx*

      I think any Saturnalia traditions that were adopted by the western spread of Christianity – mistletoe, advents, etc – fall under culturally or religiously Christian, so yes I’d say those things count.

    3. EnfysNest*

      In the end, though, why do you have a desire to put anything up at this time of year? Why put up an orange “evergreen” for the last month of the year, but not the rest of the year? What makes this time of year special? I think that’s why it seemed confusing – you’re trying to decorate for the culturally popular “Christmas season”, whether you’re using traditional decorations or not.

      Again, it’s not to say to can’t decorate for Christmas, just that you need to be aware that the assumption in the US is that decorations put up specifically for this time of year is going to default to “Christmas season”, unless it’s specifically linked to a different religious holiday that falls during that time frame. You just can’t remove the history and culture linked to the time of year and pretend like it’s neutral. And you don’t have to be neutral – you’re not in the wrong if you put up a tree – you just should be aware that others will see the decorations as linked to Christmas at least at some level.

      1. AndersonDarling*

        It’s just a dismal time of year and decorating makes it a little more tolerable. I’m in an area where winters are cold, slushy, and dreary. I really wish we had our winter holidays in January and February when it gets super cold and isolating. That’s the time to have a winter party.

        1. Emilia Bedelia*

          Join me in my quest to make Groundhog Day the fun secular winter holiday that we need!

          It falls a month after New Year’s, so plenty of time between that and the rest of the holiday season, and comes with a built in cute animal mascot and exciting event to pay attention to. No one decorates for Groundhog Day (yet…) so you can truly go wild with this. Either way (more winter or impending spring), it’s an excuse to either commiserate or celebrate. Also, a fun alternative to the Superbowl!

          1. Director of Alpaca Exams*

            Groundhog Day is a secularized Imbolc! You’d certainly make the pagans happy.

            1. Alexandra Lynch*

              Oh, yeah. I’m all for a world with more parties in it.

              I converted for very good and serious religious reasons, and then discovered, hey, we have eight holidays, set at approximately six-week intervals. That’s about right to have nice parties for each of them! But I go eat Easter dinner with my Christian mother because it makes her happy and I like how she does ham. And I enjoy Independence Day in between Summer Solstice and Lammas. And I celebrate Halloween as well as Samhain, because having fun is also sacred to me. And Thanksgiving cause I love to cook for people. I’m all for more parties on the calendar.

              Thing is, once things get absorbed into the general cultural consciousness, they become…warped and vulgarized. Most people who “celebrate” St. Patrick’s Day don’t know why it’s that day, who St. Patrick was, and why it became a holiday in the US. It’s about drinking green beer and getting drunk. Cinco de Mayo is going the same way. Except you’re apparently supposed to eat tacos and get blitzed on tequila instead. Whatever. (wry laugh) Christmas has done that with inflatable yard ornaments, “Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer” and depictions of Santa with a plumber’s crack, among other things. It’s just still in process with Christmas, because of the cultural hegemony of Christianity in the USA.

        2. Lurker*

          My workplace has an annual winter party in late January in lieu of any sort of holiday celebration in December. We all love it because there’s no connection to any holiday at all, it occurs a few weeks after all of the holiday parties have ended and we’re still facing several months of winter slog, and everyone is in need of some cheer.

  26. Allypopx*

    Would you be comfortable also putting up Hannukah decorations? Kwanza decorations? If yes, the tree is fine! If not…you can’t argue a tree is okay. The main office at my university has all sorts of different cultural decorations as well as simple “winter” decorations – and I think that’s fine! I also think they’d be open to more suggestions about what they can be displaying. But if you’re going with “well it’s just a tree” and everything else would be isolating or political, then you need to take a closer look at your biases, even if you leave the tree up.

    1. Washi*

      I see your point, but I don’t agree that if you put a menorah next to the Christmas tree, it necessarily makes it all ok. I mean, in some offices, that would be lovely and everyone would be happy! But as AnotherSarah said really well up above, sometimes people who want to put up Christmas decorations also put up other religions’ decorations, but in a way that makes it clear that they think Hannukah = Jewish Christmas. And that’s also kind of frustrating.

      Personally, I would avoid Christmas decorations period, and I think Christians need to be conscious of the power dynamic that they are already in the majority, and need to tread extra carefully around bringing religion in the workplace. Put up some snowflakes and string lights, and call it a day.

    2. fposte*

      I think that line of argument runs into a problem, though, which is that a lot of people say “Sure, I’d be fine with that!” But that’s not a solution, because they’re not equivalent-weight holidays—they’re just at the same time of year–so it’s closer to the “Jewish Christmas” thing than to celebrating other traditions with the same intensity.

      1. Allypopx*

        Thank you for the correction. I’ll admit to having been raised in a very anti-holiday religion so all of these make me equally uncomfortable, subconsciously. My understanding has been that many cultures have an end of harvest/solstice/beginning of winter tradition of some kind so this time of year usually has some significance to a lot of people, and therefore the time of year and its various traditions on its own are worth celebrating under that umbrella. But I’m sure I have a bias of “everyone seems to do something important to them right now” seeming louder as I don’t have anything personally important. I don’t have a lot of context for various weights of things.

        1. maoz tzuris*

          Judaism does have a harvest festival. It’s not in December and also no one’s ever heard of it ;)

          1. Allypopx*

            Thank you! It seems I should do some reading on Jewish holidays. My mother in law grew up in a very observant Jewish household (my husband isn’t terribly observant) she may be a good resource.

            I am very uncomfortable this time of year so I’ve historically tried to keep my head in the sand, but that’s probably not fair since Christian holidays are more pervasive and more likely to get through to my brain. I should expand my knowledge in deliberately non-Christian directions instead.

            1. LizB*

              I actually think it’s fine that you just try to ignore holiday stuff this time of year, since it makes you uncomfortable due to your background. That’s what us Jews are often dealing with, too, anyway! I commend your wanting to learn about more than just Christian stuff, but also take care of yourself – learning can happen any time of year, it doesn’t have to happen during the month you’re bombarded by other people’s symbols every time you step out of your door. The website myjewishlearning [dot] com is a good resource for some basics on Jewish holidays and practice, if you want resources.

            2. maoz tzuris*

              Sorry, the snark got too much ahold of me. If your family wants to reconnect with that side, Succos (also spelled Sukkot, there are various transliteration systems) is a pretty accessible holiday. There’s a lot of stuff packed into it: building the succah is really fun, decorating it is also fun, there’s dancing and singing and there’s also the memorial for the dead prayer (Yizkor) on one of the days if someone wants to pray for a deceased relative. It’s basically got everything. *smacks Succos like a new car* You don’t know how much holidaying you can do until there’s a full week of it!

      2. Pennalynn Lott*

        It’s also problematic because not everyone is religious. So trying to be inclusive by doing your best to represent mainstream religions [because, wowsers, there are ~4200 religions being practiced/observed in the world today] still leaves ~15-25% of the US population out.

        1. Allypopx*

          You’re definitely correct. As a nonreligious person I guess I tend to assume I don’t factor into this conversation? Like it’s not about me? But that’s definitely learned and not logical.

          1. Pennalynn Lott*

            Yep, I used to just bow my head while everyone else was reciting The Lord’s Prayer at things like City Council meetings and Chamber of Commerce luncheons. “Oh, that’s not for me; don’t want to rock the boat.” But now I’m like, “Hold up. Why are you people doing something that clearly says, ‘Your kind doesn’t fit in here?'” The pushback I get is along the lines of, “This isn’t about you; it’s a minor thing that takes 1-2 minutes; stop making such a big deal out of it.” And, um, OK…if it’s so minor then surely you won’t mind dispensing with it?

            I have also seen organizations go the “inclusive” route by having other prayers / invocations said from other religions. “Look at how inclusive and welcoming we are!” Again, they’re signalling that I, as an atheist, don’t belong. Just stop. Stop praying, stop decorating public — particularly public-funded — spaces with sectarian, reglious things.

