navigating workplace Christmas overload as a non-Christian

It’s the Thursday “ask the readers” question. A reader writes:

I’d love to hear from you and/or your readers about how you handle the ubiquitous “holiday” activities every December that are invariably just Christmas celebrations.

I’m not Christian and I always find this time of year tiring. It doesn’t help that I’m an elementary teacher, so in addition to the general constant Christian normativity that abounds in this country, I get not just staff holiday parties, but a school-wide one and one for just about every individual classroom. Plus, of course, hallways full of “seasonal” crafts like Christmas trees, ornaments, Santa Clauses, et cetera. Student holiday concerts with nothing but Christmas carols. Christmas-themed projects and assignments all month long. And so on and so forth.

It’s a lot. It feels like it sidelines not just me, but much of our community. My school serves a lot of non-Christian students. That said, almost all of the staff is Christian and generally not responsive to any concerns regarding how Christmas-centric everything is. I’ll never forget a principal at a previous school informing me that, according to our district lawyers, Christmas trees are secular. Ironically, this happened only weeks after she told me I was not allowed to read students my picture book about kids at a Pesach gathering searching for the afikomen (among other books she took issue with). I guess some holiday traditions are more elementary school friendly than others.

I invariably feel pressured to attend and participate in Christmas celebrations. My current team is putting together a Secret Santa this month. I didn’t sign up and hoped that that would be that. A couple weeks later, they said that since not everyone signed up, they’re adding a cookie exchange to be “inclusive.” I explained I didn’t sign up for the Secret Santa because I’m not Christian, but hope they all have fun and look forward to future team bonding activities. I got a very strong response about how cookies are for everyone and we can all enjoy those. I just don’t want to go to a Secret Santa/cookie exchange/holiday party.

But I like my team, and I worry that by sitting out of these things I may alienate folks, come off as a stick in the mud, or miss valuable chances to connect with my coworkers. I feel like any attempt to push up against the Christmas overload each year takes way more capital than it ought to and maybe it’s just not worth it? I grow tired of hearing how each Christmas activity is really a “holiday” celebration and don’t I know there are multiple holidays celebrated in December. Yes, I’m well aware. I’m working during a holiday I celebrate right now because we don’t get multiple weeks off school for my holidays and nobody here has so much as acknowledged that it’s happening.

I know I’m not the only one in this boat, but I am the only one I know of among my coworkers. I’d love to hear how other folks navigate this type of thing. Have you found effective ways to encourage some change? Do you suck it up and go to the things for the professional connections? Do you try to enjoy it as a chance to experience other traditions? Am I feeling impacted more than I should? I feel like each year it bugs me a little bit more.

Yeah, I’m right there with you, and this year even more than others. Let’s throw this out to non-Christmas-celebrating readers to weigh in on. If you are Christian or celebrate Christmas, please hang back on this one.

{ 704 comments… read them below }

  1. Ask a Manager* Post author

    A reminder: if you are Christian or celebrate Christmas, do not join in on this one. Thank you. Violators will be removed.

    Also: We are not entertaining debates here that some trappings of Christmas are secular. You can read more here.

  2. Lora*

    I’m Jewish and I feel this post so much. Every year it’s like a tidal wave of Christmas for two entire months and it’s maddening. Fortunately my work doesn’t force you to participate. One way I deal with it is to try and subvert it a bit. We had a holiday office decorating competition so I did mine entirely in the Nightmare Before Christmas. During the pandemic we were to wear festive clothes for our last meeting before Christmas and I made myself an entire Victorian dress in red and white and wore that. So I guess I just try and inject a little weirdness into it and it makes me feel a little better.

    1. atheist but i like cookies*

      I love this strategy. You want me to celebrate your holiday? Yes fine but I’m gonna do it WEIRD.

    2. But Not the Hippopotamus*

      I love this. No energy for it myself, but I love it.

      I stopped getting magazine subscriptions because multiple months of useless stuff in them (think parenting, kids, family). Nov/Dec and Mar/Apr were just wastes of money. I just… sorta hate this time of year.

    3. Casper Lives*

      I’m Jewish and 100% here for this! I won the holiday decorating contest at work 2 years in a row with lot of Nightmare Before Christmas decor (e.g. mini fake tree in black with blue & white ornaments).

      Ugly sweater contest? No problem, I found a hideous thing that’s not even holiday themed.

      I’ve found it’s a lot easier as an adult in many ways. I can opt out a of anything crazy. I’ve surrounded myself with good people or people at work should be professionally polite so I don’t get comments for opting out.

      As a kid, I once told everyone in kindergarten that Santa wasn’t real. Instant uproar with parents out for my blood (mostly mothers). There’s more to that story of course.

      1. Annika Hansen*

        I won (well tied) an ugly sweater contest with a non-Christmas sweater. It was a cardigan with gold buttons and images of dogs. The other winner also had non-Christmas sweater. It was more of a Bill Cosby in the Cosby Show type sweater.

        1. Lora*

          There is an ugly sweater contest coming up at work and I haven’t figured out what I was going to do do this is VERY helpful.

          1. Annika Hansen*

            Here’s another tip. The Cosby sweater guy was wearing his own sweater that his mother bought his 30 years and 30 lbs ago. He had a shirt on underneath, but the sweater didn’t quite cover the beer belly. It made the look even better.

      2. This one feels real*

        You’re my hero. From the mouths of babes! (I don’t advocate telling Christian children that Santa isn’t real, but who can control what a 5-year-old says?)

        1. Ms. Murchison*

          Ooh lawd if I could get away with it, I absolutely would advocate telling kids that Santa isn’t real. I hate that we’re indoctrinating kids to believe that their socio-economic state is something they deserve. (The fact that “Santa,” a supposedly objective third party, give expensive gifts to the rich kids and cheap or no gifts to poor kids based on their conduct drives me batty.)

        2. Gumby*

          I don’t advocate telling Christian children that Santa isn’t real, but who can control what a 5-year-old says?

          My parents told us Santa wasn’t real as soon as we were aware of him. (And we were raised both religiously and culturally Christian.) What I don’t at all understand is that they never told us to not tell others that. We just… didn’t. Like we were happy to just let those conversations go by w/o comment even as preschoolers.

      3. Elitist Semicolon*

        I got booted out of the “children’s service” at the tender age of 7 for telling the group that I saw on TV* that Jesus couldn’t have been born in December because it would have been too cold to be out with sheep. Thus began my shift into atheism.

        *a 1970s-era 60 Minutes episode.)

    4. Still an admin*

      I do this sort of thing as well! But I already had a non-conformist reputation so sometimes I think it actually goes unnoticed.

    5. NoIWontFixYourComputer*

      When I was in band in HS, some of the band kids did caroling followed by a party.

      Oddly enough, this Nice Jewish Boy(tm) (me) and my sister were the only ones who knew all the words to every song. Go figure

    6. Kay*

      Haha! I was trying to figure out where I fit in. I don’t work for a corporate entity anymore, but I am staunchly anti Christmas and openly grumpy about it-buy so much crap, nonstop Christmas music, ugh. I find I tolerate it by supporting the things I do like – such as the bottle share, being as I need my vino to get through this season and the winter. Also, going hostile – this year I’ve talked far too much about the impressive costumes at the Krampus festival somewhere overseas. I casually make very generic comments like “have fun” while not ever participating in the “fun” and give everyone “end of year” bonuses.

  3. IAAL*

    I’m stuck on your coworkers doubling down on forcing Christmas down your throat. I’m so sorry that you’re dealing with this. (Coincidentally, I came over to AAM from FB, where my SIL had just reposted a photo from her elementary school classroom with the students all dressed for Christmas–colored light necklaces and Christmas sweatshirts. She’s much more tolerant of this stuff than I would be!) I became a lawyer because of Christmas being forced on us in elementary school, so that’s where I am on this front. In general, I just politely remind coworkers that I don’t celebrate Christmas. “Are you ready for the holiday(s)?” “Oh, mine is over.” or “Oh, I don’t celebrate Christmas, so nothing to get ready for!” (Or, “actually I still need to buy candles for my menorah.”)

    1. Monty*

      Also, they’re shoving it down the throats of a largely non-Christian student body! This isn’t even serving a significant number of the kids!

    2. Factory Girl*

      So sad that The Christmas Tree Shoppe and Bed Bath and Beyond went out of business. No place around where I live to buy real Hanukkah candles so I ordered mine from Amazon.

      1. Lily Rowan*

        (Outstanding to think that the Christmas Tree Shoppe was one of the last places to buy Hanukkah candles!)

      2. JustaTech*

        We got a box of Hanukkah candles at our local Kroger last week (they had an endcap display by the kosher section). They’re not as nice as the ones my MIL sends us, but they’re explicitly Hanukkah candles.
        (I’m in the PNW.)

        1. Bryce*

          I used to get mine at Fred Meyer (Kroger affiliate) but they stopped carrying them a few years ago to make room for more Christmas stuff. Found out New Seasons carries them though.

      3. Imtheone*

        Foe Hanukkah candles, nest year, try a Chanukkah bazaar at A synagogue or JCC. You don’t have to be a memember to shop there!

      4. Mouse*

        The beeswax candles on Amazon from Ner Mitzvah are better than anything at Target anyway – easy to insert because you can just squish the bottom a bit, burn down almost completely with little dripping except on the last couple nights when they just heat each other too much.

    3. SnackAttack*

      I’m actually surprised (or maybe not? Idk, I guess I should never be surprised by the continued dominance of Christian culture) that schools are still so gung-ho about celebrating Christmas. I know we went all out when I was a kid in the 90’s, but as I got older I realized how alienating those times were for non-Christians, and I thought schools generally also caught onto the fact that their student bodies are incredibly diverse and school is not the place to celebrate that stuff. I know at my sister’s school, they’re very intentional about ensuring that Christmas doesn’t creep into school activities (aside from, like, coloring mittens).

      1. Chili Heeler*

        Sooo many people think that Christmas related stuff isn’t religious, so it is fine. I know multiple public schools doing loads of Elf on the Shelf activities. In addition to the weird surveillance aspects, it is a *Christmas* thing.

      2. Dhaskoi*

        It’s no accident – proselytising christians are drawn to professions that give them opportunities to spread the word.*

        *Also known as shoving their culture down everyone else’s throats.

      3. Mouse*

        Nope. Still mostly the same, they just might single out the Jewish kid rather than force Christmas on them, but still can’t wrap their heads around just not making all of December class work be Christmas (or teaching the kids about the other winter holidays). My second grader brought home a yellow and blue paper garland and told me the rest of the class worked on red and green ones while the teacher cut the strips for his. (I guess she tried at the last minute, but could have just prepared the rainbow of colors for the whole class, no?) We get the obligatory annual hand-stamp menorah on construction paper while the rest of the class paints ornaments, or makes popsicle Christmas trees, or whatever craft.

    4. Susancinsf*

      I get my Hanukkah candles at Target every year. which kind of makes me sad, because I am most definitely NOT a Target fan, but they have them when no other store in my area does…Gelt too!

  4. Lilac*

    Captain Awkward has a post on a similar issue from several years ago, and she recently re-shared it on BlueSky. (I don’t know if links are allowed in comments on here, but it’s #1064 in her archives.) It’s not entirely workplace-specific, but she does talk about handling this kind of issue in a workplace setting.

    1. Nonamefive*

      This has some good info in it! Does captain awkward have any responses that don’t specifically verbalize the religion someone is as a reason for declining? I don’t celebrate Christmas in my faith, but am not a member of a major religion most people would be familiar with-and I’m not comfortable sharing it with people I work with. Who are all very vocally Christian.

      1. Lilac*

        I think some of her suggested scripts could be rephrased slightly – e.g. replace “I only celebrate Jewish holidays” with “I don’t celebrate Christmas.”

  5. In the middle*

    Middle school teacher here who is nonchristian in a majority Christian area which is very white and a red part of a blue state. I just….don’t. I don’t have anything Christmasy in my classroom. I don’t join the secret santa (but no one seems to care about that) or do the 12 days of christmas spirit dress up. Being in a middle school helps-no one expects a holiday party. I’m also not “out” as nonchristian to my fellow teachers, so I don’t get pressured or evangelicized. It’s a bit of the cowards way out, but I don’t have the emotional energy to deal with it.

    1. DenimChicken*

      Like another commenter said, I just avoid the celebrations. I won’t be going to the “holiday” event, which will have an evangelical children’s choir singing carols, and if anyone asks I’ll politely and matter-of-factly say I’m not a Christian and I hope they enjoy the event. I just can’t bring myself to go, even if there are consequences.

      1. Sandi*

        I avoid the bigger gatherings because they tend to be organized events that are labelled as Holiday yet are very focused on christmas. I wouldn’t want to do most of the team-building events even if they didn’t have a red and green theme. Thankfully my small group celebrates the season by going out for a lunch and a chat. Occasionally someone who doesn’t know me well might ask me if I’ve bought all my gifts yet and I happily respond that years ago I stopped buying things for others just because of cultural expectations and the time of year, and it’s one of the best decisions that I ever made.

      2. Tradd*

        I’ve been in offices before where the whole Christmas thing was pushed down your throat. I didn’t go to the office party because I don’t like loud, alcohol-soaked events. I love winter and am into a Yule/Winter Solstice thing. I send out New Year’s cards. My current office does a cookie exchange, but it’s not forced. There’s a “holiday” party, but attendance is not forced. The Secret Santa thing happens at the party so it’s not in the office, which is nice. There are other cultures in my office so Diwali and Eid are also celebrated – with lots of food, which is my favorite part of ANY holiday. I like a good bit of “Christmas” music, but in instrumental form, including stuff like the Nutcracker. I’ve found some of the streaming services have “winter” themed playlists that can be very nice. Coworkers like my instrumental music so much they will often ask me to turn it up towards the end of the day. I don’t have kids so my exposure to the school stuff is years ago.

    2. Caramel & Cheddar*

      This seems in spirit with a teacher I saw on Twitter the other day talking about this very thing. His point is that kids who celebrate Christmas can get this kind of Christmas “energy” from pretty much every other public setting at this time of year (including the rest of the school outside their classroom), so to not decorate for Christmas in his classroom isn’t some dramatic deprivation for kids who celebrate. But it *is* a relief for kids of other cultures and traditions who get one small space every day that isn’t super overwhelming.

  6. Allan G*

    Our workplace does “Secret Squirrel” in place of Secret Santa.

    I don’t know if it’s for non-secular purposes, as it was in place long before I arrived, but it’s completely optional for staff to participate in.

    It doesn’t change too much from the gift-giving aspects of Christmas, if that participation is putting LW off, but at least it’s not completely in your face.

    1. Silver Robin*

      I love exchanging gifts with folks, it is truly so much fun for me. My team is mostly Christian (at least culturally, if not practicing). We do a white elephant and since I am the person organizing everything, I am pretty careful to call it our “annual team party”. I can get behind exchanging gifts during the season when most of the team is doing it, and it wraps up the calendar year, etc etc. No biggie, and this year everyone is tasked with getting silly socks for each other (an idea I snagged from comment sections here!).

      The problem I am running into is that they want to go out somewhere and I keep getting suggestions for “holiday” pop ups that are *all* Christmas coded (there is one (1) Hanukkah pop up but it is much too far away, I was tempted). And as much as I enjoy sparkling lights and pretty wreaths, it feels like it undermines the point of trying to keep this purely secular.

      1. Hlao-roo*

        Is it possible for you to push the annual team party into January instead of holding it in December? It will be a “beginning of the year” party instead of an “end of the year” party, but moving it just a few weeks later will help it “read” and be much more secular (for example, I think most/all of the holiday Christmas pop-ups will be closed in January) while secular options (from a dinner at a sit-down restaurant to axe-throwing) will be open.

        Rescheduling for January probably isn’t feasible for this winter, but something to consider for the 2024/2025 winter.

        1. hollypolly*

          This! My workplace does it and I LOVE it, it makes it feel like “we’re trying to break the slog of New England winter with a fun couple of hours” rather than “totally not Christmas, we promise!!!!”

          1. Falling Diphthong*

            Also in New England; I like the idea of putting more fun stuff into January and February. Presidents’ Day just doesn’t cut it.

            We used to have a craft party for my daughter and her friends in January, and putting it then really does eliminate a lot of the quasi-religious stuff, and puts the emphasis on cutting out snowflakes and doing dip-your-own candle kits.

        2. ThisIshRightHere*

          Every time I’ve recommended that a committee insisting that it’s totally not a Christmas party hold the event in January, it gets shot down. Why? Because people want their Christmas party at or before Christmastime, lol. A cheerful and inquisitive “well what difference does it make if the winter festival slides to next year? There’s plenty of winter left in January” satisfies me on the inside, but changes no minds. The logical loopholes are actually funny to me!

          1. The Unspeakable Queen Lisa*

            You could try pointing out it’s cheaper to rent space in January. My old job always had their party the 2nd week into January. It was lavish, not at all “holiday-themed” and everyone looked forward to it.

            1. goddessoftransitory*

              This. Everything’s cheaper, everyone’s back from vacation/break, and hopefully it’s much slower work wise.

          2. Zephy*

            To take your logic a step further: there’s hardly any winter in December! If it truly is a “winter” party and not a “Christmas” party, January makes the most sense.

        3. Hastily Blessed Fritos*

          Venues are also likely to have a lot more availability and be more affordable in January! I’ve worked places that had our “holiday” parties in January purely for that reason.

        4. Julia K.*

          This is hilarious, because religious Christmas (in western Christianity) is Dec 25-Jan 5 – you know, the “twelve days of Christmas” – whereas “secular” Christmas, such as it is, is more or less Dec 1-Dec 25.

          So moving a holiday party from mid-December to early January would actually make it more Christian.

          I guess there’s always mid-January! And yes, venue pricing is lowest then.

          FWIW, the coldest time of year is typically the middle of winter, around February 1st, which as a pagan I celebrate as Imbolc. There’s plenty of winter for winter parties post-Christmas.

          1. never mind who I am*

            I beg to differ. Secular Christmas starts sometime in October, or possibly earlier. :-)

        5. Silver Robin*

          The big org holiday party actually is going to be in January this year. I also pushed for last year’s to be New Year’s themed instead of Christmas when I got on the planning committee.

          This is only my second year on the team doing this, and they have always had it in December.

          And I understand that this might not have been clear from my comment but I was mostly just venting, not actually asking for advice. And I am also Jewish so am quite tuned into this whole thing.

        6. Retired Accountant*

          As an accountant, holding a company party in January never held any appeal for me, but not everyone can have sandwiches. Just get your stuff into Accounting before the party, folks!

        7. Jen*

          That is what my workplace started last year and I love it! In addition to being more inclusive, it is also a nice thing to look forward to in January.

        8. Grumpus*

          Yes – New Year’s Parties please!!!

          Tired of trying to decide between missing networking opportunities and supporting their stupid “holiday” parties that are obviously just Christmas….

    2. andy*

      Removed. We are not going to debate here whether the symbols of a religious holiday are secular. This is not the post for that. (Frankly, no post on this site is the post for that, but this one really isn’t.) – Alison

      1. Ms. Teacher*

        Santa absolutely is religious in origin. He started as Saint Nicholas of Myra, a 4th century Greek bishop. Then in the Netherlands and Belgium, he morphed into Sinterklaas, a bishop-like figure who delivered gifts on St. Nicholas’ Eve (December 5th). The English personification of Father Christmas is directly linked to Christmas, a religious holiday. Then in the early 1800’s, New Yorkers of Dutch origin began popularizing Santa Claus (or Santeclaus, depending), an Americanization of Sinterklaas. The modern conception of a jolly old “elf” Santa Claus comes from the famous poem “Twas the Night Before Christmas,” which was originally titled “A Visit From St. Nicholas,” in 1881. The visual depiction has continued to morph over time.

        But it all goes back to religious roots.

    3. Czhorat*

      To me, “secret squirrel” is a bit like the “non-denominational decorated winter holiday tree” – it’s filing the serial numbers off of an explicitly Christian tradition and hoping nobody notices.

      I think that the choice to focus on genuinely neutral stuff is a good one – white lights, snowflakes, snowmen. No reindeer, fir trees, babies in mangers.

      1. bookmark*

        Yes, Secret squirrel only works as something other than an off-brand version of a Christian tradition if you do it in, say, October or November when squirrels are actually hoarding nuts for winter, or in March-April when the nuts the squirrels hoarded in the fall and forgot about start turning into seedlings.

      1. squirrel power*

        this topic has been so hard this year already but this comment made me chuckle!! that was really funny.

      2. BubbleTea*

        No, there’s an elaborate code to share clues and a hand-off of gifts at a rendezvous where you have to wear sunglasses and a trilby.

    4. GrinchyStarbuxAddict*

      My friend group does a villainous valentine gift exchange instead of a “Secret Santa.” It started because the holidays are so busy and many of the people have kids who have a gazillion parties so it was a better time to get together. It now encompasses my friends plus people they have brought in to the group and we’re fairly diverse. Villainous Valentine works well for us to give white elephant or funny gifts and hopefully not make anyone feel left out.

  7. atheist but i like cookies*

    I try to enjoy the parties for the treats and togetherness, and skip activities that make me feel uncomfortable even 1%. My kids are elementary age and we talk a lot about winter weather, coziness, hygge, winter animals changing their coats, etc. It sucks when everyone is focused on Santa or Jesus (“tHe ReAsOn FoR tHe SeAsOn”). I don’t know that I have advise but I do commiserate.

    1. Dinwar*

      My family is Pagan, and this is generally how we handle it. Go to the stuff that we enjoy that doesn’t include (much) in the way of religion (tree lightings, enjoying holiday light displays, gift exchanges, parades the kids are part of, that sort of thing) and deal with the religious aspects at home. Frankly a lot of the stuff is so divorced from any religious observance that it can be treated as entirely secular. For example, the local towns have parades whenever possible; it’s no more religious than them having a parade to celebrate a football win or the anniversary of the town’s founding.

      As for the overtly religious aspects, it’s annoying, but we knew what we were getting into when we moved where we did (the South). I’d prefer to not have to deal with it, but realistically I’m not going to change the community at that fundamental a level (not quickly anyway). You’ve got to look at it rationally, and accept that some things you’re just not going to change. For us, this annoyance is a price we’re willing to pay for the benefits we get by living here. And sitting down and consciously making that decision does help; it transforms it from something happening to you, into something you’re actively doing for a reason, a reason you’re consciously aware of.

      I will also admit that it helps that a LOT of the imagery we associate with Christmas was (as a matter of historical record) stolen from Pagan groups in the past. Samhain and Yule are two times when my family can drop our guard a little.

      One area that does annoy me is Christmas music. It’s hard to find a radio station where I don’t have to listen to preaching. I actually like some of the songs (“Joy to the World”, “We Three Kings”, and “Little Drummer Boy” hold special places in my heart, for personal reasons), but on a three-hour drive just…sheesh. And it seems like every radio station around here switches to nothing but Christmas music this time of year. Fortunately my wife found a Spotify channel that has songs for the various sabbats.

        1. Dinwar*

          I think it’s “Pagan Sabbats Radio”. I know she searched for Pagan Yule music and it came up.

          I don’t use Spotify myself–I still have a flip phone, if that tells you anything–and unfortunately work has me away from family right now. Sorry I can’t be more help.

        2. Julia K.*

          I don’t know the channel mentioned, but I’ve compiled my own playlists for the eight sabbats, which anyone is welcome to.

          Yule & Secular Christmas (sorry they’re combined, feel free to separate them out if you prefer solely Yule):








      1. plonit almonit*

        I’m with you there – I carry around headphones because I can’t deal with the overpowering Christmas music.

      1. KA*

        You and the one who said “I’ll worship whatever if it comes with cookies” are my fave part of this thread

        1. Inconvenient Indian*

          Whereas to me they just demonstrate the privilege of being able to be “humourous” about religious discrimination. Tee hee, I don’t care about anti-semitism or Islamophobia or other forms of hatred because they’re not going to throw *me* in an oven or shoot up *my* religious gathering place. I get to be flippant so I don’t give a sh!t about you! giggle giggle

          Do ya’ll even listen to yourselves?

          1. Another Academic Librarian too*

            Yes. This. There is a gathering for Chanukah on campus tonight. The odds of something bad happening is pretty good. There are armed guards at my temple. The “holiday” tree in our library is not a neutral symbol.

            1. Mouse*

              Sigh. Yes. When I debate whether it’s safe to hang a “Happy Hanukkah” sign on my door, put a menorah in my window, or take my kids to the annual downtown Chabad Menorah Lighting…. This year it’s clearly about more than just having to see the 10-foot “secular” Christmas tree in the lobby of my building at work or the red and green “holiday” party on the 22nd

          1. SpaceCadet*

            and now I really want one, but *sigh*, probably couldn’t wear it anywhere but home (I’m in the south, and I’d likely get written up at work if I wore it there, in public, at best I’d only be harassed)

  8. Manders*

    In all honesty I would probably do the cookie exchange, and I would make Star of David and Menorah cookies iced in blue and white (I’m Jewish). Dreidels too.

    1. ENFP in Texas*

      I really really really like this idea, especially if other folks were bringing Christmas-themed cookies.

      1. curly sue*

        “Our holiday is about stabbing people who force us to celebrate their holidays.”

        (I’ve only ever made that joke to other Jews, but I’ve thought it at Pushy Christmas People many times.)

        1. Salsa Your Face*

          I didn’t know they allowed posts where the OP technically knows, but if so then it would be a great (and timely) post!

          1. curly sue*

            They absolutely do – there’s also a post flair called “wrong answers only,” which you can add when you know what the cookie is but want all the funny takes on the shape. Do it!

      2. A Nonzero Quantity Of Liz*

        Yes! Do the slightly more obscure, *very* non-xmas symbols! Sword! Hammer! Jar (of oil)! In every colour *but* red and green :D

    2. Dinwar*

      I’ve done Halloween themed Christmas cookies before. My (Roman Catholic) family has a tradition of reading some macabre poetry the night before Christmas, and I collect bits and pieces of dead things as part of my job (comparison collection for paleontological resources monitoring training), among other things; we’re already firmly on the weird side. The Addams Family was our ideal for family life. So I sometimes lean into it.

      My wife has also made pies and things for other celebrations, and what we don’t eat gets put in the office break room. Turns out most people don’t care why there’s free pie; they just appreciate that there’s free pie!

      1. pandop*

        Reading ghost stories is as much a Christmas as a Halloween thing (see A Christmas Carol), and I don’t see macabre poetry is being a huge departure from that.

    3. Cactus_Song*

      I’m a Pagan and I have triple moon and Horned God cookie cutters. I would definitely bring those to a cookie exchange!

    4. Nightengale*

      I have brought snowflake ginger cookies to such events. They happen to have white snowflakes on a blue background. This is partly because snowflakes are white and look good on a blue background. But only partly.

  9. Amber Rose*

    Would it help if it was less personal enjoyment centered? Like maybe you could push more charitable activities rather than purely party/group activities? Regardless of religion, a lot of people struggle more this time of year than other times, and I’ve always had a feeling of warmth when we manage to raise money for say, the food bank. Or that time we had a big Christmas event that raised an unbelievable amount of money for the Children’s Hospital.

    I don’t think you can actually reduce how much in your face CHRISTMAS is happening but if it were accomplishing some good maybe it would be more palatable for you, and your coworkers would probably be more receptive to redirection than reduction.

    1. kendall^2*

      Actually, I’m tired of this approach too. Lots of people struggle at other times of year; the people who are struggling now seems to be “to afford the Xmas we want”; the winter is not over at the end of December, and there are expenses at other times of year as well. And having a big Xmas fundraiser is still having the focus on Xmas.

      If it were really about helping those in need, have a fundraiser in January or February or any other non December time.

      1. Amber Rose*

        Sure, but the point is redirecting others in a positive way. Having a fundraiser in January is not going to make the Christmas Season overload any better for OP. My suggestion isn’t pure altruism, it’s meant to help this one person.

        Also that was a pretty bitter and cynical take on why people are struggling, and I’m not sure it’s really relevant to most charitable endeavors.

        1. Kaywinnet Lee Frye*

          I agree with that last sentence especially. Many of my clients who are struggling right now are doing so because rent and heating bills are going up, not because they’re trying to have a holiday that they can’t afford.

        2. crochet all day*

          Agree. You answered the OP’s question, which was how to make this time of year more tolerable. Re-directing that “holiday” energy toward service projects or a sock drive for unhoused folks would be one way. “Sorry I can’t participate in your ____ activity, my classroom is doing ____ in December.”

      2. snoopythedog*

        Yup, a lot of charities get big donations around Christmas time and experience a slump afterwards.

      3. Fiona Orange*

        Even if you personally don’t celebrate Christmas, you can still donate to Toys for Tots to give a gift to children who do.

        1. kendall^2*

          Or you could donate at another time of year towards some needy person celebrating one’s own holidays.

      4. Monty*

        I think the fact that the calendar year and school semester is ending means that you do have an avenue to say “and before we all go enjoy our own families/end of year celebrations” let’s do something charitable for the local food bank. Yes, they have need all year, but many foodbanks have adjusted to count on November-December as their peak donation time.

    2. Observer*

      Would it help if it was less personal enjoyment centered? Like maybe you could push more charitable activities rather than purely party/group activities?

      No. Absolutely not. Don’t pressure people into celebrating Christmas. Period.

      Look, I’m all for helping people, and trying to make difficult times easier for people. We’ve included activities like this in some of our family celebrations. It’s a tradition among many Orthodox Jewish communities to have a table at weddings specifically for people who would otherwise not be invited but could use a nice event and / or to make a donation specifically to organizations that feed people (in a respectful manner!) as part of the celebration, etc. So, sure, any time someone wants to think about helping others as part of a celebration, that’s great.

      What is NOT great is forcing the celebration of Christmas down anyone’s throat.

      don’t think you can actually reduce how much in your face CHRISTMAS is happening but if it were accomplishing some good maybe it would be more palatable for you, and your coworkers would probably be more receptive to redirection than reduction.

      No, it makes it worse. Because this is not “redirection”. Rather it is explicitly reinforcing the essentially *religious* nature of the day. Expecting me to either add or redirect my charitable efforts in the celebration of a holiday I do not celebrate is bad. I can’t speak to how other religions experience, but for me, it’s *especially* bad when it’s in the service of a religion that explicitly claims to be “replacing” mine.

      1. Just Another Fed*

        This. So much this. Everything the person you’re replying to suggests would make me feel infinitely worse, as a person who doesn’t celebrate Christmas. I do not want to “redirect” my coworkers’ Christmas energies. I want the right to not involve myself in Christmas in any way.

        And for what it’s worth, my synagogue does a food drive every year at what I consider the traditional, sensible time for an annual food drive: the Days of Awe. My Christian coworkers are welcome to join us in donating then if they want, I guess.

      2. Amber Rose*

        Again, my suggestion is very oriented at OP’s specific situation. They have already stated that they aren’t looking to die on this hill and want to remain connected to their coworkers who they like, which means they need to work within their own tolerance levels.

        For other people who are explicitly looking for How To Make it Stop, you’re right. But that’s not what this is. We can’t force OP’s workplace to stop their nonsense. We can offer suggestions to OP to make it hopefully less emotionally wearing.

        1. Observer*

          They have already stated that they aren’t looking to die on this hill and want to remain connected to their coworkers who they like, which means they need to work within their own tolerance levels.

          And your suggestion simply makes it worse. Please actually read what I wrote and *try* to understand what we are trying to tell you. What you are suggesting is likely to make the OP’s exhaustion worse, not better!

          1. Amber Rose*

            No, it would make *your* exhaustion worse.
            It has worked for me. Which is why I suggested it as a possibility. OP is free to ignore if they are more in your boat than mine.

          2. Krevin*

            Maybe…or maybe it would make it better. You don’t get to speak for all people who don’t celebrate Christmas.

          3. Roland*

            I am a Jew who does not agree with your take at all. I would rather volunteer than do “traditional” xmas any day of the week. This suggestion may or may not work for OP but it’s a reasonable suggestion that people shouldn’t shoot down on behalf of others.