            1. fposte*

              Yes, I think it’s reminiscent of being told that when people say “men” and use male pronouns it includes the women, so why change anything?

              (FWIW, I love Christmas music and decorations, but I love many things that shouldn’t be the default norm in a workplace.)

    3. User 483*

      I think the better question would be: At other times of the year, do you put up decorations for non-Christian religions? If you only do it at Christmas, then it is just a token thing to try to counter balance the tree.

      1. Amykins*

        Eh, not necessarily.

        As some other folks have mentioned, winter is a pretty traditional time in many cultures to celebrate.

        I’m an atheist who grew up with a culturally Jewish mom and an atheist former-Catholic dad who loved Christmas from a cultural tradition perspective. I grew up celebrating Hannukah and Passover and Christmas, and while I recognize that they all have religious roots, they all feel to ME like they are a part of my cultural heritage in a purely secular way.

        I get why that might not be the case for other people, and I don’t begrudge folks who feel uncomfortable around the constant barrage of Christmas. And I understand why the religious roots and omnipresence of Christmas often feels uncomfortable for people whose religions or backgrounds make them an oppressed minority.

        That said – I firmly believe that even atheists need excuses and reasons to celebrate, and that’s particularly true during a time of year when many of us are struggling with the dark and the cold and possibly Seasonal Affective Disorder.

        We’re all just trying to get by, sometimes, and I would be positively delighted if secular folks can figure out a truly secular holiday to celebrate together and decorate for. But in the meantime, I’ll be putting up my Christmas tree and putting up lights and setting out my menorah this time of year, because those things make me feel warm and remind me of memories of my late father and help me feel a connection to both sides of my family in different ways, and they give me an excuse to buy people presents which I quite enjoy doing, and dang it I love those Starbucks peppermint mochas so much and it’s really good that they’re only out for a limited time because I do not need those calories available to me year-round.

        I think it’s a really challenging dilemma, to be honest. Christianity is absolutely an oppressive majority in this country and as both half-Jew and atheist I definitely feel the weight of that. And I think even for some cultural or religious Christians, Christmas ends up being a holiday filled with trauma because of the pressures of faaaaaaaaamily and capitalism and heavy expectations that may not be met. But on the other side of the coin, when you find things that fill you with joy, sometimes you gotta grab and hold them while they last, and while that’s never an excuse to force things on other people, I really wish we had some cultural touchpoint that could be shared within communities (including work) that wasn’t so heavy with baggage for so many.

  27. Anna*

    This, this a 1000x this. There is NOTHING more exhausting than being lectured how Santa, Christmas trees, etc aren’t “really” Christian as someone who is Hindu and therefore I should relate to these holiday elements as just a humanist celebration or conversely, but other Christians who don’t like these symbols because they object based on pagan roots. It’s not the same thing. Yours is the hegemonic religious ethos we all operate under.

  28. AlexandrinaVictoria*

    This is my first holiday season as a practicing Jew (I’m in the midst of converting) and I’m really amazed at how ubiquitous Christmas stuff and Christian symbols are when they’re not just in the background as they used to be for me. Maybe that sounds ridiculous, but seriously, I never really even registered how much there was when I was (secularly) celebrating the holiday. We do have a tree at work, and people bring in ornaments, with a strict “No religious stuff” rule. My cube neighbor has a ceramic tree and little Santa boot, so I decided to represent and got a mini Hanukkiah (Hanukkah menorah) to put next to them. It makes me feel included, and has sparked some really good, open discussion with people being genuinely interested and curious. So the realization that yes, a tree IS a symbol of a religious holiday that not everyone celebrates, and keeping it as neutral as possible is ok. But it is a symbol of a religious holiday that not everyone celebrates.

    1. Blueberry*

      It’s not ridiculous. I had the same reaction when I left Christianity, and I have several friends who are converts to Judaism who have all mentioned having this reaction (I’ve discussed it with at least a couple of them). It’s like… we were fish not noticing water and now we grew lungs and we notice the omnipresent water.

    2. TiffanyAching*

      I’m also a convert! Today is actually my 1 year conversion anniversary (by the Gregorian calendar), and I felt/am feeling all the same kind of weirdness. I didn’t really notice how Christmas-y even the “non-religious” Christmas stuff is, and since I grew up decorating and celebrating during this time of year, I’m feeling a little lost. I countered by covering my house in snowflakes.

      1. Director of Alpaca Exams*

        Mazel tov!

        You totally get to decorate your house for Hanukkah if you want to do that. There are some beautiful works of Hebrew calligraphy that you can find online and print out and hang up, that are full of rich color and brightness. And it’s a great time of year to cook and fill the house with the smells of delicious food—a very traditional Jewish way of “decorating”. :)

  29. Amy*

    Alison, I agree with the advice you’ve given here, but I’m curious what your advice would be to a pagan person for whom a decorated Yule tree is truly NOT a Christian symbol. Of course the majority of people are going to associate it with Christmas, and there’s no way around that, but your assertion that a “Christmas tree” is always, without fail, a Christian symbol, totally ignores the (admittedly small) subset of the population that celebrates both the ancient tradition of Yule and its more modern counterpart. I agree that it’s not secular and that it’s offensive to people of other faiths to claim that it is, but what if that particular tree is both non-secular and non-Christian?

    1. Observer*

      Still doesn’t belong at work.

      The point Alison was making was not that *Christian* decorations are not ok, but that claiming that the typical Christmas tree is not Christian is not accurate.

      1. Curmudgeon in California*

        There’s a little more nuance here:

        Yes, a “Christmas tree” is “Christian”, but not all Christians have it as a symbol. Plus, some pagans have a “Yule Tree” or “Yule Log”, which is similar, but again, not all. Plus some atheists and agnostics still celebrate a “secualr Giftmas” type of celebration. That doesn’t even get into the dates – “Yule” is usually celebrated on the Winter Solstice – which is also celebrated by some atheists/agnostics as a natural phenomenon season marker. Christmas is December 25, and is generally assumed to have been a date appropriated from a previous pagan celebration (IIRC, Mithraic.)

        So Yule both is and isn’t secular, trees are and aren’t Christian, but tend to be religious, and a lot of religions don’t have a solstice (+/- 5 days) adjacent holiday with gifts. Yet Western culture is very Christian-centric, and this has bled over even to the supposedly secular celebrations.

        Personally, I call the holiday Gift-mas, and consider it to run from Solstice to New Years Day. To me, Gift-mas is a quasi-secular holiday that says “Screw religion, I feel like giving gifts and being winter festive.” But it still has its roots in the cultural dominance of Christianity, and in a way is a push back against the tying of commerce and the dominant religion.

        But as a pagan, and an ex-Christian, I can never forget the dominance of Christianity in holidays, politics, and social life. IIRC, there are still some areas in this country where the first question people ask when they meet you is not “What do you do for a living?” but “Where do you go to church?”

    2. fposte*

      I think it strongly reads as the hegemonic symbol no matter what association or history it has for a minority. There was a great story on NPR a few years ago from a reporter/producer there whose Indian family had a Diwali tradition of putting out swastikas, because that’s an important symbol. But putting a swastika out on your house is going to be read very differently in the US, despite the symbol’s having an important tradition.

      I’ve found the article–I’ll link in followup.

      1. Anax*

        I think you’re right about that, but I think covertly subversive imagery can be meaningfully different from ‘whoops, that symbol has a strong negative meaning here.’ A lot of minority communities have needed to signal to each other subtly, without attracting unwanted attention – “friends of Dorothy”, for instance.

        If someone, for instance, hung witch balls under the guise of “holiday ornaments”, they would certainly be visibly supporting Christmas, but they might also be expressing solidarity or looking for community, while feeling unsafe expressing that sentiment in a more overt way.