    3. Spicy Tuna*

      I actually worked for a company years ago that scheduled a volunteer project followed by a catered lunch as the holiday celebration. It took place during the week, so if you participated, you pretty much had the day off from work. I thought that was a really nice way to not make the celebration overly Christmasy

    4. Katie A*

      This is a good and realistic suggestion for something the LW might actually be able to do in order to make this time of year less frustrating, and it isn’t likely to cost them any professional capital. It doesn’t fix christmas overload, but, as you said, that’s not really on the table, and the LW indicated they’re open to a lot of different kinds of suggestions.

      It sounds like they’ve tried other things based on the letter, so I appreciate your creative, practical, and charitable thinking for something new to try.

  10. Red*

    Oh mixed bag from my perspective.
    In your specific situation it looks like you have some people in authority who are openly hostile to taking feedback about the inclusiveness of “Christmas” and “Holiday” items. So not sure how far you can get and you’re a teacher to boot and from previous letters from teachers I get that parents can get real weird about you as a person.

    That said, I found the best push back in my circumstances was to just start celebrating the holidays and traditions that were important to me and acting like of course everyone supports me in celebrating this holiday and everyone around me would love to celebrate it too. I may or may not take a day off for my holidays, but I make sure everyone knows it’s my holiday and that I’m observing.

    You might be able to pull the same spin, start celebrating your holidays as if everyone knows they’re a thing and then when someone tries to claim it’s divisive explain to them of course its inclusive etc, anyone can celebrate (if that’s true) just like [Christmas or other major holiday], couch it too in the fact that the student population you serve is majorly observing christians.

    Also don’t teachers have a union? Maybe you could bring up a floating holiday or something similar for when you do want/need to take a day for your holidays/traditions? Or if the union has a say in actual curriculum choices point out the student body diversity and how it would help to bring up [holidays/traditions/religions/etc] in order to get students to connect with material.

    1. Red*

      Ah man, you can’t edit. That line at the end of the third paragraph should say couch it in the fact that most of the pop you serve are unobserving non-Christians. My brain isn’t working the best this morning.

    2. different seudonym*

      Teachers are only unionized in some states. In others, called “right-to-work” states, there are legal barriers to union representation. “Right-to-work” legal environment overlaps considerably with compulsory Christmas/Christianity cultural environment in my experience.

    3. Letter Writer*

      Letter writer here.

      We do have a union and we do currently get two float holidays each year that can be used for personally important days aren’t covered by our school calendar (basically all of mine). Unfortunately, two days doesn’t go far when you’re looking at a whole year of holidays and we get minimal other vacation time because we’re expected to plan trips over school breaks. But, I suppose it’s better than nothing. Honestly, for better or worse I don’t mind working over most of my holidays too much. I’m used to it; I’ve been in school/work on most of my major holidays my whole life. I’m more concerned about how the Christmas overload at work feels exclusionary and there’s a lot of pressure to participate.

      I haven’t tried to bring it up with the union. It doesn’t help that my union is made up of all the same Christian (whether culturally, religiously, or both) colleagues who don’t see an issue with this to begin with. But, the union also quite frankly just has bigger concerns. It took months of bargaining without a contract and very nearly came to a strike authorization vote before we got a contract that included basic things like pay increases in line with inflation. And, we have to file way too many grievances for blatant contract violations not to mention rejection of basic NLRB rules (we’re a charter school, so we fall under NLRB). I’m pretty actively involved in the union and we’re kept plenty busy just trying to ensure our membership makes a living wage and our contract gets followed.

    4. Observer*

      That said, I found the best push back in my circumstances was to just start celebrating the holidays and traditions that were important to me and acting like of course everyone supports me in celebrating this holiday and everyone around me would love to celebrate it too.

      That’s a good approach.

      In this case, though, it’s apparently a non-starter. Because the OP has reason to believe that they will not be supported. It was in a prior school, but the OP says that their principal “told me I was not allowed to read students my picture book about kids at a Pesach gathering searching for the afikomen

      1. But Not the Hippopotamus*

        I’m in a group at work that does a daily meeting where they go over the “National days of” and read out various national days (like National Taco Day or National Knit a Sweater Day). Various religious and cultural holidays show up as well (as well as International Days of). If that sort of thing became a part of the classroom, it might open the aperture a bit.

        1. BreadBurglar*

          No. Because that still keeps Christian holidays as the proper holidays and relegates all over religions to the same level of “taco day.” its not even remotely equal and risks alienating people even more.

    5. Kesnit*

      “I found the best push back in my circumstances was to just start celebrating the holidays and traditions that were important to me and acting like of course everyone supports me in celebrating this holiday and everyone around me would love to celebrate it too.”

      There is some merit to this idea, and I think OP may get some traction out of Kennedy v. Bremerton School District.

      It looks like tonight is the start of Hanukkah. OP, how would you feel about setting up a small menorah in your classroom. Not make a big deal out of it, but set it on a side desk and light the candles. (Or use an electric one. I think they exist..?) As per Kennedy, this is a private religious observation and students are under no obligation to participate.

    6. Jaunty Banana Hat I*

      Believe it or not, the majority of teachers do NOT have unions. I looked this up the last time someone commented about teachers and unions, but do not have the article handy right now–but only like 47% or something of teachers are part of a union as of 2021 or so. It would be great if advice for teachers would stop assuming they can just go to their union.

      And even if someone is part of a union, it doesn’t mean that the people in the union are going to be any better about handling this particular issue, unfortunately.

      1. RussianInTexas*

        Here in Texas, teachers are allowed unions. However, public employees are not allowed collective bargaining, or strikes. According to my teacher friend, striking equals immediate termination. Nor they can hire or fire anyone. Only school boards can do it. School boards also decide pay raises and create rules.
        It’s a fun knowledge to bring out when people start complaining about their teacher that school cannot fire because of a “union”.

  11. Kippu*

    The most I feel comfortable doing is quipping “Yule” when the project manager who sits across from my desk pointedly asks “what holiday?” when he sees the invite for the company holiday party.

  12. nopetopus*

    One small reason I was so grateful to get out of working in an elementary school setting was the Christmas overload and general lack of cultural awareness or inclusion. Not all elementary schools are like that, but without strong mandates/buy-in from admin regarding cultural diversity there’s no hope of unChristmasing your school on your own.

    I have seen that when parents of other faiths and cultures express disappointment in their student being taught solely Christian celebrations in the winter time, admin is much more likely to listen. Encouraging parents to get involved and give feedback is one route you could take.

    As for the social things, I personally stood my ground and didn’t participate. When someone would ask if I had signed up for secret Santa or was going to the “holiday” party, I’d act sort of bewildered that they were asking me and say something along the lines of “oh, no, I’m not of that faith/don’t celebrate Christmas. Have fun though!” Most dropped it, some tried to say I should participate anyway. Those people got asked whether they’d like to come to my Beltane celebrations when Spring rolled around. Just a little taste of their own medicine, while also going out of my way to be friendly and foster good relations with colleagues.

        1. anon 1*

          Love this! Too bad Tisha B’Av is during the summer… that would be a particularly appropriate one this year.

      1. nopetopus*

        One person did! She had a good time. Sadly I left that workplace at the end of the year so we didn’t make it a tradition, ha.

    1. ScruffyInternHerder*

      I’d love to come to your Beltane celebrations! (Of course, I probably would have left it alone after you’d mentioned once that you weren’t Christian, because duh, Christmas is a Christian holiday. So I’m probably a different cloth than those same doubling-down coworkers….)

  13. AE*

    This is not going to be helpful for everyone, but as a non-Christian person I find it helpful to mentally reframe Christmas (at least in the U.S.) as what it actually is: a weird semi-secular mishmash of traditions and iconographies from many different religions and cultures, soaked in crass commercialism, filtered through multiple layers of popular culture and nostalgia, and with a grain of heartfelt sincerity glimmering through here and there. (Also lots of the best-known Christmas songs were written by Jews!) In other words, maybe the most American of American holidays.

    When someone wishes me Merry Christmas, in my mind I substitute “Merry TreeSolsticeCokeSantaShoppingTime” rather than “Happy Jesus Bday.” (This is even better if you suspect someone of trying to proselytize or be sanctimonious.)

    1. A*

      Yup. It’s more of an American commercial holiday at this point. From that standpoint I can see how trying to resist it only becomes more exhausting every year. Fortunately as a writer, I can make sure we’re considering other holidays/faiths as much as possible in our external and internal communications.

    2. JewishAndVibing*

      This does not work for everyone and is actually frustrating because many of us are told to do this and it’s not possible to reframe. We are always told to do this, to do personal reframing, instead of other people trying to be more understanding of other cultures and religions.

  14. Medium Sized Manager*

    I celebrate both Hannukah and Christmas because my mother is Jewish and my father was raised getting presents for Christmas, so I have no issue with joining respectful Christmas festivities. However, when the people in question are posing Christmas as “secular” or calling it a “holiday party” while only putting up Santa decorations, I am less inclined. I am happy to participate, but let’s call a spade a spade.

    Ultimately, it’s up to you and whether or not you want to spend the capital on it, but I want to stress – you are feeling impacted because it’s rude. Your feelings about this are entirely valid, whether you choose to argue about it or not. I’m sorry your coworkers can’t see how divisive they are being.

  15. Renee Remains the Same*

    On Thanksgiving my local radio classic rock station (80s, 90s, 00s) only plays Christmas music. They’ll say they only play holiday music, but there are very few winter holiday songs that are not Christmas themed. Adam Sandler’s Hanukkah song can only be played so many times a day. For the entire month, I avoid that station. I don’t even try to listen to it hoping it will be better. It never is. I do the same with other holiday stuff. Those I can’t avoid, I ignore. Those I can’t ignore, I suck it up, but will participate as passively as possible.

    I’ve gotten cards from in-laws and very old friends wishing me a Merry Christmas. These are mass produced for sending, but my thought is that if you know you’ll be sending them to non-Christian folks, it’s common decency to use Happy Holidays. But, clearly that is not common knowledge. I don’t fight these things, but they regularly aggravate me. To the point that I engage less with people (and radio stations) that I genuinely like all other times of year.

    My jadedness now comes with a pretty hard shell. But, it is starting to crack and to be honest, I applaud you for standing up for yourself and your comfort. Give yourself a big pat on the back. Do not worry about those who are sad that you’re offended but unwilling to do anything about it. You do not owe them an explanation or a salvation… Jesus can handle that for them.

    1. kendall^2*

      The music library at $University put up a couple of different “holiday” playlists (one classical music, one pop music, and I think a third I didn’t look at). There are dozens and dozens of Xmas pieces, and then the token Hanuka and Kwanzaa pieces. It made me so tired just to look at the list.

      On the plus side, so far the end-of-year video greetings from the president have been wholly secular, and in my corner of campus the big party is for Thanksgiving, which, yes, has its own issues, but religion isn’t one of them.

    2. Harvey 6'3.5"*

      There are actually a fairly large number of Hanukah songs (nothing like Christmas, of course), but many of them are probably more religious than secular.

      1. Mango Freak*

        If you’re looking to add to your alternative holiday playlist (I’ve been curating mine for two decades), I also suggest “How Do You Spell Channukkahh?” by The LeeVees, “Puppy for Hanukkah” by Daveed Diggs, “Can I Interest You In Hannukah?” by Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, and, if your audience can handle some dark irony, “What We Do On Christmas” by Atom And His Package.

        1. Salsa Your Face*

          Barenaked Ladies have a few Chanukah songs on their Holiday album, including an original one called Hanukkah Blessings.

          1. JustaTech*

            Tom Lehrer has a song “I’m Spending Hanukkah in Santa Monica” which covers several holidays (and memorably manages to rhyme “Yom Kippur” and “Mississippi”).

    3. Silver Robin*

      We have started getting cards from my partner’s family. They are….trying. One aunt sent a card with a cute little fluffy white dog in front of an out of focus pine tree wrapped in blue lights. The gift (?) stuff was also blue and white. Maybe it was meant to be a Chanukka bush? The inside just wishes “happy holidays”. It was clearly so carefully chosen that it made me laugh.

      I am not sure where I fall on what I would prefer yet. On the one hand, she celebrates Christmas and this is clearly part of her Christmas Card tradition. Choosing the least Christmassy Christmas Card is…still a Christmas Card. Which I do not celebrate. On the other hand, she is being nice and clearly trying to be thoughtful, which tracks with how they have generally treated me kindly over Christmas and if it were not for the overwhelming Christian Supremacy in this country, I would have had no issues taking this in the spirit it was meant.

      So I laugh, because all of this is absurd.

      1. stunning and brave*

        Tell her you want off her card list and she should never send you a card during this time of year. Problem solved.

        1. Silver Robin*

          Yes, because this is the drama I want to cause with my partner’s family. Come on. I said it was not a big deal, I said it was funny, I was just sharing because it is an example of the absurdity we get into around now only because Christianity is so obsessed with itself. If they were not pushing themselves down everyone’s throat, I would have been charmed to be included in the card.

        2. Devious Planner*

          This just feels… really aggressive? I get mail all the time that I find annoying or even offensive. Reminders that “my car warranty is about to expire,” magazines that take up half my mailbox, Republican flyers, etc… Would you really tell your aunt (who is clearly adapting her tradition to fit yours) that you don’t want to hear from her in the month of December? I guess if you don’t like that aunt anyway, you might as well. But if you care about this aunt and you want to hear from her, I don’t understand why this is the tact you’d take.

          For the record, I am Jewish and get Christmas cards from friends and family (including a friend who is a pastor). I understand why people could be bothered by them, I really do. But ultimately I think this is something where we should weigh the relationship against the offense. Telling somebody not to send you a card (when this might be the only time all year that you hear from them) feels too much like telling them you don’t want to hear from them.

      2. Julia K.*

        You have every right to your mail preferences. But now I’m wondering, are many people going to be offended by receiving our family’s Yule letter?

        Sending letters for Yule is not an originally pagan tradition; I definitely took it from Christmas.

        Presumably folks sending New Year’s cards did too.

        Would many people be offended to receive a Lunar New Year card from a Chinese family member? That’s not based on Christmas. And most Chinese people who send those cards are atheist.

        Again, anyone who doesn’t want to receive family updates on a given holiday should feel comfortable to request that.

        But I do feel like the sending out personal holiday cards – whether one’s holiday has always done that or cribbed it from Christmas – is reasonable to handle on a more personal, case-by-case opt-out basis than anything work-related or school-related should be.

        1. Silver Robin*

          I feel like it is the same as folks saying Merry Christmas to me. If I lived somewhere where I could respond with Happy Hanukkah, or could go around saying Merry Purim whenever that was appropriate with it being taken in the spirit of sharing and well wishes, I would not give it a second thought. But because I live where I live (the US, though a liberal part of it), I am always just…aware.

    4. AnonORama*

      We have that station here too, although it usually plays bland pop for doctors’ waiting rooms. I do wonder if the staff there who start in spring/summer know that there’s a complete change in the playlist from Nov. 1 – Dec. 31! As a Christmas music hater (mostly because I find the music headache-inducing, although I’m also not Christian) I’d run for the hills! I’m sure it’s mentioned, though, or there would be an AAM letter from a radio station staff person about it.

    5. pally*

      OH gracious the 24/7 Christmas music radio station here in San Diego starts on Thanksgiving! That means it’s time to change the radio station preset.

  16. Name Anxiety*

    I worked in public libraries for many years, in children’s services, and my singular goal was convincing other staff that trees were *definitely* signaling Christmas and EGGS were *absolutely* signaling Easter no matter how much you want to talk about the roots being pagan. I shifted all formerly Christmassy programs to winter themes, so we focused on snow and winter animals. If there were things we were really expected to do that were explicitly holiday ish (any), we moved them to after hours so that people really were opting-in.
    The staff side is harder though. Even if the department decides to focus on work, you can always end up with upper management doing something.

    1. kendall^2*

      My public library puts up signs letting people know that they will be closed for whichever holiday. Usually they include the name of the day (Patriot’s Day, Independence Day, Veterans Day, etc.), so I was surprised a few years ago when the one for Xmas said that they’d be closed “for the holidays”. I gave them polite but very clear feedback that they were clearly closing for Xmas, so they should say that. And in subsequent years, they have.

      1. Melissa*

        Last year the USPS put out publicity informing people that they needed to mail packages by December 18th in order for them to arrive in time for “the holidays.” All the holidays that occur on December 25th…

        1. curly sue*

          Bookshop dot org had a flag come up on orders this week that alerted you whether something could be delivered on time for the first night of Hanukkah! I was very pleasantly surprised.

    2. Punk*

      I hate the “but the trees are actually pagan” thing. I’m not pagan either, and one of the biggest prohibitions in Judaism is against paganism so what’s the argument there?

      There’s a not insignificant percentage of former Christians who became pagan as adults and don’t like admitting that they basically swapped one kind of tree for another.

      1. Rocket Raccoon*

        I’m pagan, we don’t do a tree but we do a Yule log (live on a farm), and lots of non-tree greenery. I agree than at this point decorated trees are fully Christmas, despite their origin.

      2. Dinwar*

        I became Pagan as an adult, and the tree thing is something our family does explicitly as a Pagan practice. (It’s got ties to my birthplace too–graveyards were always, due to some hydrological issues in the area, populated by pine trees.) It’s one of the few times my family can decorate for our holy days without outing ourselves.

        This is an area where people will see things differently. It’s complicated, historically, personally, and culturally. I don’t think there’s an actual right or wrong answer, just what you consider appropriate.

        1. Kayem*

          I very much dislike how trees have become so coded for Christmas because there’s no way to put one up without the default being “Christmas tree.” Which is useful for reasons you mentioned. I’ve lived in heavily Christian areas where being non-Christian was a huge problem if you wanted to go about daily life without the social and career stigma that would follow. So I do get how convenient it can be to use that coding.

          For me, the problem is it’s still so heavily coded that if I do something like put up a tree covered in spiders, skulls, and purple lights, the reaction wouldn’t be that it’s a different religion’s practice, the reaction would be “what an interesting Halloween-themed Christmas tree.”

          Which sucks for me because my non-Christian, non-pagan (in the modern context) faith has a somewhat floating December holiday and there is an optional ceremony before and after that involves some kind of plant or bush, the kind depending on locality. I grew up in old growth pine forests, so I gravitate towards pine decor…which is also most Christmas decorations. We have big pine trees in our yard and I really want to do the thing, but I know everyone will just assume it’s Christmas decorations. And since I know my neighborhood is one of the rare ones in this area where most aren’t Christian, I don’t want to signal something that isn’t accurate.

      3. NobodyHasTimeForThis*

        I find the “but the trees are pagan” pretty insulting to paganism as well. It’s like saying paganism isn’t a real thing so all pagan things are somehow secular.

        1. metadata minion*

          Yes, exactly! I don’t want to be forced to celebrate a different holiday, either, especially since it’s *not the holiday you are celebrating and if someone were actually celebrating Yule you’d probably object*.

          * you = people being obnoxious about Christmas

    3. Sleepy in the stacks*

      Libraries can be so tough especially when you have staff who dig their heels in and patrons who notice the decorations aren’t holiday themed, ugh. It took almost a whole staff overhaul to take down the Christmas decorations and switch to general winter decorations (snowmen, snowflakes, pinecones, penguins in the kids room). Our most recent issue comes from our Friends organization who we CANNOT convince to rename their holiday gift baskets they use to earn money for us.

  17. JellyBean*

    I am blunt. I just say “I don’t do Christmas.” No explanation, no justification. I don’t owe anyone that. My reasons are my reasons. There’s something effective about saying I don’t DO Christmas as opposed to I don’t celebrate it. I’m not sure why — maybe it better encompasses the whole shebang as opposed to just the religious aspect? It works with secular Christmas celebrators too. (I really don’t get that. Like, if it’s not about worshipping a god, then it’s about worshipping … consumerism? Yay?) Sadly, it’s still impossible to walk into a grocery store, or downtown, or anywhere from early November to early January without having Christmas rammed down my throat, but gotta sell that plastic crap.

    1. AGD*

      I brightly say, “I don’t have to worry about Christmas”, which gets across that I am comfortable having opted out. But I’m with you in how much I resent not being able to escape the commercialization. I’ve been sick of Christmas-in-all-the-stores since I was about 15. I’d mind it a lot less without the soundtrack; every single year I feel active relief when it goes away.

    2. Sandi*

      That’s my line too, and then I change topics or ask them about their end-December plans. I agree that those words seem to shut things down quickly without causing any negative feelings, although I’m lucky that my little part of the world has a variety of religions and atheism is normal.

    3. TechWorker*

      To answer the specific question of why atheists might celebrate Christmas – obviously for many ‘history’ & the fact their family grew up Christian is a big part of it. I don’t think it’s just consumerism – even Atheists like celebrating *something* and spending time with family. It’s not much to do with ‘worshipping’ anything :)

      (And bowing out because obviously by posting this I am admitting to celebrating Christmas. I don’t object to being described as ‘culturally Christian’ though obv didn’t get much choice in that).

      1. Office Atheist*

        Actual atheist here — and I think @TechWorker is a bit off base here. It’s reading a little “no atheists in a foxhole” to me.

        Atheists aren’t joyless grumps (okay, some of us are).

        But not all of us like going to xmas celebrations — especially if it involves family/friends/coworkers/people saying things like “my xmas wish is that you’d let christ into your heart” (true story, happened to me).

        I mean that’s the crux of this whole conversation (imho) — that by simply participating we’re somehow signaling that we celebrate a certain set of of believes — which we patently do not. And we’re not anti-fun or anti-family, we just don’t believe in that particular (or any, in the case of atheists) set of beliefs. And we’re not even saying we’re anti-xtian. We (all of us people in marginalized communities) just want to not have to suck it up for someone else’s sake.

        1. mlem*

          My supervisor and I were discussing this post. She kept trying to insist that Santa can’t be religious, or Christian “anymore”, because she has “vehemently atheist” friends who celebrate Christmas. Being atheist myself, I told her that they can celebrate Christmas if they want but that doesn’t magically mean the Christian trappings of Christmas now *aren’t*. (She does not seem persuaded, sigh.)

    4. Purlesque*

      That’s pretty much how I handle it as an atheist. I tend more toward the attitude that it’s not for me but if someone else is into it, good for them. Say it like it’s no big deal and most people will accept it. Occasionally I get a person pushing it or someone curious who asks why I don’t care for christmas. Sometimes I shrug “I dunno” and change the subject, but often I lean heavily on having worked in retail for several years and the way some people act at that time of year put me off celebrating. Most people hear retail at xmas and immediately understand and drop the subject.

      For anyone who still pushes about christmas (or amything else for that matter) I stop explaining or justifying and then go back to the shrug and “you do you” and then change the subject or leave the conversation.

      I’m not a teacher, but I would think that mentioning that some of your students don’t celebrate christmas so you keep it out of the classroom is hard for other teachers to argue with. I like what others here have said about students who do celebrate get plenty of xmas cheer outside the classroom. Maybe add that it doesn’t hurt to give them a break.

      To mitigate any damage to your career that you are concerned about, lean heavily into other events and activities the rest of the year.

    5. Change name for today*

      It might surprise you to know there are Christians that do not celebrate the traditional Christmas or Christmas at all. I’ve known Quakers and Seventh Day Adventists that don’t. Christians can believe Christmas trees and Santa are not relevant to or needed to mark the birth of Jesus .

      Likewise, the reverse is true. Many people who do not celebrate the birth of Jesus find the traditions or rituals of Christmas that are not directly in Bible something to celebrate and practice.

      1. ES*

        I feel you here. I am part of a Christian tradition — so breaking Alison’s rules but please bear with me while I explain — that celebrates Christmas starting Dec. 25, but the four weeks of Advent leading up to it are a time for fasting and penitence.

        That means holiday parties with treats, booze, gift exchanges, festive attire, etc., are all generally verboten for me precisely during the time when everyone is doing them. (We are celebrating Christmas just when everyone else is putting away their trees.) Basically, my observance of Christmas is completely incompatible with how and when our broader culture observes it.

        I’ve found that colleagues are understanding of my lack of participation when I explain it as a religious matter. I skip all our work holiday parties except for a couple where I have client-facing responsibilities, and at those I treat it more as a reception, enjoy a club soda and say my hellos, and then depart.

    6. The Gollux, Not a Mere Device*

      I’m almost sorry I’ve yet to have the chance to pull out “I don’t worship Mammon” in response to someone trying to convince me that Christmas presents aren’t about Jesus/Christianity.

      It’s true–I don’t worship Mammon–and I think it would throw people off-script. But it might make them a little too defensive and even angry, by implying that the other person worships a false god and is asking me to do the same.

  18. Insert Pun Here*

    I am not Christian and generally take a pass on Christmas for a variety of reasons, though I did grow up celebrating it in a not-explicitly-religious-even-though-it-is-definitely-a-religious-holiday way. My general rule is that I’ll go to anything that has free food and other stuff gets skipped. But my office is (a) not bonkers for Christmas and (b) pretty accepting overall of opt-outs at voluntary events generally. I think the issue here is your coworkers are (a) very (ahem) enthusiastic (b) for Christmas specifically and (c) there are a lot of them. Unfortunately I think there is probably no solution at this workplace that leaves you totally un-annoyed. Leaning into a “winter” theme, instead of Christmas, as someone suggested earlier, might help? (Personally I would find it a breath of fresh air, if a colleague did this. Maybe there are other folks who’d like a break but just need someone else to take the lead?)

    1. Fun Shirt Friday*

      I agree with this and only want to add that if there are some supportive/sympathetic staff the LW can go to who might back her up, that might be a place to start. If some others were to push back a bit, or even decorate for or acknowledge other holidays, it may be a “strength in numbers” thing? I don’t know, but maybe worth a shot.

      1. MigraineMonth*

        Quick note that any decorating for/acknowledging other holidays should be done in a respectful timely manner. Not hanging dreidel ornaments on a Christmas tree or putting up a menorah after Hanukkah is over because “holidays”.

    2. StarTrek Nutcase*

      I’m an atheist (raised Methodist but my family always celebrated Christmas but only as a gifting holiday). At work, Christianity was always the only option and any dissent was seen as an insult. In my 20s, I cared about being friends with my coworkers so kept quiet; this gradually changed until at 50, being professional and civil was my only concern so I would voice concerns & refuse to attend Xmas party, etc. I got flack off and on, but interestingly less when work people assumed I was Jewish – being atheist was one hill too far. (I didn’t offer my reasons for objecting but when pushed admit I’d get pleasure from identifying as atheist & thus going from “person on wrong faith” to “Satan’s disciple”.)

  19. Mo*

    One of my fondest holiday memories is from high school. The English department responded to the annual door decorating contest with a life size picture of Scrooge saying “Bah humbug.” It was an original someone had drawn. They saved it and put it up every year.

    1. lost academic*

      I both like this and I don’t because…. while it’s funny, it’s also maintaining a narrative that to not celebrate Christmas IS to be a Grinch, to be hateful of others’ joy, to take pleasure in negativity, etc. We struggle as people to define this as something other than two sided when almost nothing in this world is – a failure of dual (multiple) critique, as we’d say in my modern Arabic literature class back in college.

      1. AvonLady Barksdale*

        I have been called– in response to a light-hearted “Oh, I don’t celebrate Christmas”– a Grinch, a Scrooge, a Christmas-hater, a Debbie Downer… all in “fun”. I’m none of these things. I’m just a Jew. Who doesn’t celebrate Christmas.

        1. Cyndi*

          A lot of people seem to understand perfectly well that “churchgoing” isn’t an automatic sign of virtue, until you bring Christmas into it and suddenly you’re a joy hating monster, how dare you not observe Christianity!!!

  20. C in DC*

    Not that I would do it IRL, but in my head, I’d start reminding them that Christmas traditions co-opted Pagan traditions, and that Jesus was likely born in the Spring, not the dead of winter. Push back with history. IRL, I’d likely just focus on the winter season, as one previous poster suggested.

    1. Emmers*

      Interestingly enough I’ve heard more people use the ‘it used to be pagan’ as a side step to my ‘this is a Christian holiday’ which is obnoxious.

      1. Silver Robin*


        Unless *you* (general) are Pagan, then these are not Pagan symbols to you. You do not get to sidestep centuries of syncretism and wash away the connotations just because you learned a cool new fact.

        Also!! Pagan =/= secular, these are still spiritual/religious symbols and it would be just as annoying if it were Pagans asking me why I do not celebrate Yule.

        1. BluRae*

          This sort of sidestep seems to come from an unexamined belief that Wicca/Paganism/Neo-Paganism aren’t “real” religions, so if it’s “Pagan” then it’s actually secular! Which, no. They are real religions that have governing bodies, organized oversight, beliefs and customs, holy days, rites of passage, clergy training and… *takes breath* (Sorry, the ignorance and minimizing in the comment section on the recent article about putting Wiccan religious work on your resume really pissed me off).

          But I’ve also seen actual Pagans use this same excuse, so who knows?

          It’s bad either way.

          1. plonit almonit*

            Exactly! To me, the pagan history makes it *more religious,* just not more Christian. It doesn’t make it any better.

      2. Harried HR*

        OK why is that obnoxious ? The Christmas Tree was originally a Pagan Yule tradition (celebration of Winter Solstice) which was co-opted by Christianity in order to make the conversation to Christianity more palatable

        1. BluRae*

          Because the people it’s being said to probably aren’t Pagan either and either way they don’t want another religion’s holiday shoved down their throats?

          The problem with Christmas isn’t that it’s a Christian holiday, it’s that very many people DO NOT CELEBRATE IT. And pointing out that it has Pagan roots doesn’t change that.

    2. vampire physicist*

      As a Jewish person: this is not helpful, and it’s deeply frustrating that this gets brought up as a strategy. The issue isn’t the source of Christmas traditions or Christian holidays. It’s that people who do not celebrate them in either the Christian nor the (typically European) pagan tradition are often pressured into partaking in these traditions. It’s not relevant whether Christmas is actually Jesus’s birthday, or whether the tree comes from Yule or whether some aspects derive from Saturnalia; the point is that I (as well as many other Jews, many Muslims, and many people from non-Western non-Christian religions) don’t celebrate their winter holidays in this way (if they have a winter holiday) and should not be made to.

      As for how to approach it: I don’t mind a casual holiday party in the same way that I’ll gladly go to my (Christian) friends’ Christmas party but I’m not going to anything super elaborate or that takes me well out of my way, and if I am involved in organizing anything or have a say, I make it clear it’s strictly optional. As many people have said above, even Christians might have complicated feelings about the winter holiday season or have a busy personal schedule. Inclusion by force is not inclusion. I’m reminded of the question from the Halloween enthusiast in which Alison said something to the effect that we are all allowed our personal celebrations even if they seem strange to others. I think we’re also all allowed to not celebrate something, even if that seems strange to others.

      1. Ms. Grinch*

        Agree x 100 that referencing pagan sources for aspects of Christmas isn’t helpful. As a Jew, that reference too often is used as a way to force non-Christians to be part of Christmas celebrations.

        For the Christians reading this who feel upset by this discussion, please engage in this thought experiment: Imagine another religion’s observance was pervasive for two months before it happened and involved decorations, parties, advertising, baking, present exchanges, paid days off, and greetings not inclusive of your religion?

        That, my friends, is how this non-Christian feels.

  21. Anonymous Koala*

    I’m also not Christian, and I find the easiest thing to do at this time of year is embrace a certain amount of masking and try and find things about the holiday I can celebrate with a reasonably cheerful spirit. For decor, I do snowflakes, icicles, new years’ countdown clocks, and generic white lights instead of the ubiquitous Christmas green and red. I wear heavy sweaters and skip the ugly Christmas ones. I attend the company holiday party, but decline the Secret Santa/ White Elephant exchanges. It sounds like the OP’s workplace is more aggressive than mine, but I find that as long as I participate a little and I’m not vocally anti-Christmas, most people don’t push too hard about why I’m not participating in everything. It’s not ideal, but I find that this is the lowest-effort way for me to manage the Christmas season.

  22. MAOM7*

    I’m right there with you, but the difference is I was raised Christian, so some of the Xmas stuff is happy memories and I can meld in okay. I do try to keep my part of it more secular, and for those of my friends that I know what their path is, I be sure to honor them individually. I honestly think you should keep pushing your administration about making this season way more secular, AND including different celebrations in this mix – Yule, Kwanzaa, Hanukkah, etc. There is no reason children shouldn’t be learning about these various other cultures and belief systems, so that they are not shocked the first time they meet a Jew, a Pagan, etc. There is much to celebrate this time of year, and to keep us from hitting the winter-depression-skids when the days are suddenly shorter and the nights dark and long. What was your admin’s reason for not letting you use a Pesach picture book? I’m somewhat appalled by that, all by itself.

    1. Gila Monster*

      The idea that this is The Holiday Season is well-intentioned, but still pretty Christian-centric. I’m Jewish. While there is a minor holiday starting this evening, my holiday season was over several months ago. If we’re making a huge fuss over The Holiday Season right now, be honest about what religion’s holiday season it is.

      1. Astor*

        Yup, I would not know when Channukah is without a calendar and Christmas-adjacent stuff, but every Jew I know (not just my own family and community) talks about Rosh Hashannah and Pesach.

      2. Aa*

        Question: Do you not observe New Year’s on January 1? Obviously you could see that being over with Passover — I was raised as a Jew but always considered it secular in nature. When I use “holidays” in company communications it’s because I’m grouping Hanukkah, Christmas, and New Year’s, but I’m reconsidering it given how it seems like a misnomer to others here.

        (PS: sorry if this double posts as I’m not sure if there’s an error on my side preventing comments from showing up!)

    2. Letter Writer*

      Letter Writer here.

      That principal was concerning for a lot of reasons and is the main reason that school is now a former workplace.

      She had multiple books of mine that included Jewish and/or Muslim characters that she didn’t want me reading to students because of the “religious focus.” Please note, none of my books are specifically about religious beliefs, celebrations, et cetera. They simply include characters of different religions. (Just like the people in the world around you.)

      So, for example, the book with kids searching for the afikomen or the book with kids playing in the garden outside their mosque were not allowed. But, interestingly enough she didn’t mention any issues with the one about a kid making a homemade Christmas present for their dad or about a kid and their grandparent on the bus ride home from church. When I brought up that those books reference religion too and could I get some clearer guidance on what was and was not okay, she told me I should just avoid anything “controversial” which of course clarified nothing. Then, when I pushed, I got told to stick to only the extremely limited books that were actually built into our curriculum and get everything else I read approved by her personally.

      She also disallowed any books (and even coloring sheets) with queer and/or trans characters. Again, not books about queerness, just ones where queer people exist. For example, one about a kid on a soccer team with a couple references to him being trans. Or one about a kid who happens to have two dads going on an adventure. And, my coloring sheets that included families of with different make-ups and gender presentation were not acceptable.

      1. Mark This Confidential And Leave It Laying Around*

        When you work for a bigot, there aren’t any good work arounds.

      2. Ms. Murchison*

        I’m glad you got out but I am so sad for all the children who go there and are having their mental growth narrowed and limited.

  23. Robin*

    Letter writer did acknowledge at the end that she probably cares too much. Now, before I get slammed, I’m commenting to give a different perspective.. I anticipate there will be a lot of empathy comments and suggestions of things to try. I don’t disagree with any of them. My comment is to encourage letter writer to lean in to the idea of not caring so much about things she can’t control and to control what she can, and the wisdom to let it be. Think about WHY is it fundamentally exhausting to have this happening around you? Is it literally hurting you? Does it make you believe whatever you believe less? I’m doubting that. They aren’t doing Christmas themed things in spite of you or at you. (Obviously there are exceptions but it doesn’t sound like it). Can you control the decor of your own classroom? You definitely can control accepting invitations to do things. You can control whatever boundary making statements you decide to make.
    Teaching school is exhausting. Teaching hyped up children is extra exhausting. Perhaps this is part of the Why. When I taught school I would get so aggravated at interruptions, crap they pulled them out of class for, useless assemblies, oh don’t even get me started on Spirit Week. Looking back me being teeth grinding aggravated didn’t change one single thing. This is a perpetual problem that will never change. So, the only change has to be in LW way of thinking about it.

    1. kendall^2*

      This LW happens to be an elementary school teacher. However, if you’ll note, that there are a lot of people commenting who are in office jobs and have the exact same exhaustion. This comment is perhaps meant to be kind, but it’s not coming across that way.

    2. Punk*

      “Stop speaking out against the erasure if minority religions by publicly funded institutions. Like ughhhh isn’t it exhausting caring about discrimination and lite conversion tactics?”

      Yes it’s exhausting but so is dealing with people who think it’s super uncool and not chill to push to be included in the workplace that I have to go to every day.

    3. HebrewSong*

      I think your perspective can be right in general – I also try not to let things bother me at work if they’re ultimately minor and I have no control over it. But I think you’re underestimating the fact that this isn’t just at work. It’s not something that can be left at work and escaped at the end of the day, because it’s everywhere. Other commenters have gotten into the details of the use of the word “holiday,” the radio stations, the decorations, etc., so I won’t elaborate here, but it’s so isolating to experience it year after year.

      Also, I bet you the LW only said they may be overreacting because they felt they had to. The amount of times I’ve had to downplay my feelings about my Jewishness at work is staggering, because if I don’t, I’d be seen as someone who’s complaining over nothing. It’s a survival instinct at this point. They’re not overreacting, and I guarantee you they know that.

      1. Observer*

        Also, I bet you the LW only said they may be overreacting because they felt they had to.

        Yes. This X 1mil.

        1. Letter Writer*

          Letter writer here.

          I’d like to note that I actually did not say that I may be overreacting. I said “Am I feeling impacted more than I should?” Which, while maybe still not the clearest phrasing, definitely doesn’t feel the same to me.

          What I was thinking about when writing that was mostly along the lines of ‘Am I the only one feeling this this strongly?’ I was looking for either reassurance that I’m not alone in this and/or hearing how other people keep from feeling it as much. Like I noted in my letter, all my coworkers are Christian (culturally, religiously, or both). Non-school workplaces definitely don’t seem to go to these extremes with Christmas stuff, so I really don’t know other people dealing with this in real life than I can compare or commiserate with.

          Phrasing any of this as “overreacting” feels uncomfortable and pretty dismissive of my feelings. I’d love to figure out ways to feel less impacted by this kind of thing, but I certainly don’t think it’s an overreaction that I do feel this way in the first place.

          1. HebrewSong*

            I apologize for my wording! I was feeling a lot of feelings and didn’t go back to double check what you said, which I totally should have. To be clear, I 100% did not think you were overreacting, nor do I think you’re alone in feeling this strongly.

    4. Lilac*

      I used to teach at a public school with a high population of students who didn’t celebrate Christmas. We didn’t do any Christmas activities at our school, and it was fine. (We still did fun stuff to celebrate the end of the semester, like a pajama-and-movie day on the last day before break. It just wasn’t Christmas themed.)

      I get that this kind of thing is super prevalent, especially in parts of the country that have a larger population of Christians than the area I lived in. But it’s definitely not impossible to do things differently.

    5. Monty*

      I would argue that this kind of thing is hurtful as it presents a monolithic Christian image of the school and its faculty, erasing OP’s religion and that of the non-Christian students. This kind of hegemonic Christianity is born out of a legacy of colonialism and proselytism that has harmed untold numbers of people. We’ve seen plenty of cases on AAM of people using events like this (or regular church attendance, etc.) to pressure their colleagues into religious observance that they do not want. Yes, OP could choose to just grin and bear it but these kinds of holiday celebrations, adorable and well-intentioned as they may be, were not born in a vacuum. There is real, painful context that we really should be mindful of.

      1. ThatGirl*

        It bothers me a lot that the LW’s attempts to inject a little Hanukkah were rejected – my third grade teacher was Jewish and I remember her teaching us the dreidel song and giving us Hanukkah 101 lessons. I know Hanukkah is not Jewish Christmas but I think it was valuable for a bunch of 8 year olds to know not everyone celebrates Christmas.

        1. Lilac*

          I went to an elementary school that was rather ahead of its time in terms of diversity and inclusion. One time my mom came to my class around the holidays and taught everyone how to make latkes. She still talks about how fun it was – her favorite part was when another parent volunteer (who was from Japan, had never tried latkes before, and I’m pretty sure didn’t celebrate Hannukah OR Christmas) showed her how to flip them using chopsticks. She came to teach the class about my family’s culture and heritage, and ended up learning something new herself!

          The school I used to work at opted not to do any holiday-themed activities at all (not just Christmas but other holidays as well), and I think that’s also perfectly fine. I just have a problem with schools *only* celebrating Christmas – either do all the holidays or don’t do any.

              1. Lilac*

                Interesting – I know there are multiple spellings but I’d never seen it spelled that way. (Or maybe I have, and that’s why it looks correct to me.)

    6. Former Red and Khaki*

      Nah, you’re right and you should say it. The only thing, the ONLY THING any of us can control in this life is our own reactions and feelings. Everything else is a crapshoot. Maybe you’ll get lucky and change some things for society as a whole, but more than often, you won’t. So for your own peace of mind, you’ve got to choose what parts of society mean something to you and what parts don’t. Don’t participate in what you don’t want to participate in. Don’t buy anything but necessities the whole of November and December. Don’t feed the trolls on the internet. There’s always going to be party invitations, holiday activities, capitalism trying to get you to buy junk, and trolls on the internet no matter what you do or how loud you protest – that really is just life. But you can choose to ignore all of it, and yes – it has to be a conscious choice. It’s not something the world is going to do for you. Signed, an old who is so tired.

      1. Lilac*

        Right, but LW *did* try to opt out and they were still pressured to participate. It’s reasonable not to want that to happen in the workplace.

    7. librarianmom*

      I think that this is very helpful advice in general. There are things you can do to try to create change, but ultimately you can only control you. Recognizing that can be quite a release.

    8. Observer*

      Thank you for a perfect example of why this is such a problem.

      Something does not have to cause an observable injury to be bad and too problematic to just wave away. If it were the case that only those things matter, no one would be worrying about the use of slurs. After all “Is it literally hurting you?” can easily be said about every slur that gets tossed out there. Yet we have as a society (correctly!) decided to push back on that.

      I see no reason why this is the basis on which to evaluate how problematic something it. And the fact that you so casually make that suggestion while showing that this is something that has never touched in any way, does not make your “advice” helpful in the least bit.

    9. Ashley*

      Not the LW but living with someone that only subjects themselves to Christmas due to nieces and nephews celebrating it, it is fundamentally exhausting because our culture is assuming everyone wants to be part of this. When the Government is promoting Christianity left and right and you aren’t Christianity you are being made to feel less then. And public schools are really part of the government. Instead of forcing all the folks who don’t want to do Christmas for whatever reasons, the rest of us need to be a little more gracious and give them space to not have to deal with it for two months of the year. (And honestly the whole government Christianity issue with Christmas is the tip of the iceberg of the problems that is causing for the non-Christians and more liberal Christian faiths.)
      Being forced into gift exchanges does feel spiteful sometimes because it is people refusing to accept your boundaries. Generally refusing to accept peoples boundaries and forcing anything is a terrible practice and the (religious or secular) Christmas practicing folks need to have some compassion towards everyone else.

    10. Lils*

      This reads like you haven’t experienced this type of thing very much. “Boundaries” are often ineffective at work. It IS literally hurtful to some of us. I cannot express how othering and shitty the neverending ubiquity of the Christmas experience at work makes me feel. Year after year of pushing back and not participating and feeling like a sour, awful colleague. Experiencing physical and mental stress. It absolutely sucks and feels completely disrespectful.

      1. Lilac*

        Yes, exactly. Part of boundary setting is being able to remove yourself from the situation if other people keep crossing your boundaries. That’s not always possible to do in a work setting, at least not without potential professional consequences. (And those consequences are worth it for some people, but that’s not a trade-off anyone should have to make.)

      2. fhqwhgads*

        This is it. It’s not even mostly about not wanting to participate in xmas stuff when it’s not my holiday. It’s the OTHERING. So much.

    11. SpecialSpecialist*

      Taking this approach may also inspire others to care differently (or less) about what goes on in December.

      This year, I’m taking a stand and being the bum who comes to the division Christmas party but doesn’t bring anything. There’s going to be tons of stuff there already. Nobody will notice if I bring anything or not.

    12. Andromeda*

      LW is not only overwhelmed by Xmas stuff, but is actively being strongarmed into it *and also can’t speak up about the traditions she actually does observe* (see the comment about not being allowed to read about Pesach with the kids).

      Regardless of how you feel about the season as a whole, for this LW, “how do I safely opt out without it reflecting badly on me at work” is a perfectly sensible question.

      Also, saying “thanks but no thanks!” around holidays and having people respect that while everyone quietly does their own thing should be basic good manners. I am side-eyeing all the people deflecting, derailing or insinuating that LW is wrong or rude to want that. (I’m a “secularised”-Christmas-celebrating atheist — and I would bet that *everyone* in this comments section who isn’t a Christian has different preferred Christmas engagement levels. Sometimes that is ZERO CHRISTMAS and that is ok!!)

    13. Ms. Grinch*

      Robin, it is troubling when you write: “This is a perpetual problem that will never change. So, the only change has to be in LW way of thinking about it.” You may not have meant this, but you are a member of the religious majority telling a member of the religious minority to just deal with what is, at essence, offensive and discriminatory. If this were the prevailing response to discrimination, only white men with property would be able to vote in the US.

      Please consider walking that back.

      1. Julia K.*

        Who says Robin is a member of the religious majority?

        I don’t think Robin’s advice is helpful for most people, including LW. But I read Robin’s comment as a member of a religious minority sharing what had worked for them personally.

        Thanks to Alison’s comment policy for this post, I think we can assume commenters are not Christian.

    14. MsM*

      “They aren’t doing Christmas themed things at you.”

      I mean, they kind of are. LW’s tried to opt-out of activities they don’t want to be part of, and people keep pressuring them to participate. Why can’t they at least say “no, thanks” without having to worry about being seen as the office Grinch?

    15. SereneScientist*

      Robin, I believe you are well-intentioned in this message to the LW, but your “alternate” perspective both lacks empathy and, frankly, reads as condescending. Why are you speaking to them as if they haven’t tried this approach already? It sounds scolding when LW is reaching out to ask for advice how to make space for themselves because they aren’t part of the majority group and has already experienced pushback when they tried to do so prior. For some, accepting this may be out of their control is one way to cope, but it is not the only one. Having been a teacher yourself, this message tacks rather too close to “just deal with like the rest of us.”

    16. birb*

      Your annoyance at kids being pulled out for extracurriculars and someone else’s annoyance at being forced to work in a space that is literally SUPPOSED to be secular but is obviously not are emphatically not the same. They’re not even similar.

    17. You Say Ignore It*

      It’s really not that easy. In my case, as an elementary school student it was indicative of all the idiocy that was about to happen and served as a constant reminder that it was about to get really ugly. My school was overtly anti-semitic but it invariably got worse once the decorations came out. And knowing that my tax money (and I did start paying a small bit of taxes on savings at that age – it was the days of 12% interest rates) was paying for the decorations I didn’t want to be inundated with. As someone who was learning about the separation of church and state in that same school, it infuriated me to have church all over my school.

  24. Beth*

    I’m sorry your coworkers are putting so much pressure on you. It’s beyond rude to try to pretend Christmas trees, carols, cookies, gift exchanges, etc are secular! Especially once you’ve already said that you’re not participating for religious reasons–even someone who’d never considered that December cookie exchanges are linked to Christmas should be able to respect your ‘no’ the first time you say it. Their rudeness is especially striking when you’ve been told you’re not allowed to even share stories from other traditions (including yours!) in your classroom. Your frustration is really valid and understandable.

  25. Manders*

    I think people also need to recognize that the holiday season isn’t always pleasant for people for a number of reasons (grieving the loss of a loved one, major life change, estrangement, etc) even if that person is a Christian. A little holiday cheer goes a long way and does not need to be forced.

    1. Petty_Boop*

      …how about we replace “Holiday Cheer” with “Seasonal Cheer” or “Kindness” or “Winter Wishes” or any number of things that don’t reference “Holiday” which of course derives from “Holy Day” and is by its nature, religious in concept. I love Winter for being… Winter. I like colder weather and I’m a weirdo who loves snow! (I also WFH which helps). I love fireplaces, good books and hot chocolate with Kahlua. So, I am very cheery this time of year, but it has nothing to do with the holidays and I throw wine and cheese and hot choco open houses for my friends and neighbors. But none of the deco or anything is “Holiday Cheer”. It’s just… Cheer!

      1. Double A*

        This seems like a stretch. “Holiday” means a day off in modern usage. And there are holidays at this time of year (i.e. days that most people get off work or school). There’s New Years, which is secular (though not universal, it’s not everyone’s New Year). If you tell someone to “Have a great holiday weekend!” for President Day, it’s not about holy days.

        If you’re going to get nitpicky with etymology, you’re going to need to stop saying “Good bye” because it derives from “God be with you” (specifically the Christian God). Or stop saying “Bless you” when someone sneezes, which is even more overtly religious.

        1. Rana*

          I agree that the word “holiday” in modern usage does not infer holiness. And I know that this is a school context where there are days off that are not just Christmas Eve/Day. But I don’t think it is a stretch to acknowledge that when someone says “Happy Holidays!” they mean “Merry Christmas” with a sprinkle of “Happy Hannukah” or perhaps “Happy New Year.” “Happy Holidays” as a construction is something we only say in December (at least in America) specifically as a replacement for “Merry Christmas” in an attempt to make the greeting non-Christian-specific but, as with everything else discussed on this list, it really doesn’t do anything to get away from the fact that the holiday in question is Christmas+. Literally no one says “happy holidays” leading up to Presidents Day.

          “Holiday cheer” is similarly coded specifically to December/Christmas. Even something like “holiday decorations” – if you said that to me in July I think I’d assume it was at least 50/50 that you meant Christmas decorations rather than 4th of July or whatever else. Combinations of words have specific meanings beyond the meanings of their individual components, so yes “holiday cheer” means “Christmas cheer” or mayyybe “Christmas+Hannukah cheer” (another religious holiday) even if “holiday” can mean something secular.

          And, separately, while I do say goodbye I in fact do not say “bless you,” because it is overtly religious. There are of course shades of gray but I think we can all agree that in modern usage the word goodbye retains none of the original religious overtones while bless you and happy holidays do. Maybe both will one day be fully divorced from a religious context but I know I am not alone in understanding that that is not the case in America in 2023.

          1. All het up about it*

            A tangential question: Do you say gesundheit when people sneeze? Something else? Nothing at all? This is something I personally struggle with because sometimes gesundheit seems…. weird, but I don’t want to “bless” random people and not acknowledging at all seems rude.

            1. Somehow they don't notice I'm Jewish*

              That’s what I say, because that’s what my dad’s side of the family said. (Yiddish -speaking, unsurprisingly) People generally don’t even react. The French equivalents (a tes souhaits, a tes amors, a ta mort), *they* surprise people

              1. Imtheone*

                I’ve heard dieu vous benisse.

                I also say gesundheit, which my family used. My students don’t know what I’m saying. My German friend was very amused

            2. Rana*

              I say “salud!” because we also speak Spanish and wishing someone health makes sense, no religion needed. I’ve heard gesundheit often enough that it doesn’t seem too weird to me (but maybe there are more German-descended people in the northeast than in other parts of the country?).

              In fairness to the other parts of this discussion, I don’t get upset when someone says “bless you” to me after a sneeze. To me it’s farther down the line away from religion that I don’t feel it as exclusionary the way all the hubub around Christmas does, and it’s more ubiquitous (as you say, it can be hard to come up with a non-awkward replacement when the one phrase is so incredibly standard). I’d certainly welcome a change away from it though, and I try to avoid saying it in case someone does feel badly about being on the receiving end of it.

            3. I went to school with only 1 Jennifer*

              I’ve been using gesundheit for decades, since long before I had any thoughts about religion being embedded into secular life. Nobody reacts oddly. I encourage you to try it out.

        2. Roland*

          > “Holiday” means a day off in modern usage.

          Maybe in the UK. Not in the US. And in any case, “holiday cheer” is explicitly a Christmas thing no matter how you try to spin it.

          1. Lea*

            Eh doesn’t it depend on context?

            Madonna sang a whole song about a holiday that’s not Christmas and holiday inn the movie (which is granted problematic ) was about all the holidays…

    2. fhqwhgads*

      “Holiday cheer” in general is a phrase associated with Christmas. This is part of the problem being discussed, not a solution to it. Saying “holiday” as a way to not say “Christmas” to cover for the fact that not everyone celebrates Christmas but when it still basically means “Christmas” given all the other context is not the inclusive thing some folks make it out to be. It’s the opposite. It comes out more like implying Christmas is the only holiday that matters, so much so that saying “holiday” in December = “Christmas”. If you mean “Christmas” say “Christmas”. It you mean some other holiday, say that holiday. If you mean winter or New Years, say that.

      1. Lilac*

        It seems like a lot of people think that every religion has some sort of major holiday in the middle of winter, so even those who don’t celebrate Christmas are still celebrating *something.* In actuality, plenty of religions have their major holidays at other times of the year, or the timing varies from year to year (e.g. Eid), or they don’t observe holidays at all. There are some big winter holidays other than Christmas, but the “holiday season” isn’t a thing for everybody.

        And of course, many people choose not to celebrate Christmas for reasons entirely unrelated to religion.

    3. Festively Dressed Earl*

      Very true that even Christians often feel forced into “holiday” celebrations. The answer to this isn’t MORE holiday cheer, it’s empathy. If a person isn’t feeling Christmas (or Easter or Divali or Yom Kippur or their own birthday or Mother’s Day etc), leave them alone and don’t push it. The exception is if you know the person well and they’ve volunteered why holiday X is rough for them, find out if there’s something you can do that would make the day/season easier on them. Then listen, and act on the information if you can.

  26. Kivutar*

    Last year I would have said we had this handled. Our group did a frequently updated holiday display that included any holidays in the month that anyone on the team celebrated, which was usually quite a few as it was a diverse team. They were always weighted reasonably equally and it was popular with all our sister teams. We’d include jokes, amusing pictures of people in the department (it was considered an honour), etc.

    Then someone complained to HR about a light-hearted Christian themed image being offensive that none of us imagined for an instant would be, and now we can’t have nice things any more :(

    1. Former Hominid*

      I’m so sorry your non-Christian coworkers had inconvenient feelings that you had to accommodate. While for you this was light hearted, I wonder how they’d describe it?

      1. Kivutar*

        Sorry, I probably described that in a way that was unclear. I am one of the non-Christian coworkers, and based on the details of the situation the person who objected was a Christian who considered the Christian decoration to be offensive because it was too light-hearted. Several Christian coworkers were as baffled by this as we were.

        1. Former Hominid*

          Wow. All snark retracted. So the options for your coworker was “Christmas acknowledged as one tradition among many” or “no holidays acknowledged at all” and your coworker wasn’t up to sharing. Amazing.

          1. Kivutar*

            In fairness this didn’t actually involve Christmas, it had a Christian figure popping up in a 100% secular holiday as a joke and I think they didn’t like that.

            1. Lola*

              Yeeah so this goes dangerously into disrespecting their religious symbols, not something you can just leave unchecked in a work environment.

        2. mlem*

          Not all Christians feel the same about their religious icons. If the person who complained was complaining on their own behalf, because they felt their own religious figure was being mocked … that’s a legitimate complaint for them to have.

          Should that have shut down everything? Perhaps not. But it’s not fair to expect all Christians to take all gestures the same way, any more than it’s fair to expect all Jews, atheists, etc. to have the same reactions to any given element.

          1. Kivutar*

            Absolutely true, but the upshot is that the grassroots inclusive decorations where all the non-Christians could put up decorations for their holidays the second a single unrelated Christian objected to something none of the Christians involved with the actual display imagined would be inappropriate. Meanwhile of course all the officially sponsored totally-not-Christmas-but-actually-Christmas celebrations continue, of course.

  27. Emmers*

    Fighting this fight currently with my child’s daycare center which currently looks like rudolph threw up all over the hallways. I’m genuinely surprised bc we are in a urban PNW area and I just thought I’d have a few more years to navigate these issues but now I have a 2.5 year old who is creating a ‘santa wish list’ for being a good girl and….Santa isn’t coming to our house at all so thanks for the double punch of morality dilemma and consumerism . All I’ve told her about santa the one time she asked was that he’s like elmo.

    I asked the daycare about what their inclusive policies were and their response was lackluster at best. Couldn’t not produce an actual policy and was like well bring in something if you want to! I’d rather no religious holidays are celebrated at daycare but at this point its easier to add things that get into real jew scrooge territory.

    We are seriously considering moving to a different center even though my daughter is thriving there otherwise. I recently posted to a early childhood educator reddit sub about asking for advice about how to approach this issue and then most responses were just arguing with me about how Christmas isn’t christian and how the Christmas tree might just be a ‘festive winter tree’ which is exhausting and indicative of what’s happening at my kids daycare.

    1. Atheist Mom*

      Woof I’m sorry. My kid is in his first year at public school (kinder) and while (from what I can see) they do a good job introducing kids to all kinds of cultures and genuinely seem to be trying hard to be inclusive, I’m kinda shocked by how hard they’re going on Christmas. There were no pilgrims for Thanksgiving, but… anything Christmas-related appears to be fair game. I’m sure the overtly religious aspect will be minimized or not present, but all the other imagery is already popping up all over the handouts.

    2. JustaTech*

      I’m so sorry you’re dealing with this!
      I’m in the same region and my kiddo’s preschool just messaged that they were having a sing-along (oh no), of something called “Snowing ice cream” (phew).
      Our center is explicitly secular with no religious holidays celebrated (the week off at the end of December is because that’s when all the other schools are off), but lots of cultural diversity all year long.

      (Now we just have to figure out how we as atheist parents are going to choose to include our cultural heritage without the actually religious part of it, while also being Americans.)

    3. Yet another librarian*

      I’m flashing back to 2005 when my (Jewish) four-year-old reported that she was worried and didn’t know what to do because everyone in her (allegedly secular) preschool class was starting to rehearse the nativity play. When we talked to the teacher and director, they didn’t understand — after all, none of the Muslim families had said anything! (No recognition that some religious minorities might not feel comfortable complaining.)

      Our 4-year-old went to play with the littler kids during rehearsal that year, and the next year she decided to participate and help her friends celebrate their holiday.

      LW, I wish I had great advice that would cause your colleagues to accept that you aren’t interested in celebrating their holiday. I love Jew Who Has It All (on facebook, mastodon, and other socials) for the elaborate fantasy of Medinat America, what it would look like to live in an America where Judaism held the cultural position Christianity now holds in the USA.

    4. fhqwhgads*

      Ugh yeah, same. Really sick of how many schools respond to questions about inclusion with “well you can come in and do a presentation on Your Holiday to the kids” and I’m like… or how about you don’t turn arts and crafts time into religious stuff? Cuz if I came in and did a pres – which I have no interest in doing – it’d be in a factual explainey in age-level language “this is what this is” way. But what they’re already doing as part of the curriculum is “an of course this is a part of everyone’s every day life”. Not. The. Same.

  28. Marianne*

    One of the most annoying things my Jewish in-laws had to deal with was someone in their children’s elementary school wanting a Jewish child to not “spoil” Santa Claus. Apparently the kindergartener asked her parents about Santa and was told that Santa is really the Christian children’s parents. The child told her friend who supposedly came home in tears and the Christian mom astonishingly called the Jewish mom to complain. The Jewish mom apologized probably because she was in shock but it was very upsetting to the Jewish parents in the school.

    1. Gila Monster*

      I had to give my Jewish five-year-old this speech this year, that he knows Santa is kids’ parents, but that he shouldn’t tell his classmates this, they should learn it from their own parents. It feels very unfair that my little kid (who, like most little kids, isn’t good at secrets) is expected to maintain ‘the holiday magic’ for other kids’ holidays.

      1. Observer*

        It feels very unfair that my little kid (who, like most little kids, isn’t good at secrets) is expected to maintain ‘the holiday magic’ for other kids’ holidays.

        It feels unfair because it IS unfair – and utterly ridiculous.

      2. Ali + Nino*

        I know hindsight is 20/20 but I’m curious why you felt compelled to tell your child to keep this a secret. You don’t feel it’s fair, you acknowledge little kids struggle to keep secrets…I don’t get it.

        1. Gila Monster*

          Because I don’t want him to be a target for angry parents, who convey their anger through their kids, about how the Jew ruined their holiday.

          1. LisaD*

            I was this kid, and my parents took it as an opportunity to teach the lesson of not gloating when you have knowledge someone else doesn’t. They framed it as “Because our family has different values than your friends’ families, we don’t participate in pretending Santa Claus is real at home. But that doesn’t mean our traditions are better or worse, they’re just different. The right way to handle knowing something that someone else doesn’t know and probably would prefer not to know is to keep it to yourself, because telling them would make yourself feel good at the expense of making them feel bad, and that’s wrong.”

            1. fhqwhgads*

              Yeah, similarly what’s happened with my family is the littles are told that Santa is a game some people play, and it’s a surprise, and we don’t want to yuck their yum, essentially.
              However we never frame it as a “secret” because we don’t want them to think secrets are ok. Thar be dragons. But knowing it’s a game someone else is playing, and involves a surprise, they’re fine to let it be. And if they do “spoil” it, well, whatevs. Same as if you let a kid in on a surprise party. They might spoil it. Oh well.

          2. Maccabebe*

            Yep. I got that angry email from preschool parents. “Your kid is ruining Santa.” Um. I have literally never exchanged a word about Santa with my Jewish child. Didn’t know I had to get ahead of this one.

            “Let’s tell both kids that Santa does exist, but he doesn’t visit Jewish houses.”

            Um. Absolutely not.

            1. Imtheone*

              I explained Santa wasn’t real to my daughter when she was about 5, and told her not to tell her friend (aged4) who lived across the street. My daughter did tell her friend, and still remembers how the friend cried.

              No pushback from the friend’s mom. I would guess the mom just said that my daughter was mistaken.

            2. Imtheone*

              I explained Santa wasn’t real to my daughter when she was about 5, and told her not to tell her friend (aged4) who lived across the street. (How could I answer her questions and say that Santa was real, but didn’t come to our house?)

              My daughter did tell her friend, and still remembers how the friend cried.

              No pushback from the friend’s mom. I would guess the mom just said that my daughter was mistaken.

        2. Anonymous for this*

          Because there are only bad choices available. I have gotten this request several times from other parents. One time it was even from a close relative. We said, “No, we can’t do that for you. We can’t control what our kids say, and when you ask kids to keep a secret it usually backfires.” So they decided not to visit us over winter break because we couldn’t guarantee that our kids wouldn’t ruin Santa. Really, there is no winning.

          Actually, maybe we did win in that situation. We avoided all the other Christmas-related issues that would have come up if they had visited us. So, there’s that.

        3. Sunglow28*

          it isn’t always safe. We are pagan-ish and don’t celebrate Santa and while we had a long talk about why we should keep Santa a secret (we role played! we read books on Christmas as a spirit of generosity! we practiced walking away from Santa talk!) but once a preschool parent – with no children in sight or earshot – asked my child what Santa would bring. When my child brightly replied we don’t do Santa, the mom told him that he was a bad little boy and that’s why we don’t do Santa, because he wouldn’t receive anything. He was too naughty. Then she called my child’s preschool director to complain about him “spoiling Christmas” for others. Thankfully the director shut that down.

          But I worry, I really do about my kids emotional and possibly physical safety. My tiny child was sobbing when I came to get him that day because a grown-up person had verbally assaulted and terrified him over a fairy tale. I found her vitriol and her justifications for her actions very frightening, and now that I have an infant again, I’m dreading those days.

      3. Beth*

        That IS unfair, and it sucks that your community puts you in a position where you either have to ask such an unfair thing of your kid or be the target of anger over santa being ‘spoiled’.