        I’m not sure how I feel about that, but it… feels important that people be able to celebrate “stealthily” if they do feel unsafe openly celebrating the holidays and traditions which matter to them, even if it does seem to support the dominant cultural narrative?

        (Me, I’m keeping the candles and witch balls at home; I do noooot want to explain the pagan thing at work.)

        1. fposte*

          I love covert and coded celebration! But I think you still run into problems if you’re doing it in the workplace. Even if your Christmas celebrations are ironic or coded in a way that speaks subtextually to some audiences, it’s an issue to have them in the lobby of the town hall.

      2. Amber Rose*

        That makes me so sad. The nazis are guilty of a lot of crimes, and perverting that symbol is a big one that most people don’t think about. :(

        1. Blueberry*

          So true. I read once about a First Nations tribe who publicly repudiated the swastika, despite it having been one of their sacred symbols, because of what was done to and under it, and I cried both because of their intense humanity in being determined to not cause harm (a stated reason) and because they shouldn’t’ve had to.

    3. hbc*

      Well, it’s still a symbol of faith for you, so that has some of the same levels of inappropriateness as a Christmas tree in a common space, *and* it will be taken by most as a Christmas tree, so it still will push the buttons we want to avoid pushing. It’s not like you can say, “I know it looks like a Christmas tree to you, but it’s totally cool because it’s a symbol of *my* faith.” The only time this distinction would make a difference is if there’s some Non-Dominant Religions display or something.

      On your property, go nuts. In your own workspace, same freedom, though I would be concerned that I would be giving people the wrong impression unless there were some other pagan symbols accompanying it.

  30. Rosie*

    Perhaps you can invite people to bring in their own ornaments representing different holidays and cultures.

    My family and I are not Christian, but we’ve always celebrated Christmas socially and even put up a tree in our house my whole life. Sometimes, like you said, it’s nice to spruce up (pun intended) a dreary office with a generic tree.

    1. AvonLady Barksdale*

      I would recommend against doing that. A Chanukah ball on a Christmas tree is, to me, 10x more offensive than a Christmas tree on its own. A Christmas tree is a Christmas tree, and as some of the previous comments note, turning it into a “holiday tree” can be even more alienating.

        1. Amy Sly*

          Came across a somewhat joking quote once (loosely paraphrased) that in the rest of the world, Jews are threatened because they are hated and so isolated, but in America, Jews are threatened because Americans want to marry them.

          1. AvonLady Barksdale*

            I have never heard that quote. I am really happy I have never heard that quote. Wow, that is offensive. I highly recommend you not repeat that.

            1. Amy Sly*

              May I ask why it is offensive? This was from a devout Jew, if my memory serves.

              Intermarriage is a form of assimilation. If assimilation is erasure, the fact that Americans are so willing to intermarry across religious differences can be seen as a threat to the existence of Jews as a separate people. It’s certainly a far less aggressive threat than the anti-Semitic violence that can be seen throughout Europe and most of the Middle East, but it is a real threat.

              1. AvonLady Barksdale*

                Because the reasoning you cite above only works the other way. American Jews are threatened because their children want to marry non-Jews– THAT makes sense. Saying that Americans want to marry US holds within it a whole ton of unpleasant stereotypes– the first thing I thought of was that people would want to marry us because we are, stereotypically, made of money (where’s my cut, I might ask). It also ignores the fact that… it just doesn’t make sense. I don’t think a Vanderbilt ever would have wanted one of their children to marry a Rothschild. It sounds to me like you got the quote flipped around.

                Assimilation is absolutely a problem, and intermarriage can be part of that (the issue is a whole lot more complex than I make it sound), but that’s not the only threat to American Jewry. And there is plenty of anti-Semitic violence and rhetoric right here in our own backyard, so the implication that intermarriage is the biggest problem we face offends me pretty deeply.

              2. Observer*

                AvonLady is right. “loose paraphrases” sometimes work, sometimes they don’t.

                Trying to summarize an issue as complex as assimilation, forced and voluntary, in a quip is always going to be fraught. If you don’t get it exactly right, it’s going to wind up being offensive.

              3. LizB*

                Taking a slightly different tack than AvonLady Barksdale: I’m a practicing Jew and my parents are intermarried. That joke is shitty and offensive because it invalidates my existence as a Jew, and is part of a relentless and nasty campaign from some segments of the Jewish community to control the behavior and reproductive capacity of Jewish women.

                1. Observer*

                  Whatever you may think about the attitudes towards intermarriage, it’s NOT about “the behavior and reproductive capacity of Jewish women.” See, according to Jewish Law, someone is Jewish if their mother is Jewish, so technically intermarriage makes no difference in terms of replenishing the population. It’s MEN that create a problem when they reproduce.

                2. LizB*

                  @Observer: I mean, that rationale makes sense, and yet somehow it ends up being me and all my female friends who get pressured to marry someone Jewish because we carry the future of the nation inside us and our choices about who to have kids with dictate whether the next generation of Jews will be observant or Not Good Enough. (But this is probably veering too far off the topic, which is: that joke was shitty for a variety of reasons.)

                3. Edamame*

                  Observer, tell that to everyone’s grandparents who just want them to marry a nice Jewish boy… my mother was disowned for that and “technically the kids would be Jewish” was not persuasive. See: Jews as a race vs. as a religion

                4. Observer*

                  I understand about women being pressured to “marry a nice Jewish boy”. But I can tell you that generally those parents / grandparents will do the same to their sons / grandsons.

              4. JustaTech*

                I had no idea I was a threat to Judaism because I married my atheist Jewish husband, but thanks.

                And by “Thanks” I mean, that’s incredibly hurtful and insensitive and doesn’t even address the number of Americans who are not Jewish who marry Jewish people and raise Jewish children and follow traditions and basically do everything except convert.

                Why don’t you just call us all shiksas and be done with it?

                1. AvonLady Barksdale*

                  And that is exactly why it bothers the crap out of me when people say intermarriage is the biggest threat we face. My partner converted, and before he did, we had a 100% Jewish home. It’s so much more complex than a simple, “You’re all marrying non-Jews, we’re doomed.”

                2. JustaTech*

                  I guess this really, really hurt my feelings today because I spent more time than necessary explaining to my Jewish mother in law that, no, we were not going to get a Christmas tree for the house. And I do want to put up lights, but how do I do that in a non-religious way?

                  To have someone then imply I’m a terrible person and somehow made my non-practicing husband disappear is just a whole lot too much.

              5. tired anon*

                It also, as paraphrased, implies that Americans and Jews are mutually exclusive categories and the idea that Jewish people aren’t “really American” (or “really X Nationality”) has a long anti-semetic history. The conspiracy that Jewish people are secretly undermining a government, have outside loyalties, etc, comes up again and again historically and leads to a rise in anti-semetic violence.

                I don’t think that’s intentional or what the joke is about, but yeah, maybe don’t make that joke anymore.

        2. Adric*

          I don’t want this to come across as a smart-aleck question. Because I’m asking it in a genuine spirit of inquiry, and I hope that I can do that as inoffensively as possible.

          Your statement seems to convey the idea that as a Jew you don’t want to be part of mainstream society, but you also don’t want anybody to know that you’re not part of mainstream society. How is that supposed to work?

          If you want to maintain a cultural tradition different from that of the people around you it seems inevitable that you will find yourself in situations where everyone else is zigging while you zag. I don’t necessarily know what the right answer is for that, but wanting to be different without actually being different in any significant way seems contradictory to me.

          1. AvonLady Barksdale*

            Where on earth did you get that impression from? Most Jewish people I know are pretty comfortable with people knowing who we are. We are active participants in mainstream society. We just want no part of Christmas trees.

      1. 8DaysAWeek*

        Yes. Same as it would be really off the wall if you hung your Christmas ornament or tinsel on the menorah.

        1. fposte*

          There’s always the choice not to have the Christian symbol there in the first place. Plants in the office are great–just don’t make them evergreen, bring them in suspiciously close to Christmas, and decorate them if your goal is to avoid prioritizing Christianity in your winter workplace.