        By that age, kids can handle “our family believes in Santa but not all of your friends do, every family is different.” Heck, a lot of five year olds start questioning Santa around that age anyways–even if they’re not ready to say Santa isn’t real (and risk missing out on gifts!), they’re old enough to question flying reindeer, the possibility of covering the whole world in one night, how Santa gets in when their home doesn’t have a fireplace or a chimney, and all the other logistical details. “My friend doesn’t believe in Santa” is just one of many questions that might come up. Parents who are doing Santa need to be ready to live in the in between of “maybe kiddo believes, maybe not, probably it’s somewhere in between” for a few years–even if that’s hard for them, it’s really unfair to blame their difficulty on you and your kid.

    2. Bast*

      That IS super annoying. One thing I have noticed lately though is there is an uptick of individuals who DO celebrate Christmas, but “don’t do Santa” for various reasons. It seems to be a very touchy subject.

      1. Caramel & Cheddar*

        I think there’s a parenting trend (in that, it’s happening more than it used to, not that it’s “trendy”) about eliminating traditions you might have grown up with but that basically required your parents to lie to you, so Santa but also things like the Tooth Fairy, etc. While most kids usually accept the news that Santa or the Tooth Fairy aren’t real just fine, you do hear stories about people who felt really betrayed by the adults in their lives who they trusted when they found out this stuff was fake.

        From the parenting stuff I see online, I think there’s a lot more focus on intentional parenting now than there was when I was a kid myself. Part of that is helping your kids learn and understand that they can trust you as a parent, so they’re cutting out traditions that don’t quite live up to that.

        1. Bast*

          Yes, I’ve read about that too, among other reasons, but whether it’s for religious reasons that there is no Santa, personal or moral beliefs, etc., I have run into quite a few people who become angry and almost seem to be personally offended that you are not raising your child to believe in Santa. They accuse you of “ruining childhood” or apparently of ruining THEIR child’s childhood because of your own personal belief/practice that you aren’t trying to impose on anyone, you just live differently. People are really ready to throw down over not doing Santa more than not doing the Tooth Fairy or other figures.

      2. Generic Name*

        My son’s dad and I didn’t “do” santa or the tooth fairy for my son, even though we celebrate Christmas (as athiests….). My ex also used the argument he didn’t want to lie to our kid, but I still have mixed feelings that we handled things that way. Regardless, we explicitly told our son that other kids believe santa is real, so please don’t spill the beans and spoil it for them, and he never did (he’s 17 now).

    3. lost academic*

      I’m not sure it’s fair to put it on them being Jewish – this is just a reality because kids in different families come to that realization at different times and every single family chooses to handle it their own way. And kids are gonna say what they’re gonna say. Parent shouldn’t have called the other parents about it unless they were coaching the kids to deliberately go out there with that intent in mind (seems unlikely, even my husband wouldn’t do that…I think….)

      (And no matter what you do at home, kids take on their own impressions and beliefs – my sister was ADAMANT that she was always going to tell her child that Santa was NOT REAL from the start and that did not happen at all because child decided he WAS pretty soon and even if she’d been browbeaten by it at home I’m not sure it would have mattered.)

    4. nora*

      I got in trouble in preschool for telling the other kids there’s no Santa. Wasn’t sorry then, wasn’t sorry now, and neither were my parents.

      1. Rebecca*

        my younger cousin learned about the historical figure of St Nicholas; he then told all his kindergarten classmates that Santa was dead. that wasn’t what we were going for, but he’s not wrong!

  29. Rondeaux*

    I’m Jewish and have no problem with any of these celebrations or the general holiday atmosphere but nobody should be pressuring anyone ever.

  30. Me*

    I am a former catholic, liberal from the north living in the deep south and it is a full on War of Christmas! At best, I am now “I probably believe in God, but definitely don’t believe in Religion.”

    So maybe a response could be “My faith does not allow celebrating like this.”

    Jehovah’s Witnesses don’t celebrate holidays including birthday. Your personal faith could be agnostic, atheist, etc. Or maybe a very strict small christian denomination. Every other empty barn, warehouse and house has its only little church in it down here so none of this is a stretch.

    1. Ms. Teacher*

      Since atheism, at the least, is not a faith, this isn’t a great answer. Also, that potentially leads to some nastiness about non-Christian/Christmas-celebrating faiths, portraying the faith (or lack thereof) as the Grinch-like power that won’t “let” you celebrate.

  31. DataGirl*

    I normally put up Hanukkah decorations in my office, but this year with all the Israel hate I don’t feel comfortable/safe doing that, so instead I’m going with a generic winter theme: snowflakes, cute gnomes in winter attire, white lights.

    1. Misshapen Pupfish*

      I love the idea of the gnomes! But I’m so sorry to hear this; it’s awful that anyone is afraid to practice their religion because of the actions of a government.

  32. Megan*

    I work at a public library and while some of our decorations are very seasonal in nature, a majority of them are not. We have Christmas trees everywhere (from the public desk, I can currently see five of them in various sizes) and recently one was added to our staff area and breakroom with a massive Merry Christmas sign around it. I have in the past pushed for a less Christian-y forward facing decorations but have never been all that successful. The best I was able to get was a Happy Holiday sign last year.

    I do find it frustrating that we are alienating people with our public facing decorations! When it comes to the staff area ones… I just lose that battle all together. I grin and bare it, don’t decorate anything on my desk and decline any offers for festive decorations. The only battle I’ve ever won is not being forced to say Merry Christmas, but Happy Holidays instead. Staff is fine with it but I have gotten some push back from patrons who act like I’m offending them but honestly, why does it matter? They wish me a Merry Christmas, assuming I celebrate, why can’t I counter back with what I find appropriate?

    When I started declining the holiday party invite and gift exchanges I got some mild push back on it too. A former boss told me that I was being rude by not “joining the fun” which just made me never want to do it ever. I used to put way too much effort into pushing back, but now I pretty much just let it happen. I say no to things I don’t want to do and if someone asks why I tell them I don’t celebrate Christmas and leave it at all. And when I’m inevitable asked “oh my god so you don’t do PRESENTS?” (which also annoys me because for everyone’s talk of Jesus this and Jesus that, people are unusually upset that I don’t do PRESENTS??) I tell them that nope and end the conversation there.

    But honestly, my advice is to just ignore it and do what you feel is best. I know it’s hard to deal with sometimes, I get annoyed too but you can’t change people’s minds on somethings. Especially when they don’t see a problem with it. I’ve done a cookie exchange or two, because I enjoy baking but I make zero effort to make it “Christmas-y”. But yeah, I’m sure this advice was not good at all, but I feel you LW.

  33. Camilla*

    No answers, but I don’t celebrate Christmas in a country with a state church and Christianity as a mandatory subject in schools. People also personally go waaaaaaaay in on Christmas. It is everywhere for months.

    I lived for a few years in the U.S. and somehow the Christmas vibe there was a lot more annoying/alienating. I actually get kind of excited for and into Christmas events in my home country but felt some inner urge to actively resist them in the U.S. maybe it has to do with the evangelical or “true believer” aspect that doesn’t exist in Europe.

    1. Wendy*

      I found that Christmas was more bearable in Europe than US/Canada as well. for me, i think it was that Christmas was unambiguously Christian and not trying to be all-inclusive. it’s not inclusive and no amount of retrofitting will make it that way.

  34. LizB*

    Yikes, your workplace sounds REALLY Christian-centric and really determined not to change. I’ve worked at multiple explicitly Christian organizations and luckily never faced the kind of hostility and pushiness you’re dealing with. People were excited about Christmas, but didn’t care if I didn’t participate in parties or exchanges, if I didn’t decorate my office or only put up snowflakes, and were innocently curious about what the deal was with Chanukah. I feel like that should be the absolute bare minimum of acceptable behavior in any workplace, much less a freaking public school. Your coworkers and admin are being real asses about this, and I just want to validate that for you.

    This is sadly not a helpful option for you, but this year I switched jobs and joined a Jewish organization, and oh my gosh. When I tell you how much more relaxed I feel… some coworkers who aren’t Jewish have lights or greenery up at their personal cubes, but it’s just nice decorations! The whole office didn’t look like a hobby lobby barfed all over it the day after Thanksgiving! Our winter party is truly just about winter, and our fully optional staff gift exchange is called Secret Snowflake! There are so many fewer little nagging microaggressions of the season, and it’s making a noticeable difference in my mental health.

  35. Your Social Work Friend*

    As an elementary employee myself, I am BOGGLED at not being allowed to read a children’s book about Pesach. That makes a real good case for the school behaving in a discriminatory way if you are being allowed or encouraged to explore titles like How The Grinch Stole Christmas or The Polar Express (staples in my school), or anything else involving Christmas. (At one point I worked as a sub in a Christian school where there were units on Jewish holidays and traditions that were taught as part of the curriculum–because the importance of education children on a variety of topics and exposing them to new things.) Truly that’s the part that concerns me most, and if the school board was in the mood to be friendly, could be an issue you could raise–if you felt you could expend the capital.

    1. Ess Ess*

      I agree wholeheartedly with this. If anything Christian holiday-related is school sponsored, they MUST allow mentions and sharing of other religions.

      1. Your Social Work Friend*

        I have had some Words with my teachers and admin that eggs and bunnies in the spring in a predominantly Christian community are Easter, no matter what you’d like to say. Trees and ornaments and the big guy in red are Christmas, no matter what you’d like to justify. This is a PUBLIC SCHOOL for crying out loud. I put out a list of books to my staff in the winter and spring with recommendations of resources they can use in their classroom to introduce our predominantly Christian population to unfamiliar traditions. I’m a fan of “Dear Santa, Love, Rachel Rosenstein” for the winter time, and an even bigger fan of books like “The Mitten” which are just . . . winter books.

    2. Phony Genius*

      In first grade, my public school teacher brought in a box of matzoh during Passover so everybody could have a taste. Then I think we drew pictures of bunnies on egg-shaped paper. I think we learned from it.

      1. Your Social Work Friend*

        The preschool students would make challah together and give it to the pastor of the church as a gift, as well as taking a little loaf home. It was a lot of fun. I still make challah at Christmas and Easter. My family is Episcopalian, but my parents grew up in a predominately Jewish area (so they were raised around a lot of those traditions and the culture) and challah is the Best Bread Ever.

      2. Bast*

        My elementary school made real efforts at teaching multi-culturalism. We had monthly assemblies about holidays, traditions, etc in cultures other than our own. I learned about Christmas, sure, but also Hannukah, Kwanzaa, St. Lucia, Three Kings Day, among others. I LOVED it and I learned a great deal about beliefs and cultures different from my own. The schools don’t do anything like that anymore, and I have heard more than one parent complain anytime any other belief is mentioned as trying to “convert” their child.

        1. Silver Robin*

          You do notice that the majority of the holidays you mentioned are Christian…right? No idea how long ago elementary school was for you, but if the only non-Christian holidays you remember are Kwanzaa and Hanukkah, that does not bode super well for the distribution of holidays you got to learn about. I kind of get the parents grumbling about religions getting talked about in school when there is *such* an intense evangelizing pressure in the US.

    3. Lilac*

      I had the same reaction. (Not a teacher anymore, but I used to be.) I am fine with schools teaching about lots of different holidays/traditions, and I am also fine with schools choosing not to do any holiday stuff at all – but I am super not fine with Christmas being the only holiday that’s allowed.

  36. lyonite*

    Not sure this is going to be helpful if all the parties are on site, but my job does our “winter celebration” in January, when venue costs are much cheaper. It definitely cuts down on the Christmassy aspect of it as well, which may also be intentional. Maybe if people keep insisting their celebrations have nothing to do with the religious holiday, you could counter with the suggestion that they be more separated from it in time? (I doubt it would work, given the environment you describe, but it might make your point.)

  37. Lilly*

    Honestly, I’d probably focus my attention to the parents of the non-Christmas celebrating families and see if they share in your frustration. Administrators are more likely to listen to parents than teachers unfortunately. I’m personally more in favor of adding in more holiday celebrations to include everyone (rather than taking away), but so longs as they pick one way or the other it would be fair. We are an interfaith family so we celebrate Hannukah and Christmas and even though I’m the Christian half of the marriage I would be PISSED if my kids’ schools leaned into Christmas without also celebrating Hannukah (thankfully that’s not the case). They are proud of their heritage and I don’t ever want them to feel like it’s not as important. Their schools also acknowledged Easter and Passover. Because I’m sorry, but what is not child-friendly about hunting for the afikomen? How is that substantially different than hunting for Easter eggs? At least negotiating a price with your grandparents for a piece of matzah is imparting a useful life skill!

  38. Spicy Tuna*

    I am an atheist, raised by hard core atheists in a very Christian town. For reference, I am 50, so my childhood took place in the late 1970’s / 1980’s – a time with even less tolerance of “others”.

    My mother especially went overboard (and by “overboard”, I mean “engage nuclear option”) about things like holiday choir concerts that had both Christmas and Hannukah songs, displays of both a Christmas tree and a menorah at City Hall, lights strung up throughout the town, etc. etc. My father is a general misanthrope / party pooper so we absolutely did not participate in any type of celebration during this time of year, religious, secular, or pagan.

    Because of my upbringing, I am super, super sensitive to any type of public celebration this time of year (frankly, I’m sensitive to them at any time of year!)

    I have a hard time separating out what is a “holiday” themed type of celebration and what is a general “hey, it’s the end of the year, we want to celebrate your contribution / business / hard work”

    In any workplace, there is a balance between engaging with your co-workers, clients and customers, and having boundaries about participating in someone else’s religious holiday.

    For the OP, it sounds like a pretty tough situation since her employer / colleagues are going hardcore on the Christmas stuff. It’s also tough because as a teacher, she needs to be sensitive to the kids as well, and also take into account that many kids want to do fun things around the holidays.

    OP mentioned liking her colleagues and not wanting to come off as a stick in the mud, so I think she should find some way to participate that doesn’t emphasize the “religious” part of the season

    Example: participate in the cookie exchange. Cookies are not religious. She can bake or buy cookies with a Hannukah theme, or with no theme. I personally wouldn’t be offended by a cookie decorated like a Christmas tree, or in the shape of a Star of David. Sugar is sugar!

    I like the idea of decorating the classroom in a winter theme, because again, seasons are not religious!

    I had a hard time in my first real job out of college because of the knee jerk reaction my parents had to any type of celebrations around this time of year. I refused to participate in many things and my boss actually had to talk to me about attending things like end of year client appreciation luncheons. So OP is not wrong to want to balance “it’s not my holiday” with “I like my colleagues”

  39. Mark This Confidential And Leave It Laying Around*

    I’m in a northern city, so I started with office decor: white lights and snow flakes ARE in fact seasonal. People were good with that. But Im dealing with an office, not a school. And our staff is increasingly religiously diverse, so more and more people are in the don’t-care-about-Xmas bucket. I also think it helps to get the focus off religion entirely. In other words, don’t try to mix in Jewish traditions or Buddhist traditions: stick to winter. Can you decorate your classroom with hibernating animals, evergreens that aren’t pine trees, and snow? Lessons focusing on how plants and animals make it through the season? That’s educational and potential cute!

    1. Anonymous Koala*

      I second this suggestion! You could also lean into the New Years’ side of things if you’re comfortable with that – talk about why NY is celebrated at the end of December, different NY celebrations in different cultures, etc.

      1. Angstrom*

        The winter solstice can be a starting point for discussions of basic astronomy, the development of calendars and timekeeping, etc.

        1. All Outrage, All The Time*

          It’s summer solstice for half the globe. I don’t know why Christmas came to be so winter-centric when we consider that it rarely snows in Jerusalem. Even here in Australia we have winter themed motifs despite the fact that it can get to over 100F on christmas day.

          1. zaracat*

            To a hilarious and/or disturbing degree. Example: video looped fake fires on the flat screen tvs in post operative care area. Like, who wants to wake up from their surgery and see the wall on fire?

        2. Your Mate in Oz*

          Unless Anonymous Koala has migrated quite some distance winter solstice is about five months ago….

          One of the things that makes Christmas such an obviously faith-based event in Australia is that it is a winter solstice celebration in the middle of summer. “this isn’t real” applies a great deal when you’re putting plastic snowmen on the lawn on a 40°C day (over 100°F).

          I live in a predominantly Muslim area, but also close to a Buddhist temple. We have fireworks for Christian New Year (31st) but also Bangladeshi Independence Day (the 1st) and so on. So I’m far more aware of Ramadan (the main street turns into a pedestrian zone with food stalls every night) than Easter (spring buns in the supermarket?) But because Australia is a secular country we still only have Christian public holidays

        3. Me1980*

          Love the Winter Solstice lean in idea! Thank you!!

          I am SO done with the Christmas carols blasting through every.single.speaker. in I’ve started complaining to store managers. It is just obnoxious.

          And, if I were a christian I think I might be offended by the commercialization of what is supposedly a sacred holiday.

      2. OlympiasEpiriot*

        “New Year” is a Christian date. it is a direct result of the canonical calendar.

        There are other new year dates, from different religions and cultures.

        So, quite possibly, no, they can’t lean into “new year”.

        1. gyrfalcon17*

          Why do you think Jan. 1 as New Year’s Day is a Christian date?

          My understanding is that it was established by Julius Caesar, because of the Roman god Janus.

          Christians have attached a religious observance (which not all Christians even observe) to the date, but that doesn’t make New Year’s fundamentally a Christian or even religious holiday.

          1. Jessica*

            Yes, and when Christianity became the state religion of the Roman Empire, they continued to celebrate the new year on Jan. 1.

            And thus, the *only reason* it’s the New Year throughout most of the West is because they inherited it through Christianity.

            It’s a Christian date for the New Year, even if they originally inherited it from an earlier version of Roman culture.

          2. plonit almonit*

            The calendar we use was designed by a Christian church to figure out when the Christian holidays fall. Yes, other calendar traditions were incorporated into it. But forcing everything that happened before the miscalculated year that Jesus was born to run literally backwards is a constant reminder that this is an ecumenical calendar. Not all Christians celebrate Christmas or New Years. Not all Christians use the crucifix, but that doesn’t make it a non-Christian symbol, it’s just, well, #notallChristians.

          3. Salsa Your Face*

            The Jewish new year happens in the fall. There are other cultures beyond that who use their own calendar, either alongside the standard one or in place of it. Just because we mostly agree to stick to the same calendar for simplicity’s sake doesn’t mean that our standard calendar isn’t a Christian construction. This is just one more example of Christian hegemony–the centering of Christianity and Christian customs above all others, to the point where many or even most may not realize it.

        2. Project Maniac-ger*

          Ugh I had this conversation at a staff senate meeting.

          Calling what is obviously a Christian-centered break “Winter break” to secularize and then calling it good because “it’s also new years!” Is, IMO, not really inclusive.

          The office isn’t closing down for two weeks in February for Chinese New Year.

          If it was up to me I’d call for two weeks at the end of the fiscal year – that’s when I need a break anyway. Leadership has not taken me up on that idea :(

    2. Kirby*

      I definitely agree that focusing on a winter seasonal theme will remove all religious aspects while still allowing for a “festive” (but non-holiday!) mood. There are plenty of activities that can be centered around this theme.

      I would still want to participate in the cookie exchange, because cookies are for me even if not for everyone! But the point of a cookie exchange is that everyone will be making their own favorite cookies of the season and putting one in each person’s tin. Unless the school is planning to tell every single person that there can’t be Christmas tree or Santa cookies or anything affiliated with Christmas, you know that some of the cookies will be Christmassy. …Also, the idea that cookies are for everyone is just plain false. Anyone with allergies or other dietary restrictions would have to ask every single person to find out if they can eat the cookies. Anyone who can’t have sugar will be excluded. A cookie exchange isn’t inclusive. It’s fun, but acting like people who don’t participate aren’t team players is not a professional or inclusive look.

      1. Monty*

        I’m Jewish and I love baking and sharing food, so I give away hundreds of cookies at this time of year. I usually make mostly cookies specifically from my culture (rugelach, mandelbrot, etc.) and it’s always a huge hit– one of my friends was saying how much he appreciated having something other than sugar cookies and how fun it is to learn about my culinary heritage.

        I agree that cookie exchanges aren’t inclusive and are a massive problem for allergens and cross-contamination, but if you wanted to participate there are ways to disrupt the hegemonic Christianity of the event.

        1. feline outerwear catalog*

          I used to work in a Jewish sponsored organization and loved the goodies people brought in.

        2. M Dubz*

          1. This year I’m trying my hand at sufganiyot and I’m so excited!

          2. Christmas cookies are the last vestige of my Christian heritage (interfaith) I willingly do. And 90% of it is about making family recipes.

        1. Office Atheist*

          Celiac — I tend to be very careful about foods brought in by people. Not everyone understands that my being Gluten Free isn’t a fad.

          1. Admin of Sys*

            (I am committed to getting this stupid gf hamentashen recipe working by Purim this year, regardless of how many cans of poppyseed I go through)

            1. Anonychick*

              I can (hopefully) help you with this!!!

              This is the recipe I developed (well, adapted):

              Google “Duncan Hines hamantaschen” & proceed as directed, EXCEPT for the following:

              1) Sub one box Betty Crocker GF Yellow Cake Mix for the Duncan Hines cake mix in the recipe
              2) Sub your favorite 1-to-1 GF flour for the flour in the recipe
              3) Add one EXTRA egg (so three eggs total)
              4) Bake for ~10mins, instead of whatever the recipe says

              These make relatively cakey-style hamantaschen, ones I’ve been told by several non-GF people “don’t taste gluten free”!

            2. Biology Dropout*

              Oh! I have a really good recipe for GF DF hamantashen! It took me ages to perfect. Please remind me to post it on open thread.

      2. Fed*

        Agree! As someone with a dairy allergy I can’t take a chance on cookies. Also, many people dismiss it say just take lactaid – Uhh noo, I would need my epipen, it’s an allergy not an intolerance.

        1. Cyborg Llama Horde*

          And even as someone with only an intolerance — I’m sorry, but your cookies are not THAT good.

      3. SJ Coffee Adict*

        Yeah, what if you have a gluten allergy or are vegan? I would certainly just nope out of this as well. (and I have both no food restrictions and love to bake). If they want a cookie exchange, organize one with your friends or family. Even if you are into Xmas, a work Xmas related anything adds to what I feel is a super stressful time of the year already.

    3. Retail Dalliance*

      I love this suggestion. I am ultimately looking to teach high school at a public school and although I haven’t been hired by one yet, I have a goal of decorating my classroom according to the seasons of my region (weather/climate seasons, not religious seasons)! I think extra lights (including white string lights) can go at least a little ways towards warding off Seasonal Affective Disorder, which I think many northerners suffer from, but they also don’t scream “THIS IS A RELIGIOUS SYMBOL” (I hope).

      Side note–I would also like to actually BE a hibernating animal. :)

      1. Happy meal with extra happy*

        For what it’s worth, I think string lights in December are always going to equal Christmas lights, no matter the color.

        I personally don’t mind them, but I’m just one (Jewish) voice, and I totally support anyone who doesn’t like Christmas decorations.

        1. Observer*

          Agree with this.

          You want to do light for SAD, sure. But string lights are not the way to do it. And, actually white is probably the wrong color, too.

          1. Fiona Orange*

            What color should it be if not white? White lights seem like the most neutral color to me. However, I do know Jews who put up blue and white lights (the colors of the Israeli flag) in their window for Chanukah. Perhaps you could do red, white and blue lights if you’re in the US or UK, red and white lights if you’re in Canada, etc.

                1. debbie*

                  Canadians don’t really do the patriotic flag waving stuff. The Canadian flag’s adoption by anti-vaccine white supremacist extenuate during the pandemic has increased many people’s discomfort with the flag. There has been quite a bit of media coverage of the changing symbolism of the flag and the assumption by many that someone with a flag on their vehicle or elsewhere is probably a racist. It also may collide with the increasing focus on reconciliation with Indigenous people/awareness of colonialism that is increasingly part of public school curriculums.

                  Hockey and curling are also pretty exclusionary symbolism. I say this as someone who would never voluntarily do or watch either sport, but also because hockey is $$$ to play. Both are very white-dominated sports, and I would not expect these symbols to connect for many children.

            1. But Not the Hippopotamus*

              Please avoid this reasoning: “I do know Jews who put up blue and white lights.” This does NOT mean that all Jews are ok with it. I am not, for one.

              And making something blue or blue/white does NOT make it Jewish.

              1. SpaceySteph*

                Yes this. Someone somewhere along the line decided blue is The Official Color of Hanukkah (TM) and its super annoying that basically all Hanukkah merch comes in only in blue/white.

                Judaism and Zionism are complicated (especially this year). Also the idea that blue/white are the colors because of the Israeli flag is itself crazy… should all Christian holidays use the color of the US flag or the Italian flag* or the flag of the Vatican??

                *hold up, is this why Christmas colors are red and green?! Because if so that would actually be hilarious to this Jew.

                1. Admin of Sys*

                  Wait, is that why everything Hanukkah related is that color? wild!
                  Afaik the red+green was yanked from the celtic/germanic midwinter trads during the ‘eat all the pagan rituals’ timeline of Christianity invading Europe, but I am now going to adopt the idea it’s from the Italian flag, because that is indeed hilarious.

                2. Hiring Mgr*

                  For what it’s worth there are plenty of Chanukah related things are not blue and white for example, Menorahs, candles, gelt, the chocolate inside, Latkes, yarmulkes, and many others.

                3. Sal*

                  I think, fwiw, that the flag is composed of those colors because of their association with Jewish stuff (e.g. a tallit) and therefore the 19th/20th century Zionist movement and its flag.

                4. MikeM_inMD*

                  I think the red and green comes from the berries and leaves of the holly and its display by the Celts during winter. But, I’m not really sure (and I’m not convinced anyone can *prove* it one way or another).

            2. ScruffyInternHerder*

              One of my child’s teachers keeps a rainbow of string lights up during the whole school year. That teacher’s (English Language and Literature) classroom reads more “British boarding school common room as depicted in movies” between the decor and the lack of formal “desk and school furniture”, with lots of comfy seating taking its place.

            3. Old and Don’t Care*

              I think Observer’s point was that white string lights are not the best thing for SAD, irrespective of their connection or lack thereof to any religious or secular tradition.

              1. Allibaster kitty*

                you need actual sun lamp for SAD, unless they are referring to just something that makes you feel cozy or something.

                1. metadata minion*

                  Agree. Pretty lights are one of many ways one might try to add some cheer to the environment to help with mild SAD, but they won’t actually fix your body’s lack of natural sunlight.

                2. Azure Jane Lunatic*

                  My late dad’s DIY sun lamp equivalent was a 500 watt halogen work light on a stand, aimed at the couch from about 10 feet away. Worked fantastically. He’d turn it on in the mornings and have his coffee there before work.

        2. Silver Robin*

          The way that shifts for me is *when* the lights get put up. My example comes from city planning but I think it applies here.

          Some cities put up lights for Dec 1 or just around Thanksgiving, and that reads very “holiday season” to me, even if the lights stay until March or whenever.

          Other cities put up lights once it starts getting dark early (so usually when the time changes). Those might still be string lights, but they come out in neutral colors (white) at the same time that streetlights come on earlier. Then, around December, other lights go up and they get taken down in January. In those situations, the white lights read (to me) as more of a “it is winter, here is a cute way to put out more light for folks” and not “CHRISTMAS HAS BEGUN MFERS LESSGOOOO”.

          All this to say, that maybe putting up white or soft yellow lights (if the goal is to bring back reminders of sunlight) around Oct 31/Nov 1, when the nights are getting significantly longer and keeping them up until dusk retreats to a more reasonable hour might help code them as “winter lights” and not “Christmas lights”. This would be especially true if you swapped out the lights over the year for different colors to match the season (orange/red for autumn, green for spring, that kind of thing) but also, teacher budgets are small so no pressure there.

            1. birb*

              A lot of businesses in my city do this type of light. I also agree it doesn’t read Christmas at all to me, I’ve always assumed it was to make up for the fact that we don’t have snow this time of year.

            2. Freeforever*

              Trees have been covered with lights like that for Christmas in Hartford, CT, for the Festival of Lights since I was a child in the 1960s.

        3. phototrope*

          Yeah, I don’t disagree, necessarily, though I’m Jewish and personally love string lights at this time of year; it makes me feel happy to see them in public places. I guess I feel like both things can be true: lights definitely have a Christmas association in our current cultural environment, but also people all over the world have been using lights to brighten up the dark parts of the year for basically the whole time we’ve been humans, and there’s a reason a lot of us like them. I’m not really advocating for anything here but just giving my personal opinion. I guess I’m pro-reclaiming lights for everyone, maybe?

          Also, for what it’s worth, the classic oblong light bulb shape reads as more Christmassy to me than, say, those LED strings where the tiny bulbs are incorporated into the strand itself. The public library where I work put some of those up on our circulation desk and the primary feedback we’ve gotten is “Oooh, do those change color? Can they be purple tomorrow?”

          1. Mango Freak*

            I (a Jew) also just love bistro bulbs and wish I saw them more outside of weddings. I would be SO PSYCHED if they became the new non-holiday “festive winter” lighting.

            1. phototrope*

              haha same, I love those. One of my neighbors has a bunch strung between their house and detached garage (all year!) and I think it’s delightful.

          2. Captain Vegetable (Crunch Crunch Crunch)*

            I echo the reclaiming lights for everyone. It gets very frustrating that so many seasonal enjoyments are swallowed by the capitalist Christmas complex that none are left for the rest of us.

          3. Not A Raccoon Keeper*

            Yeah! The Jewish student society at the uni I work at was hosting weekly lunches that were alternately catered by Israeli and Palestinian restaurants (pre-COVID), as a way of coming together. At one of the lunches, a rabbi spoke about there being at least 19 major religions that have a holiday that celebrates light at this time of year. It’s a dark time of year in the northern hemisphere (where I am, golden hour starts at 3pm now) and lighting up the dark nights is a coping mechanism for a lot of us. I enjoy thinking about the ways my lights connect me to others across our hemisphere.

          4. M Dubz*

            Also a Jew who hangs twinkle lights on her house. It’s literally the Festival of Lights and I’ll be damned if I’m going to let the Christians have all the cozy outside winter decorations.

            Also Happy Hanukkah!

            1. Ghostlight*

              Reading this inspired me! My husband has been pushing for lights because he likes them and I was pushing back because #jewish. He bought them in hopes of me giving in and we now have white and purple lights and the blue ones will go up too and they’re staying up through January at least! (Or longer but I bet he’s going to make me switch to red and pink for Valentine’s Day.)

        4. Rocket Raccoon*

          I’m pagan and I put up white lights for Solstice. I do think that colored lights say “Christmas” but everyone needs extra light in winter where I live.

          1. Starbuck*

            Yeah, I put my lights up at the fall back time change at the beginning of November, because it starts getting dark at 5pm then. Right now it’s getting dark at 4pm! I usually keep them up until the time changes back in the spring, when the gloomy season feels like it’s finally ending.

          2. Zennish*

            Buddhist… I put up white lights for Buddha’s enlightenment (Dec. 8) and because I like lights. :-)

        5. birb*

          I feel this way about regular string lights (at least in the US), but maybe not the icicle ones if there’s a specific snowflake / ice theme and not any, ANY other Christmas imagery. I do think those are way more expensive though. Or if they’re done as stars on the ceiling with a starry night solsticey theme? But yeah, just putting up string lights in the traditional Christmas way and calling them something else has always rubbed me the wrong way.

        6. IneffableBastard*

          my string curtain lights go from November to March, because they help me so much with the shorter days in Winter, in addition to several table lamps and an ugly, huge SAD lamp contraption. But yeah, anybody who happens to see them in December will be reminded of Christmas.

      2. Letter Writer*

        Letter writer here. Thanks for the ideas. To clarify, I have no concerns regarding how to decorate my own classroom, plan themed activities, et cetera. I’m more searching for advice on how to navigate the Christmas inundation in every other part of the school.

        My room can happily feature snowflakes, sledding, mittens, et cetera. Same as we have suns in summer, flowers in spring, and leaves in fall. That works for my space, but doesn’t change the overall Christmas-centric practices of my workplace at large.

      3. Teacher372*

        I am not a Christian and am a teacher and I keep white twinkle lights up year round in my room. But they are for ambiance-just like the lamps I have in the room and the reading area. I also did this in all my dorm rooms in schools and I’d do at home if I could figure out how to hang them without it looking like a dorm room…haha! So, I think they could work if you didn’t only hang them in December.

      1. Marzipan Shepherdess*

        My holiday, too! But hey, we pagans are generous, right? We don’t mind lending the Winter Solstice to all the other faiths that are drawn to a midwinter celebration as the year turns towards the light. But I for one wish that Christians would stop appropriating the Solstice for themselves alone and insist that Christmas (which literally means “Christ’s Mass”) is secular while bedecking every spare inch of the office with Christmas symbols.

        And if this sounds Grinchy to you, dear reader, imagine for a moment that your colleagues all put up pictures of red and green dreidels all over the office, topped that off with a menorah holding red and green candles and then proudly proclaimed that THOSE decorations were both secular and inclusive. Ahh, no – they’d actually be neither! And, folks, neither is your Christmas tree or Santa Claus (named from “Saint Nicholas”), okay?

        1. Slartibartfast*

          Yup. As inclusive as my org is, and with all holidays of all faiths included with equal weight in the weekly newsletter, the solstices pass without mention, not even as an astronomical event. And there’s a 1 foot tall Christmas tree in the office, staff stockins, garland on my shared desk, and some objectively adorable candy cutouts all over, I feel more like I’m in a Candyland board game than an office. I’ll be participating in the office secret Santa, 20 dollar limit, and will bring a dish to the staff Christmas potluck. For all the corporate inclusivity, we’re still a rural hospital that happened to be bought out by a big city network. I’ve decided long ago work me isn’t me, she’s just a role that I play, and she stays at the office with the rest of the HIPAA compliance information in my brain. Maybe compartmentalizing isn’t for everyone but it seems to work for me. If I find myself chanting “serenity now” I’ll reassess.

    4. Letter Writer*

      Letter writer here.

      Thanks for the ideas folks! I agree that truly seasonal decor/activities are fine. At the moment, I don’t have any concerns about ways to decorate my own classroom, plan themed activities for my students, et cetera. This post is more about dealing with the Christmas overload in every other part of my workplace.

      My classroom can feature snowflakes, ice skating, sledding, hats/scarves/mittens, and other winter imagery. Just like we have suns in summer, flowers in spring, and leaves in autumn. But, that doesn’t do anything to curb the overall Christmas centric practices in the rest of my workplace or the pressure to participate.

      (And, I’ll agree that string lights do feel Christmassy, though at least less aggressively so than Santa Claus, Christmas trees, et cetera. Extra lights are nice during dark times of year, though.)

      1. Ms. Grinch*

        I just want to thank you for writing this letter. You have expressed my feelings exactly and I will be reading the comments for ideas.

        Each year I feel “grinchier” (if that’s a word) at Christmastime due to Christmas overload and because, as a Jew, I tire of explaining that Hannukah is in no way equivalent to Christmas. And do not get me started on the constant greetings of, “Merry Christmas!” to one and all with no apparent self-reflection that: (1) not everyone is a Christian; and (2) these folks would absolutely plotz were I to start saying “‘Shanah Tovah” to one and all during the Jewish New Year. I can’t even imagine how difficult it is for other religious minorities and I sympathize with them.

        1. Jo*

          Just wanted to share that learning the word “plotz” has made me very happy :) Also I find reading through lists of the (many) classic Christmas songs written by Jewish songwriters/composers to be quite satisfying.

        2. Grumpy Canadian - Not Sorry*

          I have in fact started saying Shanah Tova (or Chag Sameach, Happy Channukah, Happy Purim, Happy Passover, etc depending on when I am saying it of course) to people indiscriminately as a conscious attempt to radically flip this.

          I have many friends who do their Facebook greetings as “for those who celebrate” and I will do that if I am wishing Christish people greetings for one of their holidays, but I just say “Shana Tovah” (or whichever I am saying depending on holiday) without qualifying it for Jewish ones.

          In as much as I see coworkers because I work remotely, I do this at work as well as with my acquaintance , friend, and neighbour circles.

          It has ended up feeling very freeing.

        3. never mind who I am*

          No plotzing here–I go by the rule that if someone wishes me a happy holiday that I don’t celebrate, the proper answer is “Thank you! And the same to you!” Either that or my favorite reply, “Joyous winter holiday of your choice.” (I work in a place that doesn’t officially celebrate, but does announce/mention Yom Kippur, Chaunakuh, Eid, Diwali, and a few others.)

      2. LCH*

        instead of string lights, set up something that mimics the aurora borealis? probably too much work, but its a winter lights event.

        1. Admin of Sys*

          Ooh, I like that idea. I love twinkling lights too much to avoid putting them up whenever I have an excuse, but having something that evokes the borealis gets it away from any Christmas idea. Now to figure out /how/

          1. KaciHall*

            one of those projectors that have the obnoxious Christmas/Halloween lights but with gentler colors and less obvious images?

          2. L*

            They’re expensive, but Twinkly lights are programmable and look super cool! I think they have an aurora type pattern built in, or you can make your own. If you’re a particularly techy person you could also look into string lights that support the WLED app. Those ones end up being essentially infinitely customizable, though likely require some soldering.

      3. GrinchyStarbuxAddict*

        Oh thank you for writing this. Sometimes it feels very lonely being Jewish where I am and this year it’s especially true. I feel you so much.

        Bank? Restaurants? Stores? Dr’s offices? Multiple trees, santa hats, lights, presents, christmas wreaths, and assorted decorations.

        My sister and I text each other photos to play “Spot the ‘Hannuka’ decoration they put up to pretend they are including us.” It’s usually a blue ornament or something. It’s so isolating and I don’t think enough people realize it. Obviously most of the commentariat is aware but this isn’t the norm.

        My partner is Christian and used to think I was being a Grinch when we first started dating. Now he notices it and gets upset on my behalf. The other day he was in a zoom where the conference room had all the Christmas trappings and a TINY dreidel hanging from the tree like an ornament. He said he wanted to tell them it isn’t decorative and instead a way to gamble but he didn’t want to make waves.

        He and I agreed to both celebrate our respective holidays, but he only puts up the single branch Charlie Brown tree and its two ornaments. His mom got him that the Christmas right before she passed away. While it is clearly a Christian symbol, it’s also a sentimental item and it’s the only thing he puts up. He also managed to find string lights with menorahs on them to drape around the window where the tree is and my menorah goes.

    5. LCH*

      i just saw the cutest video about a cookie that looks like a frozen lake with some animals standing near it. when you break the cookie open, ice and a frozen wooly mammoth spill out.

      soo.. anyway.. what is my point? i dunno. winter.

      i think this right here is probably what you need to say to people more. it could be in a neutral or friendly manner. “don’t I know there are multiple holidays celebrated in December. Yes, I’m well aware. I’m working during a holiday I celebrate right now because we don’t get multiple weeks off school for my holidays…”

      1. SpaceySteph*

        If that holiday is Hanukkah (if its not, just ignore this(… I’d tread lightly on that “we don’t get time off for my holidays.” Hanukkah is a really minor holiday that doesn’t carry a prohibition on work and insinuating we need time off for it just feeds into the “Hanukkah is Jewish Christmas” trope.

        I’d rather have a long fall break for the high holidays than even a single day off for Hanukkah. I’ve had coworkers offer to take my shifts during Hanukkah, while completely ignoring the days off I do need in September/October.

        1. Kit*

          I agree about the need for time off, it’s not one of the Yamim Tovim, but I’ve been brought around recently on an argument that an exceptionally visible Hanukkah celebration is in fact in the spirit of the holiday for the diasporic community. Of course, given the rise in hate crimes it’s especially risky this year, so it’s not for everyone, but being overt about one’s non-assimilation into Christian cultural hegemony is in general possibly the most Hanukkah thing to do.

        2. Letter Writer*

          Letter writer here.

          To clarify, I don’t necessarily need or want time off for most of my holidays. Honestly, I’d love to see more just regularly scheduled not holiday specific time off at regular intervals throughout the school year, so we can all recuperate more often. The months long stretch between the start of the school year and fall break is a long time to teach small children without any meaningful time off and the short three weeks of school between fall (Thanksgiving) and winter (Christmas) break is a pain to schedule around. Mark me down in favor of week long breaks scheduled every two months or so throughout the school year and enough flexibility to let individual students and staff take personally significant holidays as needed.

          The only reason I mentioned working during my holidays, is because a frequent response I get to even gentle pushback that a “holiday” celebration is non-inclusive is the argument that there are lots of holidays this time of year and their holiday celebration is about all of them. That feels pretty meaningless to me when mine and others holidays go without mention even as they’re actively happening and every “holiday” activity is Christmas themed.

        3. M Dubz*

          Yes this. My husband once worked on Yom Kippur and then got multiple offers to take off for Hanukkah. ENRAGING.

    6. Umami*

      This year our holiday party was winter wonderland-themed (pale blue and silver) – we completely did away with any reference to Christmas, and people absolutely loved it. I don’t think they even realized it because it just looked so nice! It would be nice if the OP could get like-minded teachers together to start shifting the theme a bit away from Christmas in simple ways so that organically it will become more inclusive.

    7. Arabella Tarantela*

      Atheist here. I love this idea and used it every winter I was an elementary school librarian. I pulled every winter-themed book (Snowflake Bentley was a particular favorite) and put up book displays about how winter impacted animals, plants and trees, birds, and people. Students made snowflakes, of course, but my lessons and projects included dioramas of animal hibernation, cross sections of trees and what happened as the temperature lowered, what different parts of the world looked like when we were experiencing winter. This theme took me well into February when we made maps of bird migratory patterns and explored field guides. We also put up feeders for birds that didn’t migrate because food sources were really minimal by then. I also found like-minded teachers who may have had Christmas trees, but appreciated my tying my lessons to their science, geography, etc. instruction. I could go on, but I will say that no child ever asked me why I didn’t have a Christmas tree.

    8. fhqwhgads*

      Yeah, similar experience with head of operations “no I will not hang a stocking with my name on it on the wall of my cubicle, but if you want me to stick a snowman or a sled overthere, fine”. It… did not go over well, mind that conversation was 10 years ago. The extra stupid part was the CEO and second in command were (and still are) both Jewish too. It was extra frustrating.

    9. Teapot Unionist*

      When I taught (middle school, so the Christmas Crazy wasn’t as bad as in elementary schools) I threw myself a birthday party the last day before Thanksgiving break and the kids all got to frost their own cupcakes (I was a special ed teacher, so it was only 15 kids over the course of the day). Then, before winter break, we did a snowflake making unit on symmetry and made snowflakes. I would also do origami during that time for spatial awareness. None of it was tied to holidays per se, but it recognized that the time from mid-November to the end of classes in December is a shitshow in schools and everyone needs to mix things up and have some fun.

  40. BluRae*

    Whenever I get especially Christmas’ed out, I make up new (rude) lyrics to the stupid Christmas songs I’ve heard a million times already, and hum them to myself. It makes me feel all subversive.

    1. Kesnit*

      About 15 years ago, I got my wife 2 CD’s of “Solstice Carols” sung by the H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society. (All are parodies of Christmas carols – with the Dreidel Song thrown in – with themes from the Cthulhu Mythos.) Now when I hear carols, I sing the Cthulhu version in my head.

  41. BirdJinks*

    Based on my experience with these discussions in the past, I’d also encourage atheists who were raised christian to think several times before commenting. Many of them do not understand how it feels to be someone who actively participates in a different religion during the whole christmas season

    1. BluRae*

      Seems like the LW’s coworkers are basically doing the “But it’s cultural and secular!” athiest-Christmas dance already.

      1. Observer*

        Indeed they are!

        And I don’t think any of us, much less the LW, need to have an “explanation” of why we are wrong that CW’s are right. Which is what it comes down to.

  42. Goddess47*

    If you have a significant number of students who are non-christian, do you have standing/access/capital to talk to the PTO (or whatever the parent organization is called) and get them involved? This would work even better if the leadership of the PTO was non-christian themselves. But getting parents to deal with the the need to be more even-handed might work in your favor.

    Good luck!

      1. Caramel & Cheddar*

        I keep reading this as “Paid Time Off-active Jew” and want to congratulate you for taking all the time off you are owed as part of your compensation package. :D

    1. Letter Writer*

      Letter writer here.

      This is a great thought and I appreciate it. I definitely value PTOs and think they can make a big difference. The specific school I work at currently doesn’t really have a large or well established parent organization, but it is still a good tact to keep in mind for school communities that do.

  43. Lirael*

    I’d like to point out that as someone with celiac disease, the cookie exchange is so not “for everyone” either. People are just not thinking through these things.

    I work in libraries, and someone has always pushed for us to do a book tree, even though these have all been public institutions I’ve worked at, because somehow a Christmas tree made out of books is not really Christmassy. I don’t get it.

    1. Spicy Tuna*

      OK, I am not Christian but I do love books, so while I get your point, I also love the idea of a book tree!

        1. I Have RBF*

          Oooh, that would be cool, especially since the slang for paper books is “dead tree edition”.

    2. Slartibartfast*

      Oh they’re thinking it through, but what they’re thinking through is how to do the thing they want to do if they wrap ot in the right kind of bow

  44. Emmers*

    I think my longer comment got eaten but the gist of it is that we are having to pull our jewish 2.5 year old out of the daycare she has thrived at for the last 2 years due to these issues. Its exhausting and I naively thought that it wouldn’t be much of an issue at an urban PNW center. Center director has been…obtuse about these inclusive issues at best and now I have a toddler who is expecting to get some presents from Santa because shes a good girl…when hes not coming to visit. Feeling very Jew McScrooge about the whole thing but after going 4 rounds I cannot deal no more.

    1. Mark This Confidential And Leave It Laying Around*

      Awful. I remember my toddler being terrified that Santa was coming (he was not) and being afraid to go to sleep. She whispered to me, “He can get in! Even if you don’t have a chimney!” Like Santa was some kind of supernatural cat burgler in reverse. I can’t imagine what that Elf on the Shelf crap would have done to her! We talked about how Santa is an idea, and a nice idea, but in no way real and every adult knows it and yes, they’re lying to you. This is how our locks work. Would you like to lock up tonight? Man oh man.

    2. Mystery Maccabee*

      I’m so sorry you’re experiencing this. Trying to figure out daycare is always so stressful, even in an ideal situation, which this obviously is not. I don’t have any real advice for you, I’m sorry. My 3.5 year old is in a public 3K, and although his specific school is almost 100% Christian, the district as a whole is very diverse, and very conscious of inclusion. What works in our family is just to be very matter-of-fact that families do things in different ways. So, in our family we don’t do X (trick-or-treat, get presents from Santa) but we do Y (ingest truly insane amounts of candy on Simchat Torah, get presents from family on Chanukah.) Another thing that works in our family is that we go hard for all the Jewish holidays (I mean, and Judaism in general, our family is observant and I work for a shul) so there’s not really that feeling of envy or FOMO. All that said, your Scrooge feelings are totally understandable and justified. I hope you figure out the right child care solution and have a wonderful Chanukah!

      1. SpaceySteph*

        Seconding “go hard on Jewish holidays.” We’re not super observant, but I do every Jewish holiday with a bang.

  45. Tucker*

    I just wanted to leave a comment for people who have kids in public schools who put on Christmas plays, have Christmas sing-a-longs etc. PLEASE PUSH BACK, especially if you identify as a Christian/celebrate Christmas.

    I was horrified one year when we went to a “holiday show” and it was basically my kindergartener and her class singing overtly Christian-themed carols. It was awkward to be surrounded by Jewish/Muslim/Sikh parents while the kids were all prompted to sing these songs. I was mortified and ended up contacting the principal to express my displeasure considering there are so many seasonal songs that don’t have Christian themes.

    The more people who point out how this is unfair, the better. We need to get critical mass so that kids/teachers don’t feel obligated to participate or left out. My kids eventually ended up moving schools and at their new school they talked about the holidays of a variety of religions, which I thought was fun and educational. They also did winter-themed activities and not religious ones.

    As for the OP: I would love to suggest malicious compliance & have you 100% lean in to the less savoury – but still valid – traditions like Krampus and Mari Lwyd but I know that this doesn’t really solve your problem. But man, the look on their faces when you suggest you put “bad” children in a sack — priceless! ;P

    1. Honor Harrington*

      I love the recommendation to push back on anything to Xtian. I also encourage positive feedback on diversity. I used to be in a building with a large Indian population who did a giant Diwali themed potluck, with fasion show, decorations, contests, etc. It was one of my favorite things. The more we all publicly celebrate diversity as a good thing, the more others will come to think of it that way too.

      But do also remember that some people may not feel safe being open about their religious or cultural identity. I have Jewish friends who have become very closed off, given the rise of anti-semitism. As a pagan, I likewise say very little. I just don’t feel safe.

      1. I Have RBF*

        I work in tech in Silicon Valley. Lots and lots of companies have a Diwali celebration, with food and lights and all. I love it, even though I’m not Hindu.

        But as a pagan I’m not very open about my religion, because we tend to get as much or more shit from Christians about being “devil worshipers” as atheists do. Any religion not part of the Big Five (Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism) is smeared as “twisted devil worship” by a lot of people, especially those from the JCI three.

        1. GoingToHell*

          Jews get that too, at least I did my entire childhood. If you’re not Christian you’re going to hell and you’re the devil and you aren’t really a person and we don’t have to care because we believe in Gd so go away and stop living at us.

    2. Sleepy in the stacks*

      Yes, please push back. It is astounding to me how many public schools and teachers default to Christmas now. Growing up, we learned about all holidays as a unit and didn’t really celebrate anything in school (MAYBE had a “holiday pizza party” which is still not great because it was under the pretense of Christmas, but they still didn’t name it). Now I see people talking about their child’s teacher doing Elf on the Shelf!! I find that so inappropriate.

  46. Rocket Raccoon*

    I’m a pagan, we celebrate Winter Solstice. I live in a very Christian part of the country but very rural so we are a bit insulated just because we’re not around people so much.

    Mostly I realize that Christmas is just one more layer on top of Saturnalia/Yule/Solstice. The REAL reason for the season is surviving Midwinter and if the Christians need to give it their own name to cover their insecurity, fine.

    Decor-wise, I have kids and kids want to decorate, so we do lots of winter-themed stuff. Penguins, snowmen, snowflakes, greenery, berries.

    In my family we don’t get Santa presents, but we do “be Santa” for others as much as we can. Religious or not the story of St. Nicholas is a good one and I’m happy to steal their traditions like they stole ours.

    Because we are pagan I teach my kids a lot about seasonal change and ultimately that is what we’re her for.

  47. Harper*

    I’m also a non-Christian who isn’t fond of having Christian themes pushed on me at work or elsewhere. Honestly, though, I think your capital is better saved for other ways this shows up at work, instead of the holidays. I think it’s fine to point out the need for inclusivity – with gentle reminders – but I’d save the “hill to die on” conversations for things like banning books that represent different viewpoints, or overt attempts to evangelize staff or students. I think pushing back on “Christmas cheer” could backfire and take away from the importance of your message in other areas.

  48. Glorantha*

    In the past our office has done a few Christmas things. This year with have several new employees, they have decorated their doors with various other holidays (including descriptions of what the holiday means to its followers, and how it is celebrated):
    * Chanukah
    * Kwanzaa
    * Fall Solstice
    * Christmas traditions in their country of origin

    It’s interesting and fun. I’m planning on setting up a Festivus tree (with descriptions of the ‘airing of grievances’ and ‘feats of strength’, as well as the actual non-Seinfield roots of the Holiday (basically a rebuttal to commercialization).
    For those who think that “Religious Christmas” and “Secular Christmas” are easily separated, I recommend googling “Jew Who Has It All Christmas”. They assume that Christianity is a minority religion and that Judaism is majority norm. It is funny and really does a great job illustrating how we just accept Christianity being inserted into everything in December (well, and most every other holiday as well).

  49. Name*

    This is tough because a number of HR managers for school districts tend to be former campus admin who either wanted to be promoted or they needed to move the person out of the campus but couldn’t let them go.
    That said, try taking it to HR as a Title IIV and IX concern. The districts that I have been in have been very careful to make sure they are secular holiday parties, winter themed only. Someone can choose to wear Santa related attire to events but cannot be pressured into doing so. I would especially stress the Title IX part (protects against discrimination in education). For Title IX, you may have to take it to someone else (i.e. Associate Superintendent) depending on your district’s structure.

  50. Performative Gumption*

    I’m British Asian (in Uk Asian tends to mean South Asian FYI) and love celebrating Christmas. Love the lights, putting up a tree, time with family and friends, carolling, the parties – all of it!
    We also have 2 major Hindu festivals in the autumn that I love and celebrate too.
    My thought is just because you teach non-Christian children don’t assume that they don’t celebrate or enjoy Christmas.
    However if you don’t enjoy it you should not be forced to participate and I totally agree that acknowledging other holidays is equally important, especially those that your students would celebrate. I still remember being part of the Diwali assemblies we had in primary school as well as friends taking part in Eid and Pesach ones.

    1. Former Hominid*

      The issue is, that you HAD Diwali and Pesach and Eid assemblies- so what’s a Christmas one? In the states by and large except in a few more secular/diverse areas (and even IN those more diverse areas!) Christmas and Christian holidays are assumed to be the default and sometimes as with the letter writers example, other celebrations would NOT be allowed because THOSE religions are religions, while of course Christmas is “secular” (not).

      1. Performative Gumption*

        Yea that makes my mind boggle a bit that other religions are not acknowledged or allowed.
        I’ve grown up in London so I fully appreciate had I been in a small town or rural area I would not have likely had such a diverse experience either.

  51. BirdJinks*

    I once worked in an office where 90% of the people seemed to be in the same age range, lived in the same area, and had the same background. And it was the only dept I ever worked in in higher ed that made no effort whatsoever to pretend that their holiday festivities were anything other than Christmas themed. I only worked there one December, but I tried to bring up multiple times how their activities were going to make anyone who celebrates something other than christmas (like, say, me) unwelcome and othered. And they could never take the time to try and understand.

    The pinnacle, for me, was when they had a Christmas ornament exchange. When I tried to casually point out that not everyone has a tree (too subtle, in hidsight), I was told those people could just hang them on their wall.

    I’m so glad I wasn’t there long.

  52. Dot*

    Probably not helpful, but my way of dealing is to just withdraw and not participate. I guess it’s easier in an office environment than in a school, though. I’ve just hit the point where I am done trying to be the person spending energy on teaching others how to actually be inclusive. If they want to do the work, they will. It’s not like there is a lack of knowledge or resources out there.
    Until then, I am trying to care less about how I’m perceived, though it’s hard.

  53. Savoury Creampuff*

    I am here to commiserate rather than offer a real solution. But perhaps my explanation for my feelings would be helpful for articulating your position.

    For me, the explosion of Christmas stuff is less offensive than the attempt to label it secular in a bid at “inclusivity.” I love Christmas, and enjoy participating it in the same way I would any other religious tradition of which I am not a member. AKA I will happily attend a Diwali party, but it would be pretty weird for me to host one – even appropriative.

    But when you put up a Christmas tree and call it a “holiday tree,” you are erasing any other religious (or non-religious) identity in favor of Christian hegemony. You are suggesting that the ubiquity of Christmas has neutralized its religiosity. For so, so many of us, it has not. And saying “oh no it’s secular” is insensitive, not inclusive, because it declares our feelings illegitimate without any informed perspective.

    Those of you on X or Facebook should check out “Jew Who Has It All”, which is an account that imagines a US where Judaism, not Christianity, is the hegemonic religion. It is hilarious and infuriating.

    My offices in recent years have reverted to winter wonderland/alpine themes and I am very grateful. Snowflakes are beautiful, and pretty inclusive.

    1. Minimal Pear*

      “I love Christmas, and enjoy participating it in the same way I would any other religious tradition of which I am not a member. AKA I will happily attend a Diwali party, but it would be pretty weird for me to host one – even appropriative.”

      Thank you for this framing! This really helps explain my relationship to Christmas and I’m going to use it in the future. :)

    2. JustaTech*

      “But when you put up a Christmas tree and call it a “holiday tree,” you are erasing any other religious (or non-religious) identity in favor of Christian hegemony. You are suggesting that the ubiquity of Christmas has neutralized its religiosity.”

      Thank you so much. This really gets to the heart of the whole thing.

  54. Biology Dropout*

    Ugh, I am so sorry. As a Jew with kids in school, I share your exhaustion, especially this year when everything feels so fraught. I cannot believe they wouldn’t let you read a Passover book!! Did they ever explain why?

    I guess for me I try to pick my battles but go out of my way to offer ways to celebrate our holidays. And point out when things are NOT secular. Like I asked one kid’s school if I could bring in a book about Hanukkah, and I’ll do likewise for Passover… but sadly it doesn’t sound like that will work in your situation. Would something like the new book “Come and Join Us” (a picture book written by a Jew about all different religious and cultural holidays celebrated all year) be acceptable to read to your class?

    Also, just as a fist bump of rage, one kid’s school is generally good about being inclusive but scheduled their big event for tonight. The first night of Hanukkah. When that’s often the only holiday anyone even thinks we celebrate. Grrrr.

  55. Devious Planner*

    Commenting as a Jewish person who also teaches high school:

    I would suggest just responding to events by keeping it light and non-debatable. Secret Santa? “No thanks, I don’t celebrate Christmas!” Christmas party? “Thanks for the invite! I have to skip it.”

    For me, this is a nice approach because it doesn’t convey a message that “all Jews would hate to be invited to all holiday events.” I mean sure, I think it’s 100% inappropriate to invite Jewish coworkers to a Christmas bible study or whatever. But I would be happy to participate in a cookie exchange, and while I wouldn’t do a Secret Santa I know plenty of Jews who would! Lots of religious minorities have different boundaries around their beliefs, and I think it’s best to just focus on matter-of-fact exchanges.

    I also found that I was much more frustrated when I taught in a community that was 99% Christian/Christian-adjacent. Christmas was so annoying because it was just assumed on everybody and I spent so much energy pushing back on that. Now, I teach in a genuinely diverse community that includes a significant mix of religions (including many Jews). I find that even though there’s MORE Christmas in school here, I am not annoyed by it, because there are also plenty of people publicly celebrating Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Diwali, Lunar New Year, along with Eid and Ramadan (although those obviously shift with the calendar so they don’t always line up with the winter). I found it helpful to just name that pattern for myself: what I was really mad about how I was feeling isolated from others.

    1. Performative Gumption*

      I think this is such an insightful comment and I think gets to the nub of why the LW feels as the do.

  56. Sara*

    Also feeling very Jewish grinch this year! I agree with the commenter who was most disturbed by you not being allowed to read the Pesach book – that’s an ugly double standard, and I would be very upset in your shoes.

    That said, if you’re not sure you want to spend the capital, is there a kind of quiet quitting you could do around Christmas this year? For me, sometimes trying to explain why Christmas is actually never going to be secular (arggh) is such a draining, usually fruitless conversation that it can feel better just to opt out. It sounds like your colleagues aren’t really hearing you, anyway. Your mileage may vary, but if you’re getting drawn into explanations about why you won’t participate, it may be more self-protective just to offer a pleasant, “Oh, I won’t be able to do that. Have fun!” and then be politely distant and unavailable.

    Solidarity from someone who used to be a barista who worked Christmas day in my twenties. Oy.

  57. Office Atheist*

    Unlike C in DC (**waves**), I vocally remind people that trees/evergreens are a pagan tradition and that I celebrate solstice — a scientific occurrence. I lean into any decorations that talk about (1) weather (2) stars/twinkling (3) return of longer days (3) evergreen triumph of life over death!

    Many years ago at a different company, someone asked me what I was doing for xmas and I said “I don’t celebrate it.” She responded, “I didn’t know you were Jewish.” and I replied “I’m an atheist.” And her face just sank. She said “But… but… I thought you were a good person.”

    1. Spicy Tuna*

      O.M.G. – I am atheist raised by atheists and I can very much relate! People will “tolerate” other religions, even if they don’t agree with them, but atheism is a bridge too far for many

      1. Office Atheist*

        I think at one point there was a national poll that said Atheists were the “least trustworthy” minority in America.

        1. Sandi*

          I saw a (U.S.) national poll years ago where parents were asked what would concern them most if their child were dating a person who was “X”. They listed different religions, parts of the world, gay/lesbian, and a few others that I can’t remember. Atheism was the most concerning problem. I was pretty young at the time and until then I had no idea that my life was so controversial!

        2. AnonORama*

          I was asked by a very aggressively Christian acquaintance if I “even have morals” because I don’t believe in God/Jesus, and don’t fear hell. I admit to having retorted “I behave morally because I choose to, not because I’m scared of a lake of fire!” Rude, but it got the point across.

        3. pally*

          And yet, in my experience, those who have told me they are atheist or agnostic have been THE most honest, caring, community-minded folks I’ve ever met.
          (smart too)

      2. Weaponized Pumpkin*

        Once upon a time while online dating thing I chatting with a guy who decided not to meet me for t his reason. He said he could have accepted ANY religious/spiritual belief system, but not none.

    2. I've Escaped Cubicle Land*

      I’m so sorry you encountered that. Pagan here and i have a very uber christian relative that is always going on about how christian she is. But she is also the source of 75% of the extend family toxicity while my Pagan behind goes around being kind and supportive to others. That kind of behaviour is exactly why I stayed home this year and celebrated Wolfenoote (a delightful made up holiday) instead of going to the mandatory extended family feast. It also meant I got steak while they got turkey so win win for me. Also for the record can we all just admit how tired we are of seeing the Christmas stuff hitting the stores earlier and earlier each year?! I swear this year the Back to School Aisle already had a Hallmark section.

    3. I Have RBF*

      I replied “I’m an atheist.” And her face just sank. She said “But… but… I thought you were a good person.”

      What the fuck? So, to some Christians, if you aren’t a member of one of the book religions (Judaism, Christianity or Islam), or any religion at all, you aren’t a “good person”????

      I’m pagan. My variant doesn’t have commandments or rede’s or whatever as mandatory moral strictures. IMO, if you need a religion and its book to tell you how to be a good person, then you may not really be a good person. You can have strong ethics/morals without religion.

      1. Office Atheist*

        I don’t think she had ever actually met an atheist. She was a bit older, very southern, and probably not exposed to it. She was probably taught that atheists are devil worshippers out to destroy xtianity or something.

        And like quite frankly that’s a lot of effort and really terrible for my manicure.

  58. People Person*

    I am Jewish and I work in People – and I still struggle to find a way to push back on this. Like other commentators I focus on things that are literately of the winter season (snowflakes, snowmen, hot chocolate, twinkle lights around the top of the rooms vs on a tree, etc.) and yet…this all still feel Christian! Maybe it’s just the way that Christmas subsumes everything in this month and so winter decor somehow becomes Christmas decor.

    I like to push back on any Christmas events or themes by suggesting a theme that is more unifying – the end of the year. We keep the event focused on wins from the past year and what we’re excited for next year.

  59. JSPA*

    I’m from a mixed cultural background, so for me, it’s largely that I’m bothered on the basis of first principles, than that I’m personally wounded. That said, I have pushed back.

    I have found unexpected support among what used to be termed culturally-conservative christians (before that became a term that focused on a small subset of political stances not appropriate for discussion in this forum) or “hyper-traditional” christians. They might (or might not) want faith in the public schoools, but they can be very nearly as put out by the commercial, gift-focused (and pagan-symbolism-rich) “christmas-lite” that’s promoted in schools, as you are.

    “My faith tradition bans celebrations of commercial christmas,” for that reason, tends to get more traction than “I’m Jewish.” (Because Jews are presumed to be “approximately secular”? Or “reasonable”? Or “used to it, after all these centuries”? Or not to be catered to? Probably depends where you are, and who you’re dealing with.)

    Beyond that, pushing for more truly “seasonal” displays is my normal default.

    Snowflake cut-outs on windows, for example, are about as purely “we’re in meteological winter” as you can get (unless you are in the southern hemisphere).

    Making peace cranes (yeah, I know that it’s also appropriation, but at least it’s for peace) is another craft option; despite occasional attempts to brand “peace” as belonging to one or another culture or counter-culture, it really is a universal thing-to-be-wished for…and those who want to do so, can hang theirs on a tree as an ornament.