          1. Petunia Cakes, The Atheist*

            I’m removing this. Please stop with the “you’re all so easily offended comments.” They’re missing the point and they’re not okay here. – Alison

        2. ShanShan*

          Either decorate for Christmas AND other major holidays that are not in December, don’t decorate for any holidays, or accept that like much of our culture, your office is more welcoming to Christians than non-Christians, and that it’s not the end of the world but you shouldn’t pretend it isn’t.

          1. Jules the 3rd*

            +1, though I’ll add a 2a) Don’t decorate for holidays, pick something non-holiday as a theme. It is nice to have some art around.

    2. fposte*

      There is also the option to bring in a genuinely generic tree–a potted indoor, non-coniferous tree that can live year-round.

      1. Jules the 3rd*

        Probably not a good idea in a lab (contamination). It also needs light (many labs are windowless) and care (who waters over the break / summer?). Pics / decorations are better, but you want to avoid dust-catchers.

    3. Daniel Atter*

      To be clear, do you mean bring in their own ornaments specifically now, in December, in the run up to Christmas? Or do you mean at the appropriate time of year for that religion’s festivals?

      I would have thought one possible solution would be for a workplace to make it clear that it is inclusive all year round. That doesn’t mean celebrating Hanukkah just because it happens around the same time as Christmas, but actually being open to and supportive of employees celebrating their own key dates. Whether Yom Kippur, Eid Al-Fitr, Diwali, or whatever would be relevant – even if it is in spring, or summer or in any case not around Christmas. So bring in your decorations and ornaments by all means, but at the right time of year, not just ‘we happily celebrate all religions, but only in December’.

    4. NYCBanker*

      The point of Hanukkah was fighting against assimilation. I don’t need assimilation forced on to me at work under the guise of inclusion

  31. CatCat*

    I’ve never heard the term “cultural Christian,” but that’s interesting and seems about right. I grew up celebrating Christmas (varying in religiosity depending on the relatives involved), but as an adult, I only celebrate it in a secular manner (I don’t believe in the supernatural and do not think the events were true). I enjoy the decorations, music, and story of Christmas and stories about Santa, but the significance of the holiday is really tied to family tradition for me.

    Though I’ve had a couple religious Christians get steamed at me for celebrating Christmas without it being in a religious sense. So IDK if there’s any way to avoid alienating everyone!

    1. Tau*

      I’ve seen the “atheists celebrating Christmas is cultural appropriation” argument before and it never ceases to bewilder me. If I celebrate Christmas in exactly the same way I used to when I was a child, who am I appropriating from? Myself?!

      1. Allypopx*

        Also blame capitalism? Our whole culture in the US this time of year is centered around Christmas. For a solid month. So we can sell things. We can’t appropriate something that’s shoved down our throats. That’s like poisoning someone and saying they wanted to die.

  32. Essess*

    What would make this really inclusive is to put on the slack channel asking others to add to the decorations with their additional decorations for their holidays as well. This way, the tree is YOUR contribution, and then the others can also represent for their holidays. That would make this a team decoration, rather than a single person.

        1. wittyrepartee*

          My work is very very intercultural. So we have the great joy (not sarcastic, I find it one of the great joys of my work) of trying to recognize all the holidays. I got Diwali sweets this year :-)

          But yeah, people really need to start planning around a bunch of holiday seasons. Not just Christmas.

          1. Violet Fox*

            We had a lot of people who could not attend, or who could only attend for a small part of it because of the timing.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Eh, it doesn’t really solve it. It’s still saying “this is the most important holiday time for cultural Christians, so you can do some token things this month too” while Hanukkah, for example, is not a major holiday that one typically decorates for.

      1. Essess*

        No, it’s saying that whatever holiday is important enough to decorate for you, please add your decoration. The tree is no more important than anyone else’s decoration. The OP simply put theirs up first in this type of situation.

            1. fposte*

              It’s still adding, though. That’s the exact problem. It’s positing a central thing with additions, and the peripherality of the additions is made even clearer by the fact that the Christian holiday is why this time of year was picked.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            Yes! And what about people whose important holidays are at other times of the year? Why are invited to “add” decorations in December? It’s really not cool.

            1. WantonSeedStitch*

              Agreed. That would be like me saying, “feel free to put up a nativity scene under my maypole on Beltane!”

        1. curly sue*

          Right, but it’s also assuming that other faiths follow the same calendar and rhythm of the year as Christians. Judaism’s most important festivals are in the fall and spring, not December, and I’d feel awfully foolish building a sukkah in the office.

            1. curly sue*

              And I could hide in there during office hours to avoid students. Maybe I should reconsider my stance!

            2. WantonSeedStitch*

              Are you kidding? I’m a Pagan raised by culturally Christian atheists, and I am totally jealous of Sukkot and its festivities.

        2. SarahTheEntwife*

          But what if my important holidays aren’t in the winter? If the message goes out around Christmas, I’m going to interpret that as “add your own flair to the Mandatory Winter Holiday decorating”, not “please bring in harvest decor for Sukkot next year”.

        3. Colette*

          For example, Eid will be at the end of July in 2020. Are you suggesting that the OP suggest now that people can decorate for it?

          Very few holidays have the kind of huge decorations that Christmas has, and only a small number of holidays happen at the end of December.

      2. Essess*

        Also to add… my family is Jewish. Decorations include blue/silver tinsel and decorations, dreidels, gelt, menorah, Star of David, etc…
        I also work with many cultures, so some years Diwali is closer to Christmas time than other years, so we add Diwali decorations. It would be very festive to have a room with all the different holidays representing the office’s culture mix.

    2. fposte*

      But that’s still making Christmas the reason for everybody’s season. It’s more incorporative than inclusive.

  33. Another Question*

    Hello! I am throwing a holiday party for my office. I am purchasing decorations. What decorations/colors can I get that are interfaith/inclusive? We already will have Christmas tree, so rather than pretend to have a “secular” holiday party that is truly a Christmas party, I would love to incorporate other traditions/decorations (but I also feel wary of just putting a menorah out and being like… “ta-da”, inclusive”).

    Any advice is appreciated!

    1. Muriel Heslop*

      White. White is achromatic and goes with snow, stars, the moon…lots of things that are not distinctly religious.

    2. Bex*

      “Would this decoration seem out of season in January?” is a good metric when evaluating decorations.

    3. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

      Why not decorate & celebrate for the New Year instead? That’s genuinely nonreligious and equally worthy of celebration.

      1. Grinch*

        Is it though? Because it’s only New Year’s for people who ascribe to that calendar. For Jews, Rosh Hashanah is the new year. How about just keep all holiday decorations out of the workplace?

        1. NYCBanker*

          The New Years is a legit secular holiday. I celebrate the New Years with champagne and friends and Rosh Hashanah with family and prayer. It’s not like Christmas which is a Christian holiday

          1. Lawyer*

            Jan 1 isn’t even the religious new year for Christians – that’s December 1, when Advent begins (Advent is the beginning of the Christian liturgical year). It’s not something that people really celebrate (although the institution of the Feast of Christ the King in the 1960s was intended to foster that), but Jan 1 as the new year is not a Christian festival.

        2. SarahTheEntwife*

          It’s still the secular new year, though, assuming your office isn’t international. Rosh Hashanah is the religious new year (well, one of them…) for me, but January 1st is the civil one conveniently unconnected to Christianity.

        3. Róisín*

          Doesn’t Judaism have like 3-4 new year markers? There’s a lot of things that can be considered new year.

          Pagan practices also have like a million places one can “start” a year. Halloween/Samhain is one. Yule is another. Even Imbolc and Ostara have logic for being new year.

          Point being, whatever your religious calendar claims is new year, we all have a secular calendar that goes January-December and we can all celebrate that turn.

    4. DrTheLiz*

      Just went to Spouse’s office Xmas party and have one “don’t” for you: Carol Karaoke. It’s not my office, but… yikes. Silver and gold are also good colours.