    Forcing paperwhites and amaryllis is a possible winter project for a classroom if you’re in a colder climate (not to be taken home, as the amaryllis pollen can be lethally toxic to pets, and find out about human allergies in advance, as those can also be severe).

    Sleeping bears and bear cubs in caves is an underused winter art theme of long standing, as is “flowers sleeping under the ground, waiting for spring.” (Flower fairies books were popular for decades.) “The first snowdrop” is another art prompt that is 100% seasonal, and 100% unobjectionable.

    New Year’s “looking forward to 2024” is an option for posters or writing.

    Advent-style, “counting down to the shortest day” calendars are a possibility.

    I’d probably bring Rugelach to a cookie exchange, and either explain that I keep somewhat kosher during the holidays (not actually true) or say that I can give gifts, but can’t accept them, for cultural reasons, when it’s done in the context of a Secret Santa swap.

    I’d personally be open to the idea that the Secret Santa and the cookie swap are indeed two different things, at least to the point of asking how they intend to separate the two. Your tolerance may well differ.

    I’ve had some success suggesting that the whole gift process could instead be re-branded as a white elephant exchange, minus the Santa aspect (that’s where you may find your most conservative fellow faculty and staff on board with you, if they’re heavy into “Jesus is the reason for the Season.”) But that’s because I’m one of those strange people who kind of enjoy long drawn out white elephant exchanges.

    “This is my annual cultural visit to Mars” is an attitude that gets a lot of people though the season.

    It helped me to see christmas as celebrated in Japan (1.5% Christian; all-in on christmas trappings) or Thailand (1.2%;ditto). China also has a “small gifts and romantic dates” Christmas tradition. This isn’t to say Christmas is, or can be a secular holiday in the USA. I’d say that it simply can’t be, in a country that’s nominally 63% Christian.

    But knowing that christmas functions as a 100% secular holiday for a fair chunk of the world’s population may help you to re-assess and re-triage “stuff that’s untenable” / “stuff that’s mildly irksome” / “stuff that’s no problem for me, personally, come to think of it, except that I’m already overloaded with stuff from the first two categories.”

  60. But Not the Hippopotamus*

    Honestly, in your shoes I’d be leaning into the “there are lots of holidays at this time of year” and run with it. Like “this week is X holiday week in my classroom, next week is Y” and make it really about the various holidays. I would pointedly make Christmas fall FAR from the 25th. Because it’s about the SEASON, right? ;)

    Also, maybe try suggesting things that make it less Christmas-y. Like, maybe suggest a theme like “international travel” or “cookies around the world” or whatever will etch away at the All Christmas All The Time. It will take time.

    Also, seconding things like making your classroom/decoration contributions be more seasonal (snowflakes, snowmen) and less holiday.

    An alternative – declare “I am just not a winter person. My December is themed “Winter in Hawaii.” And insist that everything be under the guise of “what would this look like in Hawaii/tropical locale?” Decorate with flowers and put a grass skirt on a snowman. Or, decide that you are doing a dry and hot theme and make it about cacti. Bonus points if you can tie this into curriculum (maybe something about opposites? Climate?).

    I’m lucky insofar as I can declare myself a “December Baby with Xmas issues” so people bug off more easily, but I shouldn’t have to resort to that.

    1. Observer*

      Honestly, in your shoes I’d be leaning into the “there are lots of holidays at this time of year” and run with it.

      Why? of the 11 December holidays (This year – some years it’s a different number), 8 are explicitly Christian. Of the 3 other, Chanuka is a minor holiday, and Kwanza is pretty much something that was developed to push back a bit on Christmas.

      The fact is the December is *not* “the holiday season” for many religions and cultures. So, there is nothing to “lean in to” here.

      1. But Not the Hippopotamus*

        I was being somewhat snarky. But I was more thinking like looking for ancient Roman holidays (I think Saturn has one in December?), the solstice, or things like International Cheetah Day. Obviously, you can stretch things out and start with Thanksgiving, add in New Years, or even choose to add in holidays that happen in the other winter months (President’s Day, Tu B’Shvat, and Eastern Orthodox Christmas if you want to blow some minds).

        I get it, I’m Jewish. I was due on the 25th and raised in a Christian household. I have ZERO love of this season! Heck, I told my team today that getting all excited about Chanukah is like getting all excited about Flag Day.

        But given how entrenched OP’s work environment seemed, I figured this might be an approach that doesn’t cost OP too much professionally, while making it a little less “Rudolph barfed in the halls” (props to whomever I stole that from elsewhere in the comments). Obviously, I’m playing into the false narrative, but Alison often points out that there’s what work SHOULD be like, and the reality is sometimes different.

        1. hollypolly*

          My guess: Advent, St. Nicholas Day, Christmas Eve, Christmas, Holy Innocents, Watch Night, and the Feasts of St John and St Stephen.

          1. But Not the Hippopotamus*

            Ok, but if we’re counting all those (and I was raised Catholic and haven’t heard of some of them), then we can add Rosh Chodesh and the couple Chabad recognized days in Kislev, the solstice, Kwanza, New Years, and call it even.

          2. JustaTech*

            Maybe Santa Lucia day? Also known as the day Swedish girls set their hair on fire wearing a crown of candles. (Not anymore, now people sensibly use electric candles.)

  61. Goose*

    LW, I feel you. This is exhausting and one of the reasons I’ve stayed in Jewish professional life so long. Everyone I’m emailing this week gets a “chag sameach”!

    As for advice, I would think long about if this is a “my boss sucks and isn’t going to change” situation. I know how tough it is in the public school world to stand up for yourself as a teacher, and if you’re not getting support from your fellow teachers either I would think about how much capital you want to expend “grinching.” There have been great ideas so far, but there’s only so much you can do as an individual. Take care of yourself outside of work, figure out how much energy you feel like expending, and count down the days until New Years.

  62. LemonDrops*

    I try to concentrate on others’ enjoyment and pleasure in their events and activities that are meaningful to them. Reframing it this way helps a bit. I also make sure I make an effort to do things that are meaningful to me (I am a naturist and do not align with any religion) so that I don’t feel overrun by others’ activities.

    It’s not an easy road for sure

  63. Mairzy Doats*

    As much as my workplace prides itself on it’s ERGs and being culturally diverse, they decorated the lobby with trees, lights, ornaments, wreaths, garlands, etc. When it was brought to their attention that the decorations don’t exactly reflect our diversity, someone thought to add menorahs to the existing decor. Totally missed the point. I cringe everyday when I walk into the building.

    1. Office Atheist*

      My office had “O Holy Night” playing in the lobby this morning. Sure it was an instrumental. But that’s what was playing.

  64. Vancouver*

    I used to work in an education-adjacent setting. Every year I curated a list of holidays and related celebrations from around the world. It started in the first day of our culturally-Christian holiday programming and ended when the holiday programming stopped in the new year. I wished everyone a Happy Fullveldisdagurinn, celebrated Abd al-Rahman al-Sufi‘s 1100th birthday, etc.

    If you want to – and this is a big if, since it’s extra work that your school presumably won’t be providing you extra support to do – you could talk to the kids about as many, or as few, of the other things happening in December as you want.

    Easy classroom activity:
    1) go to Wikipedia’s article for the date in question; you’ll find a list of historical events, birthdays, and holidays. Scroll through until you find something you want to share.
    2) print off a blank map of the relevant country or countries, a colouring sheet of the country’s flag, or something similar for each student. Fill it in together while you tell the students all the things you recently learned about [insert celebration here].

  65. phira*

    This reminds me so much of how my kids’ preschool sends out reminders that kids shouldn’t come in with Halloween costumes on Halloween because many students and their families don’t do Halloween (true!) and then my son came home one day in December with a jingle bell he’d made. Welp!!

    I don’t have a lot of advice to offer, except to validate your feelings. You are not overreacting or being a Debbie Downer or anything. There’s a lot of pressure to assimilate–to support and engage in the dominant culture (which is pushed as “secular”), while your own culture is treated as Other. You aren’t wrong or weird to push back on that pressure, and I’m sorry that your colleagues just will not take no for an answer.

  66. Goose*

    Also, “raised Christians now atheist” and “I celebrate Christmas but…”

    Y’all aren’t doing a great job taking a back seat here.

    1. Former Hominid*

      It’s so aggravating. If you were raised Christian, or even atheist but your family had been, you are a cultural Christian, just as Jews are culturally Jewish. If you’re Jewish, you’ll always be an other whereas if you were raised Christian you’re just the default. And then any pushback against that default makes us the whiners.

    1. Justme, The OG*

      I think the point is also that you should be able to get cookies even if you don’t believe in any god.

    2. FrivYeti*

      I would cheerfully grab Christmas-themed cookies offered to me, throw them on the ground, and crush them into crumbs with my shoes if I did not think there would be workplace consequences.

      I’m glad that you don’t have strong feelings about this, but a constant barrage of evangelism is actively exhausting to a lot of people and a flippant comment about not caring, frankly, only underscores that to me. This season reminds some of us that we’re outsiders, constantly pushes in our faces that our comfort is not a priority, and unites the bulk of an organization against our happiness. December is a hellish month in which I get a lot of practice biting my tongue for the sake of my workplace relationships.

      1. katydid*

        I don’t mean this in any sort of confrontational way, just curious– when you say “Christmas-themed,” does that mean any cookies proffered at this time of year? I’m not Christian (but I’m also not religious at all), but I like to bake gingerbread cookies at this time of year and I hope no one is experiencing my offering them as “evangelizing,” but I will certainly stop doing so if that’s how it’s being received.

        1. FrivYeti*

          Oh, no! Thank you for checking. I will happily accept gingerbread cookies (in person or round form), sugar cookies, snowflakes and the like. I don’t even mind if there are a few Christmas-themed cookies in the mix.

          It’s more when the cookies are *all* Santa faces or Santa-decorated gingerbread men or Christmas trees and ornaments that I start to feel like it’s moving from “happy winter cookies” to “oh, look, we’re back at Christmas”.

    3. watermelon fruitcake*

      As a non-Christian myself… I am nonetheless going to avoid this comment section because people get extremely hostile toward each other over the topic. In fact, I’m sure even you are going to get some nasty comments directed toward you for being flippant about an issue people clearly take to heart.

      But before I opt out, I do want to ask: what do cookies/cookie exchanges actually have to do with Christmas? I am not unfamiliar with “Christmas cookies,” as a thing, but I never thought of it as a “Christmas” thing. Now I find myself wondering how the tradition started and if there is actually a religious subtext (like with candy canes) or if it was some generic community-building or perhaps even Pagan origin that happened to coincide with Christmas, that got absorbed into Christmas and is now symbolic of it (like Christmas trees and yule logs).

      1. Casper Lives*

        Christmas cookies are specifically religious in origin.

        “ The tradition goes back to the monasteries of the middle ages where monks had access to sugar and the spices we now associate with Christmas cookies: cinnamon, cloves, ginger, and cardamom.” From the Grebes Bakery website but there are many historical records.

        I’d caution against saying something isn’t Christian because it’s pagan in origin. If it’s regarded as part of the religion by Christians, is meant by them to be Christian, and is in popular conscience as Christian…it’s Christian. I’m all for pagans reclaiming traditions but let’s not pretend here. (I’m not Christian)

        1. Dinwar*

          That’s…not inaccurate, but fails to convey the situation accurately.

          For example, “monks” didn’t have access to those spices. Benedictines did–Cluny was a huge, rich, powerful organization, with its own army–but Franciscans, who took the vow of poverty more seriously, certainly didn’t. Plus, not every monastery even in Cluny’s orbit was wealthy. Many monks had to make do with what they could raise themselves. Monks made cookies (well, nuns did most of it as I understand it, but monks did bake), but I think part of this was that monks had their own ovens. Ovens in the Middle Ages were largely owned by the guilds or the lords, and you had to pay to use them. Monks, being paid to pray for the nobility, got special dispensations.

          Further, those spices were also available to non-monk people. They were used medicinally, to rectify the four humors. If you were feeling hot and dry, you’d use cold/wet spices (like sugar, which was considered a spice at the time). The difference between medicine and food wasn’t a thing back then; your diet served as both. That said, spices were obscenely expensive, so rich people (who also ran pretty much everything) would feed them to their guests as a way to show off. Gingerbread was worth more than its weight in gold because of the spices involved, for example–you’d serve that to show how rich and powerful you were. Which was socially, militarily, and economically important, because it meant you were someone I’d rather be friends with than enemies. See “Tasting History” and “Modern History TV” on YouTube for some descent discussions on this, very accessible to non-history-nerds.

          “Cookie” and “biscuit” derive from the cooking method. It was literally twice-baked. Presumably this was a way to preserve the foods. Normal breads made with these ingredients would have a fairly limited shelf-life (contrary to popular opinion Medieval people didn’t eat rotting food), and drying it helped preserve it. You had to have the fires going anyway, for heat and light, may as well make the most of it.

          All that said….we’re talking the Middle Ages here. EVERYTHING was religious in nature. They lived in a world where religion was part of the fabric of society in a way that we simply don’t have today. Even how you arranged yourselves when eating had religious meaning. Disentangling secular vs religious roles in rule involved a holy war against an emperor, and that still didn’t totally settle the issue (see Henry VIII). Even kings would save up and only serve gingerbread and the like on special days, and those special days tended to be holy days by the Catholic calendar.

          It’ll take someone better at history, philosophy, and Christian theology than me to disentangle that mess. In large part because in doing so we’re trying to apply modern ideas to the past, which is always problematic. Also, you learn a lot of random stuff when you start digging into the history of food. Never thought that my interest in Hornblower would lead to an understanding of Medieval oven economics, but here we are.

        2. Lilac*

          Agree RE: paganism. I do think it’s important to acknowledge the fact that Christians didn’t actually invent a lot of the traditions we associate with Christmas, because it’s important to remember that 1) pagans exist, and 2) Christianity is not the be-all-end-all of Western cultural traditions. In terms of the way Christmas trees and yule logs are used in modern-day celebrations, though…yeah, most people are gonna associate them with Christmas and Christianity.

      2. Letter Writer*

        Letter writer here.

        If I’d just been invited to a cookie exchange, I’d be on board. I do tend to see an association between cookies and Christmas this time of year, but that’s certainly not the only context in which cookies are popular and, goodness knows, I like baked goods.

        I’m less comfortable with being pressured to participate in a cookie exchange tacked on to the already planned Secret Santa/team holiday party as a belated effort to be “inclusive.” From talking to a trusted colleague, I’ve gotten the impression this team get together is usually very Christmas centric. (I started here last spring, so haven’t experienced it yet myself.) I’d just rather sit out all together than navigate the weirdness of a Christmas party I’m already feeling pressured to attend, but, like I said, I do like my team so may end up participating just to keep the peace and enjoy time with my colleagues.

        1. Calico Tabby*

          I think that one of the challenges of discussing this topic is that while many of us feel Christmas overload, we don’t all have the same reactions to the same things. For example, I’m fine with proper Christmas carols in moderation, and I’m fine with lights and wreaths, but I cringe at a preoccupation with gift-giving and Santa Claus and pop rock Christmas music. Another person might be more comfortable with the gift-giving but less comfortable with religious carols, and so on.

          I was interested to hear that this is your first year at this job. Learning to navigate a Christmas-centric environment at a school is a long process, both because you need to figure out where your boundaries are and because it will take time for your colleagues to learn to respect them. The first year will be rough; I’d look at this season mostly as an opportunity to learn the lay of the land and decide how you want to handle things in the future. Looking back over my career, also in a school, I’d say that I struggled for the first 3-4 years, partly because I wasn’t sure how I wanted to navigate the season, but after that, it got easier.

          1. Jill Robinson*

            I am a Canadian teacher at an elementary school that is very multicultural – both staff and students. I wanted to share a perspective that never occurred to me before this year, when we were discussing whether to continue celebrating Halloween at school. One of the teachers said that she really appreciated celebrating Halloween at school when she was a child because it’s not part of her culture and she wouldn’t have been able to celebrate it otherwise. She said it actually made her feel included. This is similar to how I love making extravagant diyas for Diwali with my students because this is not a holiday my family celebrates and I wouldn’t get the chance to do it otherwise. Sometimes mindset can make a big difference!

      3. RagingADHD*

        There’s not a theological or official meaning, but different types of traditional “seasonal” cookies are very much bound up with religious symbolism, folklore, or subtext around Christmas. Kind of like how eating pancakes or having carnival on Mardi Gras / Shrove Tuesday is associated with Lent to use up all the yummy things before fasting. Pancakes and parades in general aren’t religious, but Pancake Tuesday is.

      4. BubbleTea*

        Part of the problem is that if it’s been adopted as a Christmas celebration, and it’s done only in December, then any claim that it’s a secular event is suspect at best. Exchanging gifts isn’t limited to Christmas, for instance, but I’ve never heard of a workplace-organised gift exchange in, say, September.

      5. feline outerwear catalog*

        In more recent history, my mom used to do cookie exchanges because it was a good way to get a variety of cookies to serve to guests. It was also an opportunity to socialize and share recipes for women, who at the time were expected to do homemaking things but also gave them a space of their own. Only the bakers attended the party and the family (usually) still got at least some of the cookies they brought home minus ones eaten at the party or for guests.

        It was Christmas centric as far as I know because all the people who participated wanted Christmas cookies, but it could be theoretically done for non Christmas reasons or other times of year. For them, I think it was also because it’s the only time of year you would have enough visitors to go through 3-6 dozen cookies.

      6. Random tuesday*

        while *cookies* are not specifically about Christmas, have you ever participated in a 28th of January cookies exchange? a 3rd of October? 17th of August? I’ve never had a workplace cookie exchange that wasn’t at *Christmas season *, so, whatever the origin, it is part of the cultural Christmas celebration.

        1. Lilac*

          I agree. The whole “we’re just having a celebration that happens to fall around December 25th, not a CHRISTMAS celebration” thing feels a bit disingenuous, especially since these just-for-fun-no-particular-reason cookie exchanges (or gift exchanges, or ugly sweater parties, or cubicle-decorating contests) seem a whole lot less common during the other eleven months of the year. Especially since OP said in the post (and upthread) that this particular cookie exchange was only planned when not enough people signed up for Secret Santa. Not much room for plausible deniability there, I’d say.

          I would be down for periodic cookie exchanges throughout the year, though.

        2. Dinwar*

          “I’ve never had a workplace cookie exchange that wasn’t at *Christmas season *”

          I have. Mostly around Thanksgiving, but I’ve also seen people participate in summer baking exchanges and spring ones and fall ones. Never got involved myself–I’m not much of a baker–but my wife has had me bring in a few pies and things. In the pre-Covid days the idea was “Any excuse to have some treats in the office”.

          I was in another office where the lemon harvest was a big thing. They encouraged me to take home sacks full of lemons. I don’t like lemonade and we can only eat so many fish; I just don’t know what to do with a five-gallon bucket full of lemons! Oak Heart rum, fresh lemon, and simple syrup make a tasty beverage, but you can only have so many of those.

          There’s also the county/state fairs, where bakers would practice and give stuff away so that they’d have the cookies (or pies or cakes or whatever) perfected prior to the big day.

          As Calico Tabby said, part of the problem here is that local effects are very strong. Weird quirks of one office may make a cookie exchange purely secular there, whereas it’s purely Christmas somewhere else.

  67. Yes And*

    I gotta say, my least favorite responses to these discussions is always, “Well, I’m not Christian and I don’t mind!” It’s like… good for you? Thank you for illustrating that different people have different reactions, and we shouldn’t create institutional responses around assumptions of participation or nonparticipation? How about using your position to help advocate for others who are outside the dominant culture (like you) and are exhausted by defending against it (unlike you), instead of siding with the dominant culture against your own people?

    On a completely different topic, if anybody is looking for good seasonal/holiday music that is truly secular, I recommend “Striking 12,” the New Year’s Eve musical by Groovelily.

    1. Mark This Confidential And Leave It Laying Around*

      Ooo, thanks for the rec. In this house, New Years is the big holiday cultural holiday, so this is perfect.

      1. Summer*

        As described upthread, New Year’s is a Christian holiday too – if I’m reading that section correctly, everything that keys off the Gregorian calendar is. Presumably a non-Christian holiday would be one that ran entirely on a non-Christian calendar.

  68. Jigglypuff*

    I manage a public library, and I have taken the opportunity as the manager to put a stop to the endless xmas shenanigans. Apparently the staff used to play xmas music at the circulation desk just during the xmas season, but no music any other time of year. I stopped that tradition, as well as any xmas decor around the library. We decorate with snowflakes and winter things, which are seasonally appropriate AND can stay up through February/March if needed.

    I did receive pushback from a couple of staff (one who argued that it was unfair that they had to be at work 8 hours a day and that during those 8 hours they couldn’t listen to xmas music, so they had “less time” to listen to it than others did), and some patrons complained, but in both cases I pointed out the libraries are for everyone and that not everyone celebrates xmas and even those who do can use a sensory break. If they want to see the decor and hear the music, there are literally hundreds of places in the community where they can do that.

    I do have staff who wear xmas sweaters and wish each other merry xmas and whatnot, but that’s personal choice and not office-led, so I always replay with happy holidays or blessed yule or happy life day, depending on how spicy I am in the moment.

  69. Baska*

    No advice, only support and solidarity, LW. I’m a Jew in Quebec, and have to suffer through the twin forces of the government saying “we are a totally 100% secular society” (which is why they’ve banned hijabi women from working in certain government jobs, because hijabs are a sign of religion, you see, and we can’t have the government promoting any religion) while also bending backward to celebrate Christmas, keep a crucifix in the National Assembly (“it’s an historian artifact, not a symbol of religion!”), and just generally being very “the religion we don’t celebrate is Christianity” kinda thing.

    I’ve been lucky enough that in most of my jobs, my colleagues are aware that I’m Jewish and don’t pressure me to join Christmas or Christmas-coded-“holiday” stuff (mostly), but society in general is so exhausting this time of year. From random cashiers asking if I’ve finished all my Christmas shopping yet, to the inevitable Christmas music playing in every public indoor space for two months, to the “holiday” (read: Christmas) displays, etc. It’s everywhere, and it’s exhausting, and it lasts longer each year.

    Again, no advice, just solidarity.

    1. MicroBioChic*

      “the religion we don’t celebrate is Christianity” is such a thing. I feel it to the bottom of my soul.

    2. ThisIshRightHere*

      Can you please help me with the “religion we don’t celebrate is Christianity” piece? Since this conversation has been all about how “we” normatively celebrate Christian-centric cultural phenomena, I feel like I’m missing something crucial.

      1. Goose*

        Hi! Please Google the phrase “culture is not modular.” The first link (a tumblr post) has an AMAZING breakdown of the concept.

      2. MicroBioChic*

        How I read it is places will say they are secular, but everything is still Christian coded.

        If there are company wide holidays, they are generally the Christian ones. Easter and Christmas break are huge things, especially in schools, but getting holy days off or accommodations for other religions requires jumping through hoops.

        Everyone acts like if they just replace the words Christmas with Holiday and Christian with secular they can still treat Christianity as the default.

    3. Sara*

      I’m also a Jew in Quebec, and I so feel this. It was particularly galling when our premier declared the Easter Bunny an essential service during the 2020 lockdown, shortly after banning hijabs for teacher and bus driver.

      That said, I really enjoyed the whole ‘bonjour ho’ debacle.

      1. Observer*

        That said, I really enjoyed the whole ‘bonjour ho’ debacle.

        Oh my! I just googled that and . . . I’m wondering if this was deliberate sabotage. Because I’m finding it very hard to believe that there is (was) not a single person there who is familiar with the English translation of the word.

        If this were a movie it would be hysterically funny, but lots of people would say that it’s totally not realistic.

        Thanks for the laugh.

  70. hollypolly*

    I wrote out a whole exhausted-angry screed (I am so tired of Christmas and it isn’t even for another three weeks) and then deleted it because no one needs that. I’m sorry you’ve got Christmas evangelists surrounding you; I think your best bet is probably to grey-rock it, always have an unspecified “conflict” for Christmassy nonsense, and stick to “oh, I’m not into Christmas stuff with other people, this is my time to hibernate with a hot drink and a cozy blanket”. I hate this is the best I’ve got, but when you’ve got people who are determined not to get it, this is probably the option that requires the least effort from you. Not no effort, but everything else is going to demand more.

    Happy Hanukkah to my fellow Jews who just want to light some candles and eat some fried food in peace.

  71. Roscoe da Cat*

    I think the best advice is to see if the parents could complain to change your present situation. I go to the house of people I grew up with (Catholic) to celebrate every year, so I enjoy the trimmings, but it can get very exhausting over the course of two months!

    I would also second the demand that we retire ‘But it has pagan roots’ because those traditions have been co-opted by Christianity for long enough that that argument only works if you are actually Pagan.

    1. I Have RBF*

      I would also second the demand that we retire ‘But it has pagan roots’ because those traditions have been co-opted by Christianity for long enough that that argument only works if you are actually Pagan.


      Pagans are trying to reclaim some of their traditions, so calling those traditions secular still isn’t right.

      Now, there are some things that are both secular and Pagan, specifically the solstices and equinoxes. Those four events are both physical phenomenon and religious celebrations, and you can celebrate the natural without the religious. But cultural stuff like harvest celebrations and winter feasts may or may not be tied in to a religion, so treading carefully is wise.

  72. Nep*

    I also avoid as many holiday celebrations as I can. I also get more irritated than I would like this time of year.

    My suggestion would be (since have no way to stop everyone else from trying to pressure you nor stop the incessant celebrations and you are specifically concerned about team connections), to wave off each attempt to entice you as professionally and cheerfully as possible. “Oh no! Thanks for inviting me, but that’s not for me! I hope you enjoy.” (Just as you’re doing)

    Then try to find some other part of the year to head a team event. “No thanks, this holiday cookie exchange isn’t for me, but I am looking forward to the chili cook off at the beginning of next fall” (or whatever idek)

    You’re not unreasonable, they are. And good luck in navigating it.

  73. Annimal*

    I live in Texas (aka surrounded by exactly what OP describes), and I become aggressively Jewish in December. A mini-menorah and dreidels in my cube, my Yiddish slang comes out, I talk loudly about the foods I grew up with and will make for Hanukkah. I don’t know if anyone has clocked it as the intentional thing it is, but it sure makes me feel better. :)

  74. Lily Potter*

    But I like my team, and I worry that by sitting out of these things I may alienate folks, come off as a stick in the mud, or miss valuable chances to connect with my coworkers.

    I suspect that your co-workers like you too, and that’s why they’re going the extra mile to try to include you with the cookie exchange. Go ahead and sit out those events that don’t feel right to you, but be sure to participate in as many of the non-holiday staff events/gatherings/parties during the school year as you’re able. Yes, even if it means going over to someone’s house on an evening or a weekend. GO. Make yourself visible. Show them that you’re NOT a stick in the mud, despite not doing Christmas.

    1. Amber Rose*

      This is not a great take. Please do some reading into how “not religious” Santa is, because you’re very incorrect.

      It’s also really not OK to suggest people should just accept that someone else’s culture be more important than their own.

      1. Sleepy in the stacks*

        Forgot to finish my thought on that first line lol.

        known for gifting poor families and children.*

      2. Cyndi*

        I could swear we’ve had three or four people this WEEK trying to argue that Santa is a non-Christmas-specific figure in the comments of various posts.

        1. Salsa Your Face*

          Especially when Santa is basically a metaphor for the Christian afterlife. Secular, my ass.

    2. Scintillating Water*

      Hi Canadian friend! It is true that many non-Xians celebrate Xian holidays. Some people really do see them as secular, others see it as a fun way to participate in a different culture, and some do so because of the immense social and cultural pressure put on religious and ethnic minorities to assimilate.

      Imagine that everyone around you assumed you would participate in American Thanksgiving, the Fourth of July, and US Memorial day. They’d expect your kids to learn about the pilgrims and make related arts and crafts. The entire month of June and first week of July would be a never-ending barrage of patriotic American songs everywhere you went. Even if you, personally, would find this inoffensive or even fun, I’m sure you know people who would feel like the whole thing was a little uncomfortable—I certainly know Canadians who find July 4th weekend to be deeply weird.

      As a Jew, it is very important to me that my people’s religion and culture be preserved. We have our own holidays that we celebrate (the most important ones are in the spring and fall). We have spent many centuries resisting the pressure to become more Xian and less Jewish, to incorporate more Xian customs into our lives, and to spend less time and energy on our own. It is genuinely exhausting to not give in. But I don’t want Hanukkah (a holiday celebrating militant anti-assimilationists!) to be more like Xmas, and I want people around me to understand that while their customs are great and joyful for them, they are not universal.

      In my experience, the people who grew up in other societies are more likely to be cheerful about participating in Xmas, because they didn’t spend their formative years trying to resist that assimilation pressure. And of course some people grow up interfaith, are converts who want to retain some of their childhood traditions, or just don’t really feel much attachment to their heritage. This is fine, and I don’t judge other religious minorities (including fellow Jews) for enjoying Xmas. But we should always have the option to gracefully decline.

      Finally, Santa Claus, aka “Saint Nick,” is absolutely a religious figure, and teaching my children to believe in him would in fact violate my religion’s prohibition on idolatry. (Other Jews are welcome to disagree! After all, two Jews=three opinions.)

  75. Scintillating Water*

    Oh I feel this so hard. I have the advantage of being visibly Jewish: I wear a kippah and magen David necklace to work every day, take Jewish holidays off, flex my schedule to leave early on Fridays, etc., so my coworkers know that Xmas stuff is a nonstarter with me. And I’m fortunate to be in a work environment that is very international and multicultural, so I’m not inundated with Xmas the way many people are. But it still gets exhausting.

    One way that I mentally deal with it is by being really clear to myself that Xmas is not secular, it’s a religious holiday for a different religion, and then trying to adopt the sort of benign paternalism that some Xtians adopt towards my culture (and others) back at them. I smile and nod at people’s Xmas talk while internally (silently!) thinking, “you hang things on trees? how charming!”. People asking about my Xmas plans get a blank look and a “oh no, I’m not Xtian, it wouldn’t be appropriate.” This strategy also works with my hippie coworker who believes that Buddhism is secular. But I don’t know how well it would go over in a place that leans evangelical, where even polite interest could be taken as an opening for witnessing.

    (I do show up for the holiday dessert exchange, because some of my coworkers are very good bakers and I am easily bribed with sweets.)

  76. MicroBioChic*

    I’m so sorry you are dealing with this. The place I work (large production facility) has so much ‘Christmas but we call it Holiday’ stuff. This is my second (and hopefully last) December here and I’m already so exhausted.

    I don’t want to participate in Ugly Sweater Day. I’m dreading the office potluck. The ‘everyone in the lab wear Christmas clothes the week before’ is just ugh.

    Last year, and hopefully this year, I skated by with minimal participation. For Christmas dress up, I wore a red and green crab pin. I told everyone who asked me where my Christmas clothes were that it was Stabby, the Christmas crab. He’s red, he’s green, he’s holding a knife! I balance things by how much it will irritate me vs how much push back I will get for not participating with a side of how realistic it is for me to “forget.”

    My sympathy to OP, working in a school environment has got to make it a lot worse.

  77. Office Atheist*

    Isn’t “F*ck we survived another year of this” a good enough theme for any party? Like Festivus with less complaining and more fetal positions.

  78. Donut Enjoyer*

    LW, that sucks, I’m sorry. It sounds like my usual solution (which is to introduce non-Christian holidays when they occur) might not work for you, given the amount of pushback you got about Pesach.

    Is there anyone else you could make common cause with? Even if it’s not in your building, could you find other teachers / families in the district who celebrate other holidays and focus on them? If your school is being a dick about what you do in the classroom, I wonder if they might respond better to “I’m helping this family celebrate Diwali” or “Let’s make sure at least some of the food here is halal for the kids who need it.”

    My very great sympathies. It’s exhausting. I hope you have a wonderful time with the holidays you do celebrate. I will be enjoying some sufganiyot tonight!

  79. NCA*

    For what it’s worth as a Jewish person, I’ve had some luck with showcasing Christonormativity to people by reading them selections from the Jew Who Has It All social media account. It’s posts based around the premise of a Jewish-majority alternate universe America, where things like all the kids making “holiday huts” around Sukkot are of /course/ secular, normal, and not at all related to any holiday. And a ‘small conifer’ will be set up next to all of the wonderfully secular menorah displays in the corporate headquarters. It’s a wonderfully twisted look that helps Christians see just how baked in their religious traditions are to the cultural majority (and that we Jews can get a particular kick out)

    1. Napkin Thief*

      That page should honestly be required reading for American Christians (I am one!). I thought I was already pretty aware/sensitive to my religious privilege (especially since a number of my other identities are marginalized), but it was really eye opening to realize my awareness only scratched the surface.

  80. thatoneoverthere*

    I worked at large Jewish non-profit for many years. This time of year was mostly focused on “end of the year celebrations” and overall winter theme. Since the organization was large, most end of the year celebrations, were done departmentally and usually in Jan. I am not sure if it would work this year, but next could you ask for a more winter theme to Dec? Perhaps request that some parties have an end of the year vibe instead of holiday?

  81. nora*

    I’m Jewish and Israeli and I lost my veteran-of-the-Yom-Kippur-War father in September so…everything this year is hitting me HARD. I work for a state government agency in an area that hasn’t gone fully red hat yet so the end-of-year stuff is at least nominally secular. Even so, of about 250 employees, I think there are 4 of us.

    My rabbi advised me to just Be Extremely Jewish at work. When I take off for holidays, I tell people why (I used to just say “personal day”). I talk often about my family traditions and I plan to wear my ugly Hanukkah sweater to the end-of-year luncheon. I’m heavily involved with my agency’s DEI initiative and try to insert my perspective into event planning whenever I can. Basically I do exactly like the Christians do. It’s very fun.

    1. AvonLady Barksdale*

      It’s so sad to me that it wasn’t until recently that I felt comfortable putting, “I will be out of the office today for Yom Kippur” on my OOO message. And I’ve always considered myself to be Extremely Jewish– I feel more strongly than ever that I need to be as out as humanly possible. Wear that sweater proudly!

      When I worked in an office, I brought food in for every holiday. I’m fully remote now so no one gets latkes this week, and I feel very bad for them because my latkes are really, really good. As are my hamantaschen.

      I’m sorry about your father. May his memory be for a blessing.

    2. Roland*

      I have also started being more explicit about it in recent years. It does feel kind of powerful.

      I’m very sorry for your loss.

  82. Orange You Glad I Didn’t Say Banana*

    I’m pagan and I focus on saying what I DO celebrate: Winter Solstice. I’ve found it goes better if people don’t feel like I’m being “left out” so I over emphasize my own holiday.

    My approach is intentionally cheerful in tone. I say things like, “Oh! Thank you for inviting me to the Secret Santa. I don’t celebrate Christmas; I actually celebrate the Winter Solstice. I hope you have fun!”

  83. Stuckinacrazyjob*

    Oh I think thats so cute for her classroom. I might have to adapt that idea of what have yiu learned and what do you look forward to

  84. FormerLatinStudent_CurrentAtheist*

    Here’s how you can affect change: go bigger than they do, in the most sincere way possible.

    Next year, celebrate Saturnalia. A 7-day festival dedicated to Saturn, the Roman god of the Harvest. Embrace all the traditions of Saturnalia: gambling, masters serve the slaves (or teachers serve students), the King of Saturnalia (the precursor to the tradition of the Lord of Misrule), feasting, toga-wearing, etc.

    Then use it in the classroom as an example of how religions spread, through cultural appropriation, proselytism, and fanaticism.

    You will make some people mad, but others will revisit their so-called “holiday” traditions.

  85. anon teacher*

    No answers here, just a fistbump of weary solidarity from a fellow non-Christian in K-12 education. I don’t even mind a lot of the trappings when it’s just me – twinkly lights are pretty, and I’ll eat cookies any time of year – but it is absolutely infuriating to see it centered in a public school setting. Classroom parties, hall decorations, “secret snowflake”, sending the chorus students around the building to sing carols…separation of church and state? What’s that?

    I don’t do anything to celebrate Christmas in my classroom, and I will admit that I’ve gotten a very petty sort of glee from responding to colleagues asking, “are you going to [do a secret santa / sing carols / etc.] with a blank-faced, “well, I don’t celebrate Christmas, so…no.”

    Depending on your district and your administration, you might have a chance to push back by framing this as an equity issue, since that’s absolutely what it is…but from what you’ve said of your district, it seems like you might not get much traction there. In that case, I’d echo Goose: this is a situation that sucks and isn’t likely to change. You are well in your rights to push back, but you’re also allowed to decide that you don’t have the energy to engage with it and focus your efforts elsewhere.

  86. anon for this, as looks like it's not only me.*

    I have put 2 hours into listing my coping suggestions here, only to have them removed.

    As someone who lost 80% of my family in the Shoah, and considers myself more culturally Jewish than anything else–even if I’m from a mixed marriage–it lands as one heck of an F. U.

    The short version is,

    1. “there are seasonal things (in the horticultural and astrological sense) that have rarely or never been co-opted into Christmas; find them, and double down on that.

    2. a subset of hard-line religious Christians are just as leery of secular Christmas; I have found allies in unexpected places.

    3. One can’t have a Christmas party, and brand it as secular, despite all the standard Christmas trappings. But one can have an end-of-year or end-of-semester party with some other theme.

    Too bad all of the details were thrown out with the bathwater.

  87. Food motivated*

    I ditto the “I show up for free food events” and nothing else, but my current workplace isn’t overwhelmingly festive. I run into more out in the world — although a previous coworker was over the top.

    That being said we did have a “end of year” party witch was clearly a Christmas party, they even wish us merry Christmas at the end and I just wish they’d stop saying it’s not — but I digress.

    The problem definitely seems to be the coworkers. But also the insistence that clearly religious things aren’t religious. Which is awful, I’m so sorry you’re going through that.

    A few situations/things I’ve done to cope in the past:

    At a previous job where the office next to mine played christmas music all December and got aggressive when I asked for it to be turned down I put together a playlist of the few Christmas songs I like, a bunch of classical music, and like carol kings Chanukah prayer and played that to drown her out. Made it seem like I was “participating” while keeping my sanity.

    Have created reward bingo cards for myself, where like options are things you hope don’t happen but expect will (wished merry Christmas, see eight Christmas trees, told “the reason for the season”, told Santa isn’t religious, etc) and when I get a bingo I get to get myself a little reward (sushi for lunch, buy that new top I was looking at, etc). I’ve done lines get a little reward and blackout gets a big reward too. For me this means sometimes I’m like “okay, if I just get one more person to wish me merry Christmas I get sushi, cooome on I want sushi who is going to do it” and changes the dread to more of a game.

    Good luck.

    1. Deb*

      I just wanted to say I LOVE your bingo. That’s a great idea for anything you can’t control being subjected to. :)

      1. Food motivated*

        Thanks! I’ve used it for a lot of different situations and find it really works for me. Also, I have a lot of fun decorating the physical bingo board (although you can also just use excel or even a scrap piece of paper).

        I can also be fun to do with someone else (going to visit grandma and knew our right wing aunt and uncle would be there too, me and my immediate family would each have our own bingo card).

  88. AnotherOne*

    I live in NYC so my office is pretty mixed- meaning we have at least 4 Jews (including me!), one person whose husband is Jewish, a Muslim, and an atheist- and that’s my specific knowledge of people’s religious beliefs in our 60 person office.

    We decorate for both Christmas and Hannukah. (Though our happy holidays sign has been known to include everything from Festivus to Chinese New Year (February counts as winter) to Krampus or anything else I can think of.) Which still means people who don’t celebrate either are stuck with office decorations for the whole month of December. But the decorations are limited to 2 areas in the office. When you walk in off the elevator and a sign by where people put out baked goods.

    We don’t do a Christmas party- it’s a holiday party because NYC. So not shockingly we don’t do a Secret Santa. We do a yankee swap/holiday gift exchange. But it’s all voluntary and people are reminded that it’s optional. (Just like coming to the party is optional.)

    I will admit I enjoy Christmas stuff. I had to do all the Christmas things as a kid and beyond getting sorta frustrated around 12/13 with it being all about Christmas, it didn’t really bother me. (My 8th English teacher got to hear my opinion on my being expected to write letter to Santa v. 17,000th.)

    I love Christmas decorations and Christmas music and the smell of Christmas trees. But it may be because my interactions with them are solely voluntary. I don’t work in offices where they’re being forced on me. I get to decide how much or how little Christmas is in my life or my apartment. (None in my apartment- unless the tiny felt tree from target next to the felt deer counts.)

  89. This one feels real*

    This is a timely question for me. My workplace had a family holiday party yesterday evening, except it wasn’t a holiday party, it was a Christmas party. All Christmas decor, all Christmas themed crafts, a visit from Santa, etc. This is in a diverse city with a diverse staff. Based on life experience, I had expected the party to be majority Christmas-themed with a small nod to other holidays in the corner. But no. I grew up Jewish in a very non-Jewish area and had many experiences of being excluded as a child. I did enjoy the occasional chance to participate in Christmas traditions since we didn’t do that at home, and the world is saturated with it. My 4-year-old was excited to participate. My 6-year-old was quiet and pensive. I asked her later why she looked sad, and she said, “There’s nothing here that’s me.” Oomph. So much for excitement. I explained that since we’re in a minority in a country where most people are Christian and celebrate Christmas, this will happen often, and we can enjoy other people’s holidays and celebrate at home. The executive sponsor overheard this exchange and was profusely apologetic, which was weird and awkward, because I had to smile and pretend to be fine when I was actually sad and angry for my kid.
    Advice: The people who see Christmas as the default or as secular are never going to get it. You can explain once, but then don’t waste your energy. Bring your own decorations. See if parents of other faiths want to fill in. A mom in my kid’s class did a presentation about Diwali, which my kid came home raving about. Is this more emotional labor for us, the minorities? Yes, but no one is going to look out for us except us. If we do nothing, nothing will change.

    1. Biology Dropout*

      Yea to all of this, and I’m so sorry about how your 6 year old feels. It’s so hard with kids.

    2. AgreOnlyIfSafe*

      be careful, though. we moved to Pennsylvania from NYC before I started first grade and did a Hanukkah presentation at school that year. Thus started years of violent and pervasive anti-semitism. Whereas when I was in fourth grade another Jewish family moved in and didn’t tell folks they were Jewish and, despite having very Jewish names and looks, no one ever caught on and they were left alone (they correctly assumed we knew and we discussed it a few times). So, yes, in theory I agree, but five year olds also deserve to be safe and also not gave to deal with stuff for the entire rest of childhood because of a decision to be open about who they are made by their parents when they were five.

  90. Still an admin*

    I haven’t gotten all the way through the comments yet so sorry if this is unnecessary.
    I haven’t been anything like christian for a good 30 years – a fact conveniently forgotten by my family every winter. I am kind of fortunate in that, although I live in a catholic-dominant area, my department is biology so not exactly overrun with the religious. Still, the chair is planning a “holiday” party that I have already heard referenced as a christmas party. It absolutely will be as her spouse is quite christian. She isn’t, though. I will go to that one for other good reasons. I will also go to the free lunch banquet tomorrow because it’s free and I can sit with friends.
    I have drawn the line at the interdepartmental over-the-top christmas cards that will start coming in campus mail soon. Cheeses me off especially at the money spent by the top dogs on foil-lined envelopes with VP names printed (not written) inside. I have one door that I tape them to in case someone checks and they get trashed at the start of the winter shutdown. I don’t think the heart-felt greetings from auxillary services and the budget office are especially missed.
    I will not send any out and no one has ever mentioned it. I may send out solstice ones in my last year before retirement, if I make it that long.
    No decorations here but we go all out for halloween. It isn’t loved by all but enough of us do love it and the students very much look forward to it that blowing the budget there saves me from any so-called holiday party.
    I also have become very open about not being christian and therefore not wanting gifts. It’s a moment of awkwardness sometimes but it passes.
    As for winter festive decorations, I only do that at home where I have been working on an all season tree mostly for solstice. I am collecting and making sun ornaments. The tree is a cut invasive elm in a bucket on my front porch and I keep my solar twinkle lights on it year-round and have for at least 5 years now. It’s nice to have that to focus on when otherwise surrounded by shiny red and green stuff
    I have not made my peace with the ubiquitous christmas music though. It gets so very grating!

    All this to say that you have my sympathies! Do what you can to keep it out the spaces you can control and keep reminding people (smiling helps) that it’s not your holiday.

  91. Wowzers*

    OP, this is so rude, and like so many others have said, alarming that you are being told that religious things are secular and that you are not allowed to expose children to age appropriate books about non-Christian religions. To me that really raises to the level of the union (and perhaps getting an opinion about whether this is an OCR complaint). As a parent of a child in public school, I’d really want to know!

    For the social aspect of your conundrum, do you have a colleague who celebrates Christmas who could be an ally? Another voice who says hey y’all, let’s respect their desire to participate without being weird about it? or even better, motivates people to recognize these other ‘winter holidays’ that are being nodded at or states the simple fact that Christmas cookies can’t be relabeled as secular?

    No great advice – but I do think the level of what you describe is over the top. That is a lot of staff time and effort put into parties and celebrations.

    1. Student*

      Just FYI – the US Supreme Court has ruled that crosses – the thing that Jesus was crucified on and that symbolizes Christian faith – is a secular symbol. It was a 2019 case for the American Legion, regarding a cross on public land that was erected as a WW1 memorial.

      So the school lawyers are on more solid ground than you might otherwise think to say that Christmas trees are likely, legally, secular symbols. My vague recollection is that you have to get all the way to actually depicting Jesus or a Christian-specific theological figure (like a saint or something) or passages from a religious text before the law will step in – which is why manger scenes DO start triggering legal scrutiny when trees don’t. Santa often gets a pass, unless he’s going by Saint Nick.

      It’s all very transparently BS to legally elevate Christianity above other religions. It’s not fair, it’s not with the spirit of the law. And it’s not going to change in the US any time soon, so it’s best to be practical about picking your fights well and carefully.

  92. Yule Howser*

    I’m non-Christian Gen X American who attended public school, so I was brought up making Christmas crafts, singing Christmas songs and having Christmas parties/assemblies throughout K-6th grade. It didn’t make me a Christian, though I did develop a secular attitude towards it. If we learned about other winter holidays, it was usually because our teacher celebrated it themselves, and it was always fun to learn something about them, get to do a new kind of craft or play a new game, enjoy new cultural treats, and be read new stories.

    All that to say – if you have the bandwidth–I would consider seeking outside legal advice on being explicitly told you cannot read your Jewish story to your class. That seems like direct religious discrimination, especially partnered with the overtly Christian celebrations happening throughout the school. If 5 decades of immersion in American Christmas culture didn’t make me a Christian, children hearing/reading a few picture books on other winter holidays/celebrations is highly unlikely to result in any conversions.

    I wonder if the local non-Christian community of parents would be willing to organize around this–not to stop the Christmas stuff, but to actively include more of their traditions?

  93. Dee Engineer*

    Since I don’t celebrate Christmas, I don’t attend office Christmas parties, Secret Santa gift exchanges, or tree decorating events. At my children’s schools, I tried to help organize book fairs, poetry readings, and other fun events that weren’t connected to any religious holidays. Did some co-workers or other parents try to force the issue? Yes! Did we ignore them? Yes!
    (BTW, their are Christians that don’t celebrate Christmas nor Easter and have these struggles too)

  94. Student*

    For me, it helps to reframe these transparently Christian-focused events in my head. Instead of thinking about these things in terms of, “Do I need to suck it up to suffer silently through another holiday-related thing for somebody else’s religion?” I ask myself, “Can I take advantage of this religious event for any of my own secular needs?”

    If the answer is no – there’s nothing in it for me – then I do not attend.

    If the answer is yes – and my secular needs can be interpreted broadly – then I go. Do I just want an excuse to socialize with co-workers? Do I actually think this specific event is good for professional networking? Do I want to taste my co-worker’s chocolate cookies and get some free novelty candy canes? Maybe I do, sometimes! Maybe I don’t.

    If the answer is that I’m unsure, then my personal default is to go once and see if the event is something worthwhile in the future that I can take advantage of. I’m an atheist, so from my specific faith, I’ve got a fairly thick religious-impervious shield in terms of how I feel attending other people’s religious events impacts my own religious practice. If I had a different faith, then I’d probably try to decide whether my default was to go or not go based on my own faith’s tenants and relationship with other religions.

    I am also relatively open about the fact that I’m not Christian with my co-workers. I’ll happily tell them “This is not my holiday, but thanks for thinking of me and have fun!” to brush them off about it if they try to pressure me, and I’m happy to just shrug off people who try to get fussy about it.

    I know (from painful personal experience) that this isn’t viable everywhere for everyone. In those situations, I still do whatever I think is best for myself, which can include lying or sucking it up to be at the Christmas party to avoid religious discrimination and keep getting my paycheck.

  95. David Rose*

    Longtime reader, first time commenter, hopefully no Schitt’s Creek fans beat me to the punch here.

    I work in a similar environment (lots of work with the public, including with children) in a small town that LOOOOOOOVES Christmas. And I know how you feel. Some thoughts:

    -You said at a previous job you got in hot water for reading about a Jewish holiday, but you’re in a new place now. They might be amenable to you keeping say, a menorah in the classroom (I’m assuming you’re Jewish based on the fact that you said Pesach instead of Passover, apologies if I’m mistaken!) or leading some activities about world religions around this time. It doesn’t hurt to ask. I feel a little better about the constant Christmas overload when I know that at least there’s a menorah there.
    -Advice that is also more helpful if you’re Jewish but might apply even if you’re not: bringing in alternate food, like sufganiyot (sp? you know, the jelly donuts) or latkes (or something else from your culture–or Mom’s recipe for carrot cake or anything!–if I’m completely missing the mark here), unrelated to the cookie exchange. It’s a great way to start conversations about your own culture, which again can counterbalance things a bit.
    -For the cookie exchange: I’d throw some Pillsbury chocolate chip cookies in the oven and just grin and bear it. Unless you have a supervisor or HR person you really trust to be sensitive, who you can forward that strongly worded email to and say “hey, this isn’t OK.”
    -At the end of the day, you can’t keep work from being overwhelmingly Christmas, so focus on the things you *can* control outside of work. Blast heavy metal in the car to and from work to drown out the carols. Get more involved with your religious or cultural community. Kvetch to friends about

    BTW, I’m not a fan of all the replies about how [insert Christmas thing that is in every Christmas advertisement and Christmas pageant and Christmas carol and–] is actually not related to Christmas or Christianity at all. I mean this in the nicest way possible, but fish don’t often think about the fact that they’re surrounded by water.

    1. David Rose*

      I forgot to conclude my conclusion. Was supposed to be “Kvetch to friends about the Christmas overload. Remind yourself that in a few weeks this will all be over and you can move on to New Year programming.”

    2. Roland*

      The fish analogy is so true. Wish some of these people understood that their “non-Christian” – cultural Christianity without believing in god/Jesus – is not the same as “non-Christian” meaing actually being from a different cultural tradition. And no, being atheist doesn’t free you from this! I am both an atheist and a Jew. My atheism has nothing to do with my annoyance this time of year. Culture is much broader than just if you believe in god.

  96. Mrovka*

    I lived in a nominally secular but majority culturally Muslim country for three years. Being in the cultural/religious minority was very eye-opening, especially to the Christmas juggernaut. It felt odd not to hear or see anything about Christmas in December, when we were used to EVERY TV show in the States with the “very special Christmas episode” or someone “learning the true meaning of Christmas”.

    1. TinaT*

      Agreed! I think many Americans could benefit from moving abroad and living somewhere they are the minority, to experience this from the other side. When I (atheist) lived abroad for a number of years, I felt very uncomfortable with the way that country’s religious holidays/practices were pushed on me there, too. I think people in majority/organized religions around the world tend to center themselves and their culture without regard for the minority groups around them, which is a shame.

  97. Jiminy Cricket*

    As a Jewish person, starting right after Thanksgiving, I slap a big smile on my face and say, “No, thanks, I’m good!” on repeat. It does wear me down, but I don’t entertain discussions about it. “Not for me. Next!”

    And, really, I don’t begrudge people who celebrate Christmas the joy and magic of their cultural season. (Okay, I try not to. I’m working on it.) So, I try to bring the joys of my cultural and religious practices into the workplace when appropriate. No, I do not want to participate in a cookie exchange in December, because it is not my tradition. (And it is about Christmas. It is.) But I will bring in hamantaschen come Purim and matzoh toffee come Pesach.

    1. SpaceySteph*

      Yeah this is pretty much where I’m at. Around Christmas, if I can’t steer something to a more secular thing, then I just say no thanks and move on. I do try to play up the other Jewish holidays– honey cake, hamantaschen, cheesecake, etc.

      For example, my work unit is doing a door decoration contest. I was gonna sit it out but my office-mates really wanted to do it, so I steered them to a “winter wonderland” theme (nixed the hearth with stockings idea they initially floated– we went with snowflakes, cozy hats, etc) and participated. We’re also doing a “each team decorates a Christmas tree” and I am just gonna sit that one out.

      Honestly I’m at my wits end in December anyways because its cold and dark and there’s so many days off school which is so hard for a 2 working parent family with no local family, and I really cannot squeeze in any more energy for all these “holiday but really Christmas” things anyway.

  98. anon24*

    I always have been willing to be seen as the company grump and flatly tell people that I don’t celebrate Christmas, I flat out hate it, will not be involved in your celebration or eat your cookies and am always willing to remind people that not everyone celebrates for various reasons. I’m a hard working person who gets along with most of my co-workers in all other aspects, so this is one of my hills that I die on. Although when I ran EMS on Christmas I did usually call county dispatch at the end of the shift and wish them a Merry Christmas. It just felt right.

  99. AnotherSarah*

    Hoo boy, yes. I’m on maternity leave now, so seeing this less, but it’s hard. I volunteer in in an elementary school and a teacher just commented on how my baby’s (rainbow) hat is “so Christmasy! I mean…wintery!” My older kid (3) is just starting to ask questions, and I’m trying to let my answers to him guide what I do–tell people we love their decorations, admire what our friends do for various holidays, and say things like “our big holidays are in the fall and spring, but your lights/cookies/etc. are lovely.” I actually love Christmas when I can just observe it, but I honestly appreciate much more when people say “merry Christmas” rather than “happy holidays;” the false inclusion just bugs me so much. (Hence, “my big holidays are in the fall and spring–but enjoy yours!”). This year especially. And this year especially, it’s not a hill I feel like I can die on, as it were, given the threats to safety.

    1. AnotherSarah*

      I also realize that my preference for honesty (Merry Christmas over happy holidays) isn’t everyone’s, and that’s fine! And also that my preference puts me in league with a lot of folks with whom I REALLY disagree.

      1. Dinwar*

        I say “Happy holidays” because I prefer honesty. Yule is one of the holy days for me, so why shouldn’t I include it? It’s not the most important, but it’s not insignificant either.

        There’s also a timing thing. At my job the time between Christmas and New Years is absolutely dead, due to weather. You can’t drill under three feet of snow or when it’s too far below freezing (the fuel gels in the lines of the drill rig, if nothing else). So everyone saves up their PTO and uses it then. “Happy holidays” is a polite way of saying “I’m not seeing you until next year”. Most are Christian of some type or another, so most will celebrate two holidays before I see them again.

        To be clear, I’m just saying how *I* do things. I don’t object if someone says “Merry Christmas”, “Happy holidays”, or “Enjoy the family”; that they are wishing me well is the important thing as far as I’m concerned.

        1. AnotherSarah*

          Oh I get it–but I don’t think that the closures, the parties, etc. are for yule. Or any other holiday other than Christmas (and maybe New Years but that’s also not my holiday?). That’s what I meant by honesty–the structure of everything is Christmas.

  100. BellyButton*

    It is so frustrating that an elementary school is behaving this way. Kids, more than anyone else, need to feel included and need to be represented and recognized. By doing that when they are little, maybe in 20 yrs we won’t be still having these discussions about this.

    As adults we have the ability to understand all of it, we aren’t happy about it, and it s*cks, but we at least get it and can do something about voicing our opinions and feelings. Kids just try not to draw attention to their differences.

  101. Sabrina*

    My kids daycare does something I love, shift their big party to New Years Eve. They acknowledge all the winter holidays but the party kids dress up for and get special activates/snacks/projects is News Years. They wear fancy cloths, decorate, have a dance party, it looks like a lot of fun!

  102. ThisIshRightHere*

    I’m guessing my comment (and my reply to someone else’s) was stuck in moderation or removed because I said that I am a Christian [who for religious reasons does not celebrate Christmas] or possibly because I mentioned the non-Christian roots of the holiday which actually preclude, not permit, my celebration of it. I believe I drafted it before Alison pinned the “if you are Christian…do not join” warning which is more exclusive than the “non-Christmas celebrating” description at the end of the OP-which I definitely fit. At any rate, I was just hoping to let the LW know that they are not alone and to highlight for other readers how aggressive workplace Christmas celebrations can be damaging to a wider array of our colleagues than we might assume. Best wishes to you, LetterWriter!

  103. JustAJew,ALonelyJew...*

    As an adult now working from home, I don’t have to deal with much Christmas stuff anymore, thankfully. Though my org closes for the week between Christmas and New Years which is very annoying to me, because that’s the last week I’d choose to have off of work. And then I look terrible if I say anything about a paid week off.

    BUT. For anyone reading this who does do Christmas, or thinks it is neutral, or whatever, and you work with kids or in schools: please, please tone it down. My strongest memories of kindergarten are being uncomfortable and being excluded. Started with my mom’s ire about the school Christmas pageant that I participated in because I didn’t know better/what it was. When Easter rolled around, my mom demanded I not be forced to participate in the celebration. Which meant myself and the other Jewish student in the K classes staying back in the classroom with a classroom aide, who complained the entire time that we were making her miss the fun.

    Don’t do that to kids. They can celebrate their holidays at home or in their houses of worship or at, say, every freaking store or public place. Make school safe and welcoming and comfortable.

  104. Zennish*

    For me, the trick is simply realizing that things don’t have to mean the same thing to me that the mean to others, and vice versa, and that’s okay. We each create our own reality through how we choose to view things. I’m happy any time there are decorations, lights, parties, food, and people putting extra effort into trying to be nice to each other. It’s really irrelevant to me what meaning others are investing in it. I just wish them all the best, and hope they enjoy themselves, whether it’s Christmas or Kwanzaa or Yule or Bodhi Day, or whatever.

    And if a cookie happens to be shaped like Santa Bodhisattva, I eat it just as mindfully as I would any other cookie. :-)

  105. Heather*

    What do schools do for the end of the school year or homecoming? Do they do silly dress week? (mismatch day, pajama day, twin day, Movie Day, Crazy Hair day, etc?) If so, why can’t the things we use to let off steam be neutral?

    For a business, do an office decoration contest with a theme like: Summer or Desert or Yacht that are neutral but still bring some joy and festive vibes into the workplace.

    I for one, would love to see businesses and schools do a teacher/office luncheon a few different times for the month rather than a whole party. Maybe have a hot cocoa and cider day for the staff. Things don’t have to be Christmas but they can still be decorative and fun.

    1. AnotherSarah*

      This feels so important…winter can be HARD for a lot of people in terms of weather and light, and stuff that brings light and warmth in is generally appreciated by all as long as it’s not tied to a holiday! Most of us need to beat the winter blahs occasionally (often) and a fun office activity that accomplishes this would be so great! People who think that light=Christmas lights are lacking creativity!!

  106. AnotherSarah*

    Also, on a more practical note–a person I know got her kids’ school to switch certain activities around. So instead of putting a wish for (the world? next year? I don’t remember the details) on an ornament, they put them on hearts and hang them up on the wall…stuff like that. So many things could be totally un-Christmas-centric without losing the point.

  107. Sea Lady*

    I am an atheist and grew up celebrating Christmas in a very rural, white and Christian part of Colorado as a cultural tradition than a religious one. Nowadays I re-orient the celebrations of this time of year around the winter solstice and my family did that too as we got older as kids- always had a solstice party on the solstice, etc. As an adult I have misgivings about all of the religious aspects of the holiday but as someone who loves nature and the outdoors I have transformed this season in my brain to all these things being ways humans deal with the waning light approaching the solstice and a way to keep “hygge” and joy generated at a time when the northern hemisphere is so dark. That all being said- you are in the right to be able to opt-out of Christmas crap at work. I frequently opt out of religious things and you kind of have to just develop a tough skin of being firm but kind with people that they’re welcome to do their own thing but it’s not yours. Frequently they’re the ones who feel uncomfortable with it and it’s not your problem.

    While summer is my favorite season, I second commenters here on focusing on the natural world- forest creatures, bears hibernating, snow, the twist of the earth on its axis and how plants and animals rest. (A skiing/snow sports-themed classroom would be so fun!) I also view this time as a regenerative one and do indoor stuff that is conducive to this restful and dark period like baking, cleaning, crafting, focusing on storytelling (reflecting on the year, reading, watching shows, etc.) and taking stock of the last year.

    I also do not send Christmas cards but a few years ago started sending happy new year cards which are so fun- then I can put a photo from any time over the last year on it that’s not christmas-y and wish people a wonderful next year of life, versus just a happy one day. I’ve had friends keep those cards up on their fridge long past when the Christmas-themed stuff comes down and it’s fun to share something special that happened during the year.

    1. peggy's mom*

      I love the idea of sending new year cards! What a great way to celebrate the good things in the previous year with your friends and loved ones :)

  108. sbk*

    My religious lineage is half Jewish, half Christian, although the second someone blindly assumes that I celebrate Christian holidays, what I immediately say to them is that I am Jewish. They shouldn’t be assuming! For the most part I just accept that we live in a Christian dominated society, and not only that but it is often easy for Christians in this country to go their whole lives without even questioning that, and that I’d tire myself out long before that changed. Sometimes what I do on a really small scale is to play dumb about Christianity, mirroring the tone of someone who hadn’t bothered to learn about a Jewish holiday before, like “so you’re saying this Jesus guy was God’s son and then he died and came back to life?” That might be pushing the boundary of rudeness and certainly depends on how much you think you can get away with, but I feel that in some way I am pushing back on the assumption that Christmas is the default and really, that’s how a lot of Christians act toward my holidays anyway.

    Sometimes I don’t like when Hanukkah is overly recognized, it can feel tokenizing, as if they have recognized another religion so now we can have as much Christianity as they please, or when they try to draw an equivalence between Hanukkah and Christmas. (As if it’s just Christmas with a different name.)

    1. Emily of New Moon*

      “That might be pushing the boundary of rudeness and certainly depends on how much you think you can get away with”

      For the record, I’m Christian and I wouldn’t find that rude at all. Unless they did it in a mocking way, i.e., “You’re stupid if you really believe that stuff.” THAT would be offensive. But I’d welcome the opportunity to tell other people about my religion if they were genuinely curious and asked respectfully.

      1. KA*

        Agreed! And to an outsider it seems like an outlandish belief, lol. So the incredulity is inoffensive if it’s genuine.

        1. fhqwhgads*

          Kind of like Olaf in that Frozen “holiday” special – which btw is totally a Christmas special with passing mention of other traditions and drives me nuts – but there’s a scene in which he says to a family “ok, so you cut down a tree and then decorate its corpse?”

  109. Student*

    I’m taking advantage of this post to kvetch about my own work’s Christmas overstep this year.

    I work at a federal US government office. This year in December is our 5-year anniversary of being a federal Office, per when the law authorizing us was signed. Our current leader suggested that we celebrate our 5-year anniversary (good) by combining it with an office Christmas party (bad) in the week before Christmas (lots of federal employees out on holiday, so also bad). They took a public (bad!) poll about whether to combine the two events, and it was about 86% in favor. Of course I voted against, but after seeing the 86% in favor results, I didn’t have the guts to bring up the obvious issue for non-Christians.

    Luckily, somebody probably stepped in to complain, or one of the office lawyers may have spoken up, and they silently but conspicuously decided to just throw two separate parties. Unluckily, the Christmas party is getting more planning and attention out of the two, but… small victories.