      1. Charis*

        Appending to this: if you do something like a “name that tune”, please, for the love of whatever you value, do *not* attempt to be inclusive by using either “The Hanukkah Song” or “I Had a Little Dreidel”. My last workplace would throw one or both of these into the game every year for the totally-not-Christmas Holiday Party, and every year I would get more and more growly about it — in part because of the ‘forced assimilation’ element, but also in part because those are basically The Worst Hanukkah Songs Ever from where this Jew sits. Since I was in elementary school, “I Had a Little Dreidel” would get added into the Christmas medleys we had to learn as a probably-well-intentioned-but-ultimately-frustrating pat on the head, especially when every year at home we would sing easily a dozen different Hanukkah songs that were so much more awesome.

        Ahem. Off the soapbox now. (I may have Little Dreidel trauma.)

        1. curly sue*

          THANK YOU. I too am scarred for life. My kid’s (public) school had their choir do an arrangement of Mi Yimalel one year at the so-called ‘holiday’ concert and I was both amazed and flabbergasted. Turned out the choir leader was Jewish.

  34. Quill*

    A less religiously specific theme for decorations could be non-tree specific greenery (evergreen boughs livening up the place is connected to christmas but also to the onset of winter in general, it is somewhat less obviously christmassy than the tree) or snowflakes. You can leave the snowflakes up much longer, too…

    Though if you decked the tree out, in say, the periodic table of the elements or lights that looked like DNA strands, I don’t doubt that it would quickly become popular.

      1. Quill*

        Depends on the lab but there was a reason my professors filled half the non chem labs in the science buildings with pothoses, asparagus ferns, and extremely leggy pointsettias that had turned into small trees by the time they got tenure.

      2. Jules the 3rd*

        Or maybe just pictures of plants that can be rotated, showing different stages of development through the year (eg, trees flowering, w/green leaves, w/red leaves, bare limbs in moonlight).

        In most labs, there is not a ‘lab appropriate plant’, and they take work. Stick with something intended to be not alive.

        1. Quill*

          Most of the places where I’ve had plants in the lab, they were not chem or bio labs, but my current plants live in my cube.

  35. maoz tzuris*

    So here’s the thing. Any time someone decorates a thing, they are indicating control/ownership over that space. You are indicating that this is your space by putting up your decoration. You are then putting up a decoration that is religious in nature. You are saying this is your space and so you’re going to do religious stuff there.

    This can be really really really awkward and alienating to people who don’t share your religion. Because it’s their space too. And it’s a public university. And it’s a lab. And they can’t go somewhere to avoid it, because they work there. But you’ve staked a claim to it for your religion.

    I used to work for a public place that had christmas trees everywhere. It was a headache following me around, a symbol yelling at me everywhere I went that I was not the intended person to be there, that the intended person is someone who worships Jesus. Was it a hate crime? No. Was it offensive? Eh, sometimes. But overall, it was just EXHAUSTING.

    Especially if it’s your grad student who doesn’t think they can say anything… because when I was a grad student, I sure felt like I couldn’t.

    1. maoz tzuris*

      And yes it is religious, not just “American culture”. It’s American CHRISTIAN culture. And I would just ask you to ask yourself why you felt the need to put up this thing to decorate. Why a Christmas tree? If you want to brighten the place up, there’s a lot of different decorating ideas. Why do you feel the need to celebrate Christmas outside your own home? Why do you need to do it in the workplace? Why do you need to do it in a shared space in the workplace?

      Because no one’s ever done the opposite to you, probably. And that’s why I just want you to consider: this is unthinking on your behalf, but it makes other people think ALL THE TIME about the fact that you did it.

    2. curly sue*

      I love your handle.

      Also, yes! This put words to the feeling of territory being claimed that I’d never been able to articulate quite that way before. Thank you!

      1. maoz tzuris*

        “This put words to the feeling of territory being claimed that I’d never been able to articulate quite that way before. Thank you!”

        This is the first time I’ve ever worded in so nicely in my life. Usually the phrase “pissing red and green all over everything” is used instead ;)

    3. Petunia Cakes, The Atheist*

      But I feel like you let that get to you more than it should have. People decorate with religious things in my office (I’m an atheist but live in a very religious region, so). And I don’t care. It doesn’t mean anything to me and doesn’t offend me. I can do my work just fine with a little tree sitting next to me. I don’t need the whole world to accept my beliefs (or lack thereof) in order to make them valid. I suppose I can understand someone feeling differently if they have been persecuted for their beliefs for a long time. For the record, my family hates my atheism. But I just don’t care. I don’t need anyone else’s approval and, as such, very little bothers me.

      1. maoz tzuris*

        “I suppose I can understand someone feeling differently if they have been persecuted for their beliefs for a long time.”

        Please google the relationship of Christianity toward Judaism. Hell, just google “pogrom”. Or blood libel! Or the history of expulsions. Plus there was that one big thing in the middle of the 20th century, sorry, the name eludes me, my memory is so terrible, you’ll have to forgive me. Then after googling, please never lecture tell a Jew again that they shouldn’t need the whole world to accept their beliefs.

        1. Reasonably Contrary*

          So Petunia states that they understand it’s different if you’ve experienced persecution and you berate them for not considering…persecution? And they certainly weren’t “lecturing a Jew” smh. Sarcasm and condescension generally don’t encourage anyone to learn. Open dialogue might serve you better, as you seem very passionate.

          1. ScienceTeacherHS*

            Man, as an atheist who grew up Christian, even to me “if” is an incredibly loaded word to use when talking about historical persecution directed from Christianity (and not just religious Christians but “secular” cultural Christians) to Judaism.

            “I suppose I can understand someone feeling differently if they have been persecuted for their beliefs for a long time.”
            “I suppose I can understand someone feeling differently when they have been persecuted for their beliefs for a long time.”

            1. Reasonably Contrary*

              Thanks for a thoughtful response. I had read the “if” as a qualifier, not an indicator of doubt, but I see your point too.

          2. SimplyTheBest*

            Petunia has been up and down this whole thread lecturing non-Christians about what they should and should be offended by and just being generally gross, to the point where Alison has had to delete nasty comments and ban them from commenting anymore on the post. Maoz Tzuris has been engaging with open dialogue throughout this entire post. It might serve you better to know the full story before you tell minorities how to behave.

            1. Reasonably Contrary*

              Thanks for the info – I was responding to this post, alone, which was not hateful. I don’t have time to read 1000+ comments on break , tho it would be nice .

      2. Ethyl*

        Being an atheist in the US has an entirely different context than being Jewish or Muslim. You’re comparing apples and oranges. Your family hating your atheism simply isn’t the same as the hundreds of years of persecution faced by Jewish people, nor the more immediate threats of violence and acts of terror against both Jews and Muslims in the US today.

      3. Amber Rose*

        Please count the number of times you refer to yourself and your feelings in this paragraph vs how many times you attempt to even begin to consider anyone else’s feelings. Then maybe consider how very self centered this is, and maybe then extrapolate to how other people may care more about their own feelings than yours specifically.

        The world rotates around the sun, for the record.

      4. Oranges*

        Yeah, to jump in on the choir here. You don’t have the same deep seated knowledge that you are alone in a hostile world due to your religion. I don’t have this knowledge around my (lack) of religion, but I DO have it around my sexuality. My knowledge of the hatred of my sexuality is a drop in the bucket compared to the prosecution of Jews.

        Trust me on this, there is a HUGE difference between atheist who’s christian family doesn’t like their lack of religion vs entire culture which has been systematically terrorized/demonized for… well… a long time. Just like there’s a huge difference between a woman bringing home a man her family doesn’t like vs a woman bringing home a woman to a family.

        One can get you censured. The other can get you KILLED.

      5. Brass*

        You’ve mentioned several times that you don’t care about Christmas decorations. That’s great for you, but you seem unwilling to recognize that plenty other people do care and are bothered by it. Their concerns are legitimate and you’re being really dismissive of that.

        1. Reasonably Contrary*

          Petunia talking about Petunia’s experience is just that. At no point does the post say others *must* feel the same . Petunia is entitled to their opinion, same as you.

          1. Brass*

            Petunia talking about Petunia’s experience isn’t the problem. Petunia being completely dismissive of the fact that other people have different experiences is the problem.

            1. Coase theorem*

              But of you’re going to make that argument, aren’t others are being dismissive of Petunia’s experience, too?

              1. Blueberry*

                No, they’re pointing out that hers is different. Being an atheist in the US, or in the 21st century, doesn’t have a comparable history to being Jewish in the US and/or in the 21st century.

              2. Zillah*

                But no one is claiming that non-Christians are obligated to have issues with Christmas decorations – just that many do, and that’s why it’s not a great idea to have them in the workplace. The existence of people who are okay with the decorations isn’t in question.

      6. Reasonably Contrary*

        Wow, you got some seriously uncivil responses for expressing your feelings on your own experience.

        1. Blueberry*

          “But I feel like you let that get to you more than it should have.” isn’t a description of Petunia’s experience but an expression of Petunia’s opinion on the validity of other people’s feelings. That’s what’s been objected to.

          Also, your response to Maoz Tsuris above was so dismissive as to be a bit frightening, being directed from someone with societal power towards someone from a religious minority as it was.

          1. Reasonably Contrary*

            I’m not a “majority” in any category where I live. And if I have any “societal power”, I’m yet to find it lol. My point was you don’t open anyone’s mind by talking down. More flies with honey, etc.

            1. xa*

              Tone policing is gross. Please do not tell minorities they have to be nicer to those being offensive to them. It’s not your place to decide what’s an appropriate response.

      7. 10thmoon*

        in addition to what everyone else has said, ascribing the need for “the whole world to accept my beliefs in order to make them valid” to the Jew sitting in an office covered in Christmas decorations, rather than to those who covered the office (and seemingly the whole world) with said decorations, seems like a classic case of projection.

    4. Jules the 3rd*

      Yeah, I lean this way more than Alison’s response. Take it down, replace with some fairly lights this year, look for something secular themed for year-round decoration over the winter break. Do this cheerfully, no one is ruining Christmas by saying ‘take it home’.

  36. Muriel Heslop*

    I am a public school teacher and I have a small Christmas tree on my desk with small red balls on it. I also have a small stuffed dreidel next to it and encourage all of my students to bring in meaningful holiday things to add to it so they feel included. Rather than solicit people to see if they mind what you do, I encourage you to invite them to participate with their seasonal traditions as well. Solstice, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, etc. One of my students calls it my “solstice tree” so she’s not bringing anything.

    The only thing someone brought in was a small toy football. He said football was his holiday religion.

    Good luck, OP! You are being thoughtful.

    1. Observer*

      Please, don’t do this. Your students CANNOT effectively advocate for themselves here. (See Blarg’s comment up-thread, if you don’t understand why.) And Chanuka is NOT the same as Christmas, at all. It’s just shouting out that the religion of the school is Christianity and everything else needs to conform in some way. This is uncomfortable not just for your Jewish students, but for students of other faiths who see that things get put into the “X Religion version of Christmas”. Not cool.

      Now, if you actually had a real symbol of the major holidays of your student body on your desk at the appropriate time of year, that would be different.

    2. Cookie Captain*

      I’m sorry, but I find this kind of awful. I usually shrug off the office Christmas stuff, but at least office workers are adults, they’re usually a little more resilient when it comes to feeling alienated when they’re part of a non-dominant heritage, and there are no legal prohibition against religious celebrations for them.

      Think of it this way: you’re inviting students to bring stuff to join your Christmas tree because it’s Christmas. Because their authority figure celebrates Christmas.

      Otherwise, there would be no reason to contribute objects to represent Solstice, Hanukkah, or Kwanzaa.

      People “celebrate” other holidays because it’s the “holiday season.” And it’s the holiday season because Christmas is in December.

      And if nobody wants to bring in non-Christmas stuff even if it would represent their culture–because most students don’t much like feeling singled out for any reason–then you’ve got a Christmas tree up in a public school.

    3. Muriel Heslop*

      To clarify, it’s part of our ongoing display. We have sugar skulls, Mardi Gras masks, pom poms, a postcard of Mecca and the remnants of Holi powder (which I have since banned, because the mess was horrible.) My purple Halloween lights have been up for 4 years and are now “holiday lights”. We have a culturally diverse group and we want to be able to teach our kids how to advocate, be inclusive, and to understand that the world is bigger than their own experiences. And I want them to bring what is significant to *them* so they can explain it to the class. You can’t know what you don’t know. I brought a small fake tree because someone asked me to.

      I teach special ed and most of my students are on my caseload. Their parents certainly communicate with me on a regular basis and know that my classroom is a safe space. And if they are uncomfortable, I certainly hear about it but it’s usually about services not being fulfilled by a regular ed teacher.

      For context: I was raised culturally Jewish but married a nice goy. We are raising our kids multifaith. I’m so sorry I can’t provide a link to their two-man show “The Maccabees”. It’s very seasonal and hilarious.

      1. Observer*

        It’s actually a very good bet that parents will NOT bring this up with you. They need to “choose their battles” and preserve your good opinion. That makes for a compelling argument to not bring it up.

        Unless people are bringing in / displaying all of this stuff during the appropriate time of year, yeah, it’s a problem whether you intend it that way or not.

      2. Zillah*

        It sounds like you care a lot about your students and exposing them to a lot of different traditions, not just Christmas, which is great!

        I think the thing I’d really push back on is the assumption that people will feel comfortable saying something if they’re bothered. I’ve felt pretty uncomfortable raising concerns about events being Christmas-themed in an organization that I co-run with a couple other people, especially when it comes up multiple times because people don’t always recognize how many things that are considered “seasonal” are actually related to Christmas or Christianity in some way. They all actively try to be inclusive and recognize holidays year-round, and I’ve worked well with many of them for years, but I still feel like a killjoy when I bring it up and might not if I wasn’t in the position of authority that I’m in (which makes me feel obligated to speak up for other people).

        It can be really hard to push back on things that it feels like other people are enjoying, even in the absolute best circumstances.

      3. RS Teacher*

        As a teacher of religious studies, and one who trains other teachers, I find this very concerning on a number of levels. This is not good practice, not good teaching, and not how you create a safe space. This is tokenism and it is alienating to many. I’m sure you mean well, but this is not a good way to do things. Please do better – your students deserve it.

        I’d recommend seeking training in cultural diversity and teaching religious studies, but I get the feeling that such training might be in short supply in the USA. There are good resources online and good books available, though!

    4. Det. Charles Boyle*

      I like this idea. Students can bring in the items that are meaningful to their own winter holidays.

      1. Zillah*

        are meaningful to their own winter holidays

        (emphasis mine) Often, though, it’s just winter holidays, and not every religion has a major winter holiday.

  37. yllis*

    I work at a public university too and when we have a tree we decorate it with
    – swag from conferences faculty/staff went to – buttons, etc
    – university swag
    – pictures of the faculty/staff.

  38. DoctorDog*

    I actually find the Christmas tree quite alienating as well. Growing up in a town with a very substantial ratio of Jews to non-Jews I think I had a skewed perception of what it feels like to be a Jewish person in most of America. I frequently encounter people who, knowing I am Jewish, still insist that I must do something for Christmas completely innocently. Not to be too bleak but, many Jewish (and Muslim, etc. etc.) people died in lieu of conversion. Christmas trees are festive, FOR CHRISTMAS. not just “the season”. I am a proponent of the holiday season, I like seeing lights, I am not a grinch. But a Christmas tree in my workspace would be challenging for me.