  110. MailOrderAnnie*

    O yeah… I am a fellow sufferer of the “But it’s CHRISTMAS!” stuff. I am Jewish and no, it isn’t a Hanukkah bush, Christmas trees are not secular, and this whole time of year can make me very uncomfortable. I don’t want to be a downer or spoil anyone’s fun, but I am not Christian and I don’t want to participate in all the reindeer games.

    I tend to hang back, devise reasons why I have to get home and can’t attend the party/sing-a-long/etc. I wear my Star of David everyday and politely tell people that I am not participating in the Christmas activities, but I wish them a Merry Christmas and a very Happy New Year. And, if possible, I put up a small menorah on my desk/in my office.

    1. Just Ugh*

      I was telling a colleague about how I used to love having the opportunity to work on Christmas day both because I would get a meaningful day off without using PTO and it was often my most productive day of the year because I was left alone and had no meetings. She just kept saying, “But it’s CHRISTMAS! How can you work on CHRISTMAS?” The fact that Christmas is not a meaningful day to me wouldn’t sink in. This is also when said colleague learned that people celebrating other religious holidays have to use PTO to get the time off. She was shocked and appalled, which I appreciated.

  111. Jiminy Cricket*

    From Alison’s linked article:

    When people assume Christmas trees are inclusive or universal in some way, that’s what’s alienating, not the tree itself.

    Yes. This. Have your Christmas! Don’t pretend it’s something else.

  112. pally*

    I can relate to the OP’s feelings on these things.

    Was raised in a Baha’i home. No Baha’i holidays this time a year. And there’s no one gonna be interested in celebrating Ayyamiha in late Feb and Naw Ruz on the 21st of March. We got presents for both!

    We were taught to be respectful of all other people’s religious beliefs, traditions, etc. So as a kid, I mostly kept quiet and went along even though I felt like an outsider all the way. If there had been any teachers who did not want to partake in the Christmas ‘doings’, I wish they would have made it known. I would have felt less different.

    But still. Even as an adult I feel awkward when asked things like:
    “What are you going to do for Christmas?”
    “Got your tree yet?”
    “Got all your Christmas shopping done yet?”
    “Are you gonna decorate your office/house for Christmas?”
    “How was your Christmas holiday?”

    Or any assumptions about participating in the activities: “Let’s all sing Christmas carols!” “Come to my Christmas tree decorating party! Bring an ornament.”. Not real sure what all to bring for an ornament. Pretty sure there’s a weight limit for those.

    A noncommittal response to the questions usually suffices: “Oh I had a quiet time over the holiday shut down. Thanks for asking.” “No, not gonna decorate cuz it’s too much work to take it all down later on.”

    Booze is another thing I do not partake. But have received as gifts. Be gracious, thank the giver and regift. I do make it clear not to serve me alcohol. That used to garner quite the side-eye. Folks are more accepting these days.

    I try to look on these things as social gatherings and not events with religious undertones. And I decide just what all I wish to participate in. Given all the stress folks seem to be under with these Christmas holidays, I make it a point not to get stressed out. It’s my little revenge.

    I do enjoy all the decorations and lights. Those are fun to look at.

    Not keen on the barrage of Christmas songs on the radio. It’s too much!

    1. Another academic librarian*

      yep that’s me- any mention that perhaps the Christmassy stuff isn’t in the spirit of our Diversity and Inclusion mission and goals make me the barrier to fun and joy. So my strategies have been to host and pay for the end of the semester celebration lunch for staff (after taking their special orders) and toast the graduating interns and student workers.
      I just opt out of everything else with a no- thanks, I have other plans.

  113. Keyboard Cat*

    I have been feeling similarly to LW. This year, a new hire in my office decided that she’s going to put up Christmas decorations in the office, wear pajamas to work (?) once a week, and other things. Each one of these actions has been proceeded by her coming to me, the only-non Christian on our team of 7, and asking with very intense concern if I would be offended if she brings cookies to the office, ect. She’s putting on a performance of “inclusivity” that just makes me feel like I’m the obstacle to joy and fun that everyone resents

  114. Lisa Simpson*

    My sister had this problem at a school she worked at. It was a majority non-Christian Title 1 school, so a) most of the kids did not celebrate Christmas and b) most of the kids that did celebrate Christmas were not going to be receiving a mountain of luxury gifts from Santa because it was not in their families’ budgets.

    And yet the school decorated itself up like a mall, and spent the entire month of December focused on “What gifts is Santa bringing you?” and carols and Christmas movies.

    She was duly horrified at everyone’s lack of professionalism: she was the only person who saw anything wrong with it, and it had a fairly large faculty/staff.

  115. mytummyhurtsbutimbeingbraveaboutit*

    Vaguely Jewish here. I’m. It very religious but I’m protesting Christmas by getting super into Hanukkah. Basically, trying to be as anti-Christmas as I can be while technically “still in the holiday spirit”.

    Basically, challenge yourself to subvert the system in a way that’s undetectable to those who are really into Christmas. It allows you to participate in the activities in a not-Christian way. Malicious compliance can be fun!

  116. PB Bunny Watson*

    I would actually LOVE to see “Christmas trees” become secular. I really want people who don’t celebrate Christmas to embrace them and call them something like “Holiday trees” since technically the Christians stole them from us (pagans). *side eye*

  117. Office Atheist*

    The subthread involving this comment was closed — but I just want to say that I find this comment really off the mark “If you were raised Christian, or even atheist but your family had been, you are a cultural Christian.”

    For some of us there’s trauma with how religion was forced on us in terms of belief and daily life. Some of us have worked very hard to distance ourselves from that trauma.

    Just asking for a little more awareness and empathy here.

    1. Becca*

      It’s not that it isn’t traumatic or that people might not sympathise but that is a different kind of trauma from that experienced by people raised in non-Christian religions in majority Christian communities, feeling excluded and othered, which is who this thread is intended to help.

      Many of those people have commented that the kind of tactics like focussing on the solstice/pagan features of the celebration are unhelpful as those traditions are just as “other” to them as the Christian traditions (unless they are actually pagan).

      1. Office Atheist*

        Alison wrote, “Let’s throw this out to non-Christmas-celebrating readers to weigh in on.”

        People that were forced into a religion and no longer participate in that (or any) religion can still bring something to discussion. The comment to which I referred was quite dismissive and unwelcoming.

        1. fhqwhgads*

          I still think you’re missing the point a little? No one is trying to deny your trauma. The point is if you are a person who currently or previously celebrated Christmas, even if it was against your will, the question being asked doesn’t really apply to you. Maybe you personally could add something to the discussion, but historically, when AAM says “hey folks this doesn’t apply to, please sit this out” they comment anyway and collectively distract rather than add, and it’s a pain to moderate. She’s said as much. So yeah, it’s a bit unwelcoming, because in this specific instance, the topic is about someone else. It happens when LGBTQIA topics come up and she asks straight people to sit it out. It’s not because it’s impossible for straight people to say something of value. It’s just that too many won’t, and hey, that one discussion is not for them. It’s similar here.

    2. Roland*

      Having a cultural background and having complicated feelings about it is incredibly different from fully having a different cultural background. If people like that want to strategize together I support it, but that’s not the conversation Alison is hosting today.

  118. Sad Desk Salad*

    I’m Pagan and hate the “Christmas trees are secular” argument. They’re not. They’re ours and you’re using them. That’s fine–use them! We are a welcoming sort. But please acknowledge that they’re ours. Ditto wreaths, gift exchanges, bunnies/chicks/eggs/using the lunar calendar to schedule your holidays in spring.

    Our team is secular and our highest level boss is a practicing Jew. Yet I have still not been successful at getting year-end celebrations moved to early January. At least our celebrations are focused only on food/drink and a fun activity that is accessible to all. No secret Santas or white elephant or cookie exchanges or potlucks. Management pays for the party and gifts, our job, if we choose to show up, is to show up and have fun. So at least there’s that.

    Another thing they do is not acknowledge individual holidays. We know we can’t get a greeting out on every holiday. So if we’re not going to acknowledge Diwali or Solstice, we’re not going to acknowledge Christmas. The break is the “year end shutdown.” I much prefer it. No one’s stopping you from celebrating your holidays in your house of worship, but we do draw the line at imposing them on others.

  119. Retired Vulcan Raises 1 Grey Eyebrow*

    I’m an atheist and thankfully none of my workplaces did presents, cards, potlucks, games, music at any time of the year and none had Christmas decorations in the office (or Halloweeen or Easter).
    A few people would wear reindeer antlers, that’s all. imo, Europe is not as social at work as the USA.
    I would have effing hated Secret Santa especially, let alone religious music droning on [vom]

    In all my workplaces, you couldn’t tell it was the Christmas season.
    Maybe it was because of my field (R&D engineering) at large engineering sites where religion had no place (prayer breaks were specifically allowed). Decorations (outside one’s cubicle) would have been regarded as an unprofessional intrusion.

    Also, no employer ever paid for food, snacks or even coffee – not mean, quite common in European workplaces – so any parties after work had to be genuinely optional.

    Last job always had an optional Christmas dinner for the department of 110 at a restaurant, for which we paid a set 25Eur. Each team usually also had an additional evening meal out, where everyone chose and paid for their own meal, just the first round of drinks on the manager.

    At both, the Christmas decorations didn’t bother me as they were the only reminder and didn’t have nativity scenes or other overtly intrusive religious symbols. My Muslim, Hindu, Jain etc coworkers attended with gusto too and when we discussed this said it seemed far enough removed from religion to just chill together.
    It was employees only at both and our site shut down over the Xmas-New year period, so it was good to relax with coworkers before the holiday (and not feel left out as a singleton).

    We had an annual summer barbecue party by the Rhine too, but I must admit the “Christmas” party had better attendence and was more fun – maybe because everyone was really celebrating that there was a holiday from work afterwards?

    1. Retired Vulcan Raises 1 Grey Eyebrow*

      The fact that the 2 dinners were held just before the Christmas period meant they could NOT be totally secular, but reading AAM posts, I’m grateful that at least the offices were otherwise totally Christmas-free.
      I didn’t feel my nose was rubbed in religion.

  120. NoIWontFixYourComputer*

    TBH, my company is fairly neutral. I also happen to live in LA, so there’s a lot more diversity.

    Things are a lot better than when I was a kid in the ‘60sand my Cub Scouts den mother insisted that my mom would simply LOVE the Christmas Angel we made as an activity. To add to the awkward, I wound up as the lead in the Xmas play — which was held at my shul, of all places.

    All I can say is thins have improved since then, and I’m fortunate to live in a diverse city.

    1. on the first night of chanukah ....*

      I love that you ended up being lead in the x-mas play at shul. Makes a great story.
      (secular Jew here). When my kids were in elementary school – 10 years ago, the parent fundraising committee had the *brilliant* (sarcasm) idea that the kids should draw and sell (to their parents) Christmas cards. How much leeway the kids had in their drawing was 100% up to the teacher. There were Jewish and Muslim teachers, but the majority were at least culturally Christian. When I complained, I was officially told that my kids/my family could just send the cards as Chanukah cards. There was 100% zero understanding that this was not a thing. But, there was no Christmas play, so I guess things have improved.

  121. Dawn W.*

    My Fortune 500 company definitely over-loads with Christmas themed activity. Massive decorations and trees stay up from November through January (Chanukah menorah is at front desk 8 days only). Every year 2 colleagues try to insert a faux menorah next to my cubicle to pretend that they are equal opportunity decorators! Not workplace related but my local library allows prosetylizers (sets of 2 who sit on lawn chairs under awning of the library, bibles in hand) on the grounds, disenfranchising patrons of other faiths.

  122. Uff*

    It makes me wonder if there are other coworkers who are not Christian who feel the same way. We went from ornament exchange to volunteering event. Still festive, but not Christmas focused. Alison often says there is power in numbers. Maybe you could organize something for all of you which in turn could raise awareness that not everyone celebrates Christmas (I’m hopeful but won’t hold ny breath).

  123. Lab Lady*

    I’m Jewish, and I run a lab group of half a dozen people made up of majority secular or atheists, but from a Christian tradition.

    For the last few post lock-down years (I’m not gonna say post Covid, because we aren’t post Covid), I’ve done a “We made it through 202X”, end of year celebration. I’ve scheduled it as such, and we do a meal (I provide the main course and non-alcoholic winter themed drinks – like spiced cider), and I encourage people to bring sides, but there is enough food if people don’t.

    We focus on the past years successes, and I don’t play Christmas music. No one asks ‘why isn’t there more Christmas here?’, because I just have it organized that way. They can get their Christmas cheer elsewhere.

    However, I’m doing this from a postion of power since it’s my lab group. Given the current climate, I’d be careful about pushing back on ANYTHING if you’re Jewish, and be careful to read the room.

    When I made this suggestion this year for our department social (I swear I was gentle), I outed myself as Jewish (I’m fair with light hair and blue eyes), and a week later got asked to produce a statement for the reappointment committee discussing how I accommodate other religions in my class room. I teach upper year physics in university. The request is just this side of reasonable, I’m the only faculty member in my department up for reappointment this year, and if I didn’t know other people in my cohort from other departments, I wouldn’t know that this is only be asked of Jewish faculty.

    So anyway, long and short. Do what you can to protect yourself, mentally and physically. Be safe.

    1. on the first night of chanukah ....*

      Holy f*ck, about the accomdating other religions. I’m a physicist (though not in academia at the moment), and this has never come up in 30 years of having a PhD. You are for sure being singled out. I’m so so sorry.

      1. NoIWontFixYourComputer*

        I’m HOPING this is along the lines of scheduling only. When I was a studen, I had a professor schedule an exam on Yom Kippur.

        1. on the first night of chanukah ....*

          I’m guessing it’s scheduling only. But are *all* the faculty/instructors asked this? My guess is that Lab Lady was singled out for making a fuss.

          1. Lab Lady*

            I didn’t mean to distract from OP’s question here.

            A few things:

            It’s normal for the reappointment packages to come back from the department committees with requests for (typically small) changes before being forwarded to the deans office for the final decision. It’s just this particular statement that is unusual.

            The cohort of faculty that started with me (and is mostly up for reappointment together, baring things like taking a leave), is active together on discord, so we’ve been sharing materials while we prepare our packages and responses as they came through. I know of 2 other faculty (both Jewish) who have been asked to make similar statements.

            I’m going to choose to believe that it’s a single person on the department committee, rather than the entire committee, that suggested the addition, and since it isn’t terrible on the face of it, the other committee members let it by rather than argue. Academia is like that.

            You better believe that the 3 of us went together to ask the ombuds office to look into it (and keep us anonymous)

    2. AvonLady Barksdale*

      You are being singled out. Document, document, document. I don’t know if that will do any good, but watch your own back.

    3. AnotherLibrarian*

      What? This is barely one side of reasonable. I hope all faculty are being asked this (says the girl who had to argue with a professor who’d) scheduled an exam on Yom Kippur. Be careful. Stay safe and you got this!

    4. Leave hummus alone*

      Came to say thanks for noting that we are not post covid and staying to say that I hope you’re documenting the heck out of this singling out.

  124. AnotherLibrarian*

    Ironically, the best experience I had dealing with this was when I was working for a Christian organization- yes, there were Christmas trees, a Christmas party, many nativities on display, and a Hymn Sing, but no one tried to pull the Santa is secular BS and I felt totally supported to engage or not engage as I wished as the only Jewish person on staff. I enjoyed the hymn song even though I knew none of the hymns and l just listened, but the music was beautiful. What’s so frustrating about this is when people try to claim things are secular and you’re left feeling like you’re yelling at a wall. I really like the suggestions for snowflake or winter animal or other seasonal things that are really truly seasonal. Good luck! I’m so sorry you’re going through this. So much sympathy! I wish I had a better suggestion than just deciding that you’re not going to engage and dive hard into “winter” rather than Christmas iconography. Might I suggest moose? They’re a winter animal, they look silly, they are ancient and more dangerous than bears.

  125. on the first night of chanukah ....*

    Secular Jew here.
    You write: But I like my team, and I worry that by sitting out of these things I may alienate folks, come off as a stick in the mud, or miss valuable chances to connect with my coworkers. I feel like any attempt to push up against the Christmas overload each year takes way more capital than it ought to and maybe it’s just not worth it?

    I work for a company, not a school, so there is a “holiday” (really, Christmas) party day, and trees etc decorating the office. So, I’m being bombarded way less than you. However, in response to your question: yes, you are missing chances to connect with your coworkers. I can’t tell you whether or not it is worth it, that depends on you. If there are only one or two occasions in a year to bond like this, it just might be worth sucking it up. If you are relatively junior, it might also be worth sucking it up.

    Also the response of your school reminds me of the line When someone shows you who they are, believe them . Your school is showing you who they are (chirstmas party, banning pesach books ????). Maybe in 20 or 40 years, with a change of management they would be more inclusive. What you see now is that they are not. Only you can answer how much that annoys you, or whether this is worth taking a stand on and being othered for.

  126. Christmas celebrater*

    I have no advice to offer to the OP, I just wanted to thank you for sharing your perspective and helping to educate me about what it’s like to be in your position.

    Below are some points of advice I took for myself and others who celebrate Christmas from your post. I would welcome others adding to this.

    Be mindful of how tiring everything Christmas related this time of year may be to those who do not celebrate Christmas.
    Be responsive to concerns of non-Christians about how Christmas-centric everything is.
    Look for opportunities to be inclusive of holiday traditions in your community besides Christmas.
    Don’t pressure people to participate in Christmas celebrations and make it easy for people to opt out.
    Stand up for coworkers who are getting grief for not participating in Christmas events.
    Ensure there are plenty of opportunities for professional connection that don’t require participating in Christmas celebrations.
    Be sensitive to the holidays coworkers celebrate when making schedules in your workplace.
    Acknowledge when coworkers are working during their holidays.

  127. Yup!*

    Winter break and winter themes are also very north-hemisphere centric. I wonder what a celebration looks like that’s truly inclusive.

    1. Weaponized Pumpkin*

      And it’s not even the whole northern hemisphere — I live in the US in a place where it doesn’t get cold. So, to me, snowflakes and all that are still completely coded Christmas because they are clearly standing in for it. There is no “winter magic” to celebrate here.

  128. Lilac*

    I think it’s worth reminding people that the solution here is not to just remove the word “Christmas” or the explicitly religious elements from obviously-Christmas-themed activities and pretend that makes them secular. (Examples: calling a Christmas tree a “holiday tree,” playing Christmas carols in the office but only the ones that don’t mention Jesus, the cookie exchange LW mentioned that is clearly a stand-in for Secret Santa.) It’s fine if people want to participate in Generic Winter Holiday activities, but some people will choose to opt out no matter what and it’s not cool to pressure people to participate – or to insist that no, really, they’re Festive Spheres, not Christmas ornaments! (Okay, I’ve never actually heard anyone call them Festive Spheres – but I am reminded of the Hanukkah Balls letter on here from several years ago.)

    I mean, imagine if someone started lighting a menorah in their workplace, and insisted that it wasn’t actually a Jewish thing because they were calling it “winter holiday candles” or something. That wouldn’t go over well in many workplaces, even though plenty of people (my own family included) don’t do overtly religious Hanukkah celebrations. Christmas gets a pass because it’s so ingrained in Western culture that it doesn’t always register as religious, even though it is.

    And many people don’t have a major winter holiday to celebrate – either because their religion doesn’t have one, or because they personally choose not to participate. (Even Hanukkah isn’t a particularly major holiday in the Jewish faith – some Jewish people choose to celebrate it that way, but others don’t think of it as a big deal.) It seems like some people seem to assume that everybody has a holiday at this time of year, it’s just a matter of WHICH holiday. A lot of people genuinely don’t, and that’s okay.

  129. SpaceySteph*

    If OP is Jewish (and maybe even if she isnt), I highly recommend following Jew Who Has It All (I do it on facebook, but may be on other platforms as well). Their alternate universe of a majority-Jewish United States is a real balm for the soul around these times.

  130. Daytripper75*

    My department decided to disconnect from Christmas this year, we are celebrating National Library Week in April with a gift exchange and having a hot cocoa day in December to do something cozy together.

  131. Ms. Murchison*

    LW, I see that you’ve moved on from that school, so thinking in terms for the future:
    First, it isn’t surprising that this gets worse every year. It’s like an accumulation of micro-aggression, piling on year after year. And every year the stores push the start date earlier and earlier so we have less of our lives free of this mess.

    My approach these days:
    a) Avoid stores as much as possible during November & December (take THAT predatory consumerist culture), and
    b) Get involved in our nascent DEI efforts at work. And I think the fact that we now have a DEI section of the strategic plan, and are including DEI-focused messaging in our hiring process is helping change minds. In a recent conversation with coworkers, we discussed asking leadership to make both Thanksgiving and Christmas floating holidays, instead of shutting down the whole organization on those days. I would much rather work Christmas and use those hours for Yom Kippur.

    But I’m just living for the day when companies wake up to the obvious: Just have a New Year party instead!

  132. tallone*

    “The holidays” in schools are THE WORST in terms of Christian hegemony. I’ve pushed back by making everything about my content area. I teach high school so we don’t have parties in the same way as the elementary school levels, but I participate in all the visible-to-students stuff with an eye to my content area (Spanish) and as much winter theming as possible. The school makes me decorate my door? Look at all the snowdrifts and the vocab words for snow, snowflake, penguin, cold, and anything else I can think of. I have to wear “holiday” attire? Why yes it is in Spanish. Or just has snow on it. Or quite possibly both. One year I had an administrator really push for holiday (ahem, Christmas) themed lessons so I taught a lesson on the Catalan caganer because… just look that one up. The lesson was a hit with my students and relevant to my culture standards.

      1. KA*

        Wow. The fact that this commenter could with a straight face teach a lesson on this is astounding. Well done, you gentleperson and scholar.

        1. tallone*

          The key to a successful weird lesson with high schoolers is not keeping a straight face and letting them know you think it’s funny too.

          My administrator backed off after I started discussing what a hit the lesson had been and how I might just add a second lesson on Caga Tió. Have to really hit those cultural comparison objectives, you know?

          God bless Catalán culture.

  133. Festively Dressed Earl*

    I’m assuming that:
    1. Most of us agree that the Christmas juggernaut is exclusionary, speaking up is the only way to change things in the big picture, and that LW’s higher ups and colleagues should be listening.
    2. Unfortunately, said higher ups are NOT going to listen without a lawsuit, and even then will pout about wAr On ChRisTMaS.
    3. LW hopefully know knows they’re not alone by a long shot.

    Given that, the best thing to do for nowis protect yourself.
    a) Get comfortable with saying no and sticking to it. No cookie exchanges or Secret Santas or anything. Just no.
    b) Make time to do things that recharge the batteries that others insist on draining. Something as simple as raiding the library, going for a hike if the weather’s warm enough, trying a new recipe, watching a movie with tons of explosions and no reindeer, whatever feels like an indulgence.
    c) Start plotting for 2024 to derail the ‘winter holiday’ snowball. Which leads me to…

    Planning Ahead To Avoid Getting Run Over By Christmas Next Year

    d) Find allies. Even if most of your coworkers are Christian, they may still be open to dialing back on the constant! celebration! for weeks! Christmas involves a lot of emotional labor and stress that many people could do without. There’s also the parents of your students, who would probably like to see a more inclusive approach to cultural holidays in general. (Yeah, I know that might get shot down. I’m hoping this principal isn’t as bad as the last one who deserved to be eaten by Krampus.) Last but not least, you’re all teachers. Surely there are other times of year that y’all could use a celebration to blow off steam?
    e) Do whatever you can to frame year-round celebrations as a win-win. Advocate for staff get-togethers every other month (no more missing out on facetime with coworkers because you’re not all Christians for the love of just too overwhelmed by all the festivities happening at once), parties for teachers and students to celebrate the end of state-mandated exam period/start of a new quarter or season/the start of strawberry season and its associated delicious muffins and pies and cakes/any time that there’s a dip in workload that warrants a sigh of relief, and opportunities for students to celebrate the things that are important to them, not just what’s on the academic calendar.
    f) advocate for using the department budget on other things everyone wants, before the lion’s share is snapped up for Christmas programs. Oops, looks like that apple picking field trip and reader celebration week sapped some of the funds for hanging red and green tinsel from the bathroom stalls. So sad.
    g) if you feel up to it? DO push back for more diverse holiday celebrations, inclusion of other holidays in the classrooms, floating holidays for staff to celebrate non-Christian events, and acknowledgement that cultural hegemony is just plain boring. I say “if you feel up to it” because no one should be forced into being their organizations DEI mascot, and it’s exhausting. Yes, we need to change the world to be more inclusive and tolerant. No, it is not LW’s (or any other one person’s) job to change that all alone.

  134. Filicophyta*

    My organization had a secret Santa ‘cultural event’ for project participants, most of who were Muslim.
    Many of them decided to see it as giving a friendly gift to a colleague and didn’t mind, but some did object.
    The way they got around it was to wrap and bring in a current possession of their own (mugs, sweaters, books) and give it to their “Santa”. Then during the event, their santa handed them their own thing back. In this way, they avoided giving a christmas present.

    (I don’t celebrate thing myself, except casually solstice.)

  135. WonderWoman*

    I’ve adopted a very cheerful and non-offensive Jewish persona that works pretty well. It basically entails me treating Christmas as a slightly exotic holiday that I get a kick out of, but – oh man! – I’m just so busy with my own holidays! SO BUSY. But it’s delightful that non-Jews have their holidays too! Good for them!

  136. youtwo*

    I’m a jewish person who does not celebrate christmas. It seems a shame to exclude any discussion about the secular nature of some christmas stuff.

    OP definitely should be, and it seems is, free to not participate in any of the activities that require her to actually do something. Beyond that, recognizing that none of this has to do with baby jesus would give her an opportunity to free herself of needing to be upset by this.

    The most troubling thing here is not being allowed to read the passover book, but I certainly wonder how religious it might have been given that OP is using the hebrew word for passover. So this may have been a judgment issue, not a discrimination one.

    1. Beveled Edge*

      It makes sense for Alison to bar arguments about Christmas being secular because a lot of us are tired of being pressured to participate in a religious holiday by people who insist that it is actually secular and won’t respect out refusal on religious grounds. Or argue that because their other Jewish friend celebrates Christmas secularly that we are wrong to see it religiously. That’s the whole point of these comments.

    2. Letter Writer*

      Letter writer here.

      There’s been way more focus in the comments on my picture books than I would have expected. The specific book I was referencing was The Last Place You Look by j wallace skelton. You can take a look and see how “religious” it seems to you. It was one of many books that the principal at that particular school took issue with. And, for the record, I’ve not had comparable issues with my picture book collection at any other school. I genuinely think that was an issue with a specific supervisor and not indicative of elementary school culture in general or an issue with that specific book.

      The general plot of the book is the whole family is at the grandparents’ house for Pesach/Passover (call it what you will). All the kids search for the afikomen, they find lots of other things, but can’t find the afikomen anywhere. Even the grandmother can’t remember where she hid it. The reveal at the end is that she forgot to hide it. It’s still in her apron pocket. My kids always liked that ending.

      As a general rule, I’ve worked on developing a book collection in which a large number of different experiences are represented while avoiding any “special stories about…” I don’t have books about specific religious beliefs, why x, y, or z holiday is celebrated, what it means to be a certain religion, et cetera. I do have books in which holidays are mentioned, characters spend time at places of religious observation, wear religious garments, et cetera. To me that feels like part of the backdrop of many people’s lives and is valuable to represent. I want my students to see people like them and like others in their community when we experience stories together.

      I’m also not ever reading books that include specific holidays during or for that holiday. It’s not “today we’re learning about Pesach.” It’s just here is one of many books in our collection. We read it sometimes and may pay attention to things like the adjectives used throughout the story or how the illustrations help tell us what the characters are feeling.

  137. Ancamna*

    From personal experience (though not in a school environment) I think you could skip at least one of the “holiday” parties and as long as you’re like “aw man, I won’t be able to make it” then it won’t be commented on. But also, if this is your first year at this school, it might be worth going just to see how many other people go and judge how easy it will be to skip next year and for perpetual years.

    But I’d also like to offer the Facebook and Twitter account “Jew Who Has It All” as a fun, personal reading exercise that will likely be very cathartic during December. It’s a satire account that flips modern American culture as Jewish culture instead of Christian culture, and talks about Jewish holidays in the same way you’d expect people like your principal to discuss Christmas. (Also there are now spin-off accounts for other religions/cultures who were inspired by this account – the moderators link to them sometimes.)

  138. OyHiOh*

    If it helps (it doesn’t, it’s just even more infuriating), I got the same “Christmas trees are secular” nonsense from a Department of Defense lawyer well over a decade ago and that still stings at this time of year, every year.

    I have no advice for the writer, unfortunately. Only commiseration. My children’s middle school is managing to do reasonably well this year – the holiday concert is mostly secular and focused around “light” as a theme, which I can live with. One of my kids was able to influence their band section to play a completely non holiday song for their section solo rather than Jingle Bells. On the other hand, half the teachers have blatantly Christian themed decorations up in classrooms and nobody seems to get why this would be an affront to the quite diverse student body in the school.

  139. Princess Deviant*

    In our organisation we are given the hours equivalent to the British holidays (which are Christian e.g. Easter weekend and Christmas and Boxing Days etc) but we can take the hours as leave when we want to and work on those days when others are off celebrating if we want to.
    Despite this, it is impossible to get away from the Christmas celebrations. I am not sure what the answer is! I tell people I’m pagan and I take the important days off to me. I also work on some of the national holidays when most if not all of my teams are off, and I explicitly say that I’m not getting people Christmas cards etc because I just don’t celebrate it. I suppose it is useful for me that Christianity appropriated the pagan holidays so I can take Yule off to celebrate with my family and it’s so close to Christmas that people don’t bat an eye lid.
    I realise that this isn’t possible however in a school!
    I try to ignore it as much as possible. Do my shopping online, for example, to avoid the onslaught of Christmas music and consumerism, which I hate with a passion. If I’m going out with friends I avoid the busiest places. Spending time with people like me makes it slightly easier too.

  140. I Have RBF*

    Okay, I have to push back on one thing here. This painting of people who were raised Christian but now aren’t as “culturally Christian” just grinds my gears. My actual reaction is a lot of swearing, because even a site run by a non-Christian won’t let me be not Christian just because I was raised Christian in a Christian dominant society.

    If what you really want to discuss is “How do you cope with Christmas as a Jew”, then say that, and I will, rightly STFU because I’m not Jewish, religiously or culturally.

    But don’t you try to tell me that I’m still “culturally Christian” when I’ve spent over half of my life being not a Christian! I don’t believe in original sin, separation from deity, monotheism, salvation, or any part of the Bible/Torah as the “word of G*d”.

    By that kind of “logic” anyone raised in the culture of Christian hegemony is “culturally Christian”, and that’s just BS. It’s the same as saying anyone raised in India is “culturally Hindu”, even if they are a convert to Islam or Christianity, and that I know isn’t true.

    IOTW, you (generic) don’t get to tell me what my “cultural religion” is. You are welcome to your own opinion about the cultural impact of being raised Christian and in a Christian dominant society, but don’t try to push it off on me as a “fact”.

    If you want to hold a space for Jewish people trying to deal with the tsunami of Christian BS in the US society, then say that. But don’t tell my 62 year old pagan ass that I’m forever “culturally Christian” because I was a Christian as a minor in a majority Christian culture.


    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I’m not sure what this is in response to because the rules for this post don’t assign anyone any particular identity. What I asked was for people who were raised celebrating Christmas to sit this one out because I want different voices centered in this conversation.

      1. I Have RBF*

        Just because someone was “raised” celebrating Christmas doesn’t mean that they still do so.

        You, Alison, are essentially telling me, a pagan, that I’m still a “cultural Christian” because I was raised celebrating Christmas. I’m telling you that Christianity and Christmas are not a permanent taint, and I haven’t been Christian for 2/3 of my life.

        Most of US society is awash in Christian hegemony. Even supposed secular holidays, like the 4th of July and Memorial Day are awash in Christian symbols, posturing and prayers. But you have to step outside of the monotheist structure to see it.

        I have a lot of sympathy for my fellow non-Christians when it comes to navigating this “season” without