  39. LQ*

    The power difference is greater than you think. People are uninclined to speak up and push back on stuff like this anyway for being the person who started the war on christmas. (Even if that would never be you.) When that person is their boss or in a position of authority that’s even greater. (Even if you don’t care about that power.) When that person asked with the assumption that the answer was it was fine that’s even greater. (Even if you ran out and got the stuff on lunch.)

    I totally get that it’s dreary, it’s a great time of year to make sure you have enough lighting (like regular lighting, overhead, task, etc) in your space and to make sure that it’s appropriate and not all fluorescents. That’s a good thing to consider at this time of year if the dreary is getting to you.

    1. J!*

      Agreed all around. It would have been hard enough with the power differential for someone to speak up and say, “You know, I don’t feel super comfortable with a Christmas tree in our workspace” BEFORE the tree went up, but the likelihood of someone saying something about it after the fact and asking for it to be taken down is pretty close to zero. Especially in the context of a higher ed setting where there is often more time off than a regular corporate office.

  40. Ruth (UK)*

    I am an atheist born to an American Jewish mother who moved to England shortly before I was born. Also, part of my bias is growing up and living in a country that does have an official national religion and that religion being Christianity (CofE), though I have never personally attended church or Christian-related things outside of school (I believe it might be being phased out these days but when I was a kid in the 90s, state schools still did things like prayers and hymns in assembly, and Christmas services, nativity plays etc [which is still a big thing I think] etc).

    Anyway, to me, decorations that are to do largely with well… wintery celebrations (snow flakes, snowmen, etc) don’t feel related to Christmas/Christianity to me. Then, Santa/reindeer/presents etc feels like a not-especially-religious but not-really-secular part of it. The tree lies somewhere between, and where I feel it stands can depend on how it’s decorated. Anything to do with the nativity scene feels definitely religious to me. Things like tinsel, lights, etc sort of depend on the context in how or where or what they’re being used to decorate.

    I quite like there being some level of decoration up around Christmas time as it’s pretty and nice, but I don’t like it to be overboard, and I prefer it to be of the more wintery type of decorations, probably included a tree, but not overly religious decorations.

    Last year, I was in charge of the decorations in my office (a reception for a department in a uni). I did a lot of static-cling window snowflakes, some snowmen-themed bunting-stuff, white/silvery and blue tinsel, and we decorated our tree with gold baubles and toy dinosaurs (which had been ordered for kids’ a play area that was attached to the the department)

  41. Kat the Russian*

    This is all extremely interesting and I find myself both agreeing with the sentiment and torn because I feel that it doesn’t fully apply to my situation.

    I’m Russian, and culturally Russian as well, but now I live in a culturally Catholic country. In Russia we’ve had ‘New Year’s trees’ and celebrated the New Year for more than a century now as a secular alternative to Christmas (can’t get much more secular than communist USSR). I am fully aware that these celebrations were probably adopted and adapted from Christian culture, but I’m an atheist and I put up a New Year’s tree and open presents on New Year’s day and don’t celebrate christmas AT ALL. Yet the symbol is the same – a tree. The decorations are a *tad* less religious (catch me with that angel imagery), but from the outside it probably looks pretty darn similar.

    Where I’m torn is that I truly believe that MY tree is fully secular, and I know many a jewish family that grew up with New Year’s celebrations in Russia without it coming into conflict with their religion. I don’t believe that this circumstance should change Alison’s answer, I just always feel a bit frustrated when people insist that the tree is religious. And I don’t know how to reconcile it with my worldview and culture.

    1. Anonymas*

      Agreed–Ukrainian-American here. I also agree with the commenter above that it’s a little problematic for non-Christians to decide what is or isn’t Christian across the board, especially as Christian religions are really diverse. It’s a way of centering Western/American culture while criticizing others for centering Christian culture.

      1. Tau*

        I also kind of struggle with this – I do celebrate Christmas, but I’m a second-generation atheist and live in a place that is majority nonreligious and where I think there were active attempts made to secularize the holiday (former East Germany). I am not too keen on being told that I’m actually engaging in a religious act.

        The way I personally see this is that I celebrate a specific tradition from my culture, which is rooted in German Lutheran Protestantism. (And it’s really specifically that, and probably narrows down even further by region. There are a lot of ways to celebrate Christmas and mine had surprisingly little in common with my classmates’ when I was living in the US.) It no longer has any religious significance for me or many who celebrate. However, it is also perfectly understandable that someone who is not from that culture doesn’t want to have it smashed in their face all the time. It is *also* perfectly understandable that for someone of a different religious background, the grounding in a religion that has historically persecuted them makes them really not want to engage with this holiday. That doesn’t mean I can’t view this as a secular holiday for myself; I just need to understand that not everyone is going to divorce it from its origins that way and that is fine.

        I can see how it’d be more of a reach if you’re not even celebrating Christmas anymore, mind you.

    2. Bagpuss*

      I think that for you, it isn’t religious, but for any observer, it is inextricably linked with Christmas and therfore is a symbol of a religious hliday, even if you don’t identify as part of th that religion or see it as such.
      In your won home, that’s fine. If you were putting it up in your office and arguingthat it is not a Christmas Tree, then all the issues which Alison has riased, apply.

      1. Penny Parker*

        If you want to go to what it is on an individual basis, for myself it is a pagan symbol. And, the fact that is is considered a xtain symbol is — to me — simply an acknowledgement of how persecuted the pagans were by the xtians, and still are to this day. I will never view it as a xtian symbol; I view it as proof of xtian theft.

        1. Curmudgeon in California*


          Pagan religions were assimilated and appropriated left and right into the Catholic (then general Christian) celebrations.

      2. Anon for this*

        “I think that for you, it isn’t religious, but for any observer”

        I think you mean “any observer who doesn’t live in the largest country in the world, a country with 250M+ people, etc.” To say nothing of places like Singapore that are not historically Christian but still seem to decorate.

    3. Book Badger, Attorney-at-Claw*

      The thing is, one can be not religious and still be influenced by religion and have religious practices. Like, American weddings are strongly influenced by Protestant Christian ideas of what a marriage is, even if they are done at a courthouse and are completely secular. If I go to church and feel absolutely nothing and quite literally go through the motions… I’m still in a church, doing churchy things. My intent doesn’t mean that my actions will be read that way by everyone.

      Also, while it’s true that a culturally Christian practice won’t bother everyone, I’d argue that there are people who it does bother but won’t say anything because they don’t want to be a buzzkill (or worse). So you might have met Jewish families who genuinely didn’t care about the New Year tradition… or they were Jewish in the Soviet Union and didn’t want to dissent too loudly.

    4. Anax*

      Hmm. My BF is a Russian Jew, and it does sound like there was pretty strong pressure in the USSR to “pass” for the majority, by celebrating and acting like everyone else. That seems like a complicated history in and of itself – not cultural Christianity, but culturally-enforced atheism – as opposed to a really “neutral” secularism.

      His family were observant Jews and had to go very “stealth” for two generations – no Yiddish, no menorahs, nothing that might be noticed – which definitely seems like the sort of Jewish assimilation/erasure which Alison is talking about.

      (His family came to the US when he was a child, as refugees from rising antisemitism in the 90s, which means both that he doesn’t have an adult’s perspective/information on the issue, and… well, good evidence that things were rough for Jewish folks, because the US’s barrier to entry is quite high.)

      (And obviously, I’m coming at this as an uninvolved third party, so take that with the appropriate grains of salt; I’m definitely not trying to explain your own country to you, just giving another anecdotal perspective.)

      1. Oranges*

        Context is all. It’s what differentiates the same exact act of putting up a tree as christian/pagan/result of forced assimilation/etc. In most of the USA it will be seen as christian regardless of intent. I know that there are pagans who want to “reclaim” the tree. That will only happen when enough trees are pagan so the cultural context shifts. (Yes, it sucks.)

        As long as people are aware of the cultural context around tree decoration. They can then make the decision of what their actions will be. Each person will make their own choices in the loverly reality which is.

      2. Observer*

        “strong pressure” is a bit of an understatement. Overtly practicing Judaism could get you put into prison.

      3. Charis*

        I was curious about how many of the Jews adopting the holiday did so to pass, when it reads so much as a surrogate goldfish for a Christian holiday, so I’m very glad you were able to share your boyfriend’s perspective. Thank you for that!

        (For context, my father grew up with some pretty strong antisemitism in Czechoslovakia (and in Russia when he was there) and emigrated in his early 20s after the Prague Spring, which colored my slightly cynical view of the idea. From everything I can tell this was a tradition that either didn’t expand to Czechoslovakia or his family was 100% out of fucks and didn’t adopt it, so I didn’t have his perspective on it.)

    5. Traffic_Spiral*

      Yeah, other than the fact that most Christians themselves don’t consider the “holiday” parts of Christmas as part of their religion (and you’d think they’d get to be the final word on that), the whole “Christmas is inherently Christian” thing always felt so… “Americans-Can’t-Comprehend-Anything-Exists-Outside-Their-Borders” to me. Like, the original pagan traditions that still exist in Scandinavia, the entirety of the former-USSR’s strictly-atheist new year (including father frost and snow maiden – who also predate Christianity), Japan’s “second valentine’s day,” China’s Christmas apple exchange… all these things and the approximately billion people that celebrate them don’t magically disappear just because you’re personally sick of Karen in Accounting and her 500 invitations to her kid’s nativity.

      1. Seacalliope*

        This is really diminishing toward the alienation, erasure, and silencing that non-Christians feel within the USA. I say that as someone who lived in China and enjoyed exchanging apples, as an Jew who loves decorating a tree in December, and who generally happily replies “Merry Christmas” to people offering it to me. Please consider the many good points people have made above about how exclusionary this season truly is in American culture.

      2. Observer*

        Well, that doesn’t change anything. Most Americans DO NOT see anything beyond their borders, true (it shows up in a LOT of ways, btw.) And because of that IN THE US Christmas celebrations ARE culturally Christian.

      3. Zillah*

        Yeah, other than the fact that most Christians themselves don’t consider the “holiday” parts of Christmas as part of their religion (and you’d think they’d get to be the final word on that)

        This is conflating two different things, though.

        Everyone absolutely has the final word on what they take personal religious and spiritual meaning from. What they don’t have the final word on is whether their traditions are hurtful or exclusionary for others. It’s reasonable to point out that different cultural contexts exist, but that’s precisely the point – the cultural context is relevant, and in the US, the cultural context for Christmas is rooted in Christianity. It’s not erasing China to acknowledge that paradigm.

      4. Edamame*

        Well, Asia celebrates Christmas the way it does because of the global monster of capitalist cultural-colonialism where Western, especially American, culture and practices become dominant around the world. Japanese businesses are starting to see they can make money with Black Friday/Cyber Monday sales–there’s no Thanksgiving here but that doesn’t mean the Japanese came up with Black Friday by themselves in a vacuum.

        So I think it’s still important for Americans/Westerners to think about the meaning of the holiday, because what happens there spreads to the rest of the world.

    6. Faith*

      I feel you! I feels so weird to me to see people decorating their trees in November and then promptly taking them down on December 26th, when I’m used to putting it up on December 31st (and then not taking it down until March, lol).

    7. Anna*

      The intent of the person putting up the tree, and the majority culture/religion of the area, matters imo. I’m Russian-Jewish and put up a new year’s tree (usually after christmas), and do view that as largely cultural. However, I live in America, so when I see a tree with ornaments outside my house, I understand that it was put up as a christmas tree to commemorate the christmas holiday. I don’t know the origins of the new years tree but always assumed it was a bit of a compromise between catholics and eastern orthodox christians as they don’t celebrate christmas on the same day :) 

    8. Ori*

      I wish I’d seen this before posting my own comment — as a fellow Russian, I couldn’t agree more.

  42. MCMonkeyBean*

    Winter is cold and dark so I am an atheist who loves when the city gets covered in Christmas lights. I definitely prefer when decorations stick more to things like snowflakes over angels though.

  43. Jackie*

    I feel pretty strongly that any public building (university, city hall, DMV, whatever) should not have any religious decorations or ornaments – including trees. And I am a Christmas celebrator.

    1. Information Goddess*

      Public libraries?
      My library has a tree and stockings and I have been fighting it for years.
      This year our director added an “ugly sweater “ contest for staff and Candy cane day— where we all wear red and white. There’s another Christmas themed staff dress up day planned as well but I can’t remember what. Headbands or jewelry I think.
      I feel bad for our patrons who don’t celebrate being bombarded with all this. I feel like we should be a “safe space”

      1. ShanShan*

        I think it would be different for optional events that people could choose to attend or not.

        Like, it’s cool if your library wants to throw a Christmas party and call it that! But asking people to dress up at work when they have to come to work either way is less so.

  44. Grumpus*

    This is a good answer. I work at a public university and also for municipal government, and the sheer quantity of Christmas decorations in both places feels a bit alienating and tone deaf. Christmas isn’t a secular holiday, and I’m honestly far more bothered by the people who proclaim that it is than I am religious Christians because at least they acknowledge that what they’re doing is part of a religious tradition.
    And crucially, I would never complain about this. Because being the only Jew in the office is already weird and alienating — I have literally never been able to eat a departmental or office lunch, because somehow there is always hidden pork/pork products— and when you’re a religious or ethnic minority, you get very used to just ‘going along’ with what everyone is doing and not make waves. And Christmas has been so heavily weaponised in the culture wars that complaining about it is a sure-fire way to create conflict.

    1. Jules the 3rd*

      +1 to ‘weaponized Christmas’. It really suppresses voices, even if you think you’re being open about it.

  45. Fund Abortion Build Power!*

    Last year the head of our company sent an e-card with a picture of a Christmas tree and the words “happy holidays.” Chanukah was very early in December and was long over by the time the card came around — I was so bothered by the faking of inclusion by using “holidays” when the card was so clearly a Christmas card.

  46. Bex*

    Snowmen and penguins are neutral winter things. If the workspace is gloomy, why not put up decorations what wouldn’t seem “out of season” in January or February?

      1. ShanShan*

        I mean, are you actually going to still have them up in January or February?

        Because if not, they’re Christmas decorations. And there’s nothing wrong with Christmas decoration s, but let’s call them what they are. No decoration that only stays up for Christmas is a neutral winter thing.

        1. V*

          I put up snowmen, snowflakes and white lights after New Year’s Day. It helps me get over the early winter blahs.

  47. La Framboise*

    I work in a community college with students (but not staff or faculty) of many religions-Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, and Christians. We were invited to decorate our department doors. Many people have done Christmas-colored and -inspired decorations (a paper Grinch distributing pictures of money to local charities, the Allied Health department with a green surgical glove Christmas tree, wishing everyone a healthy holiday). We at the Library chose to make 3D snowflakes, garlands of snowmen, paper pine trees, in order to make it non-denominational. No one has mentioned anything about any of the decorations. The Library is, and continues to be, inclusive to all, because that’s our jam and we do it well.

    1. OyHiOh*

      I love that libraries are going full bore on inclusive messaging. Thank you!

      Our local public library system is jumping all over the libraries are for everyone messaging and it makes me happy to see. It’s one of the few places I can go this year that is mercifully, blessedly free of Christmas music. Also, ours is not decorated to the hilt for Christmas. I think I’ve spotted a handful of snowflakes but that’s about it.

  48. Oof*

    This posts prompts me to ask what I wanted to earlier, but didn’t feel I had the standing – why did you use turkeys as an Indian and Pilgrim for your Thanksgiving graphic? I kind of this aligns with the question, when symbols overlap so heavily in both secular/pop culture and religion/history. I find it difficult to navigate the reality without overanalyzing, or under-response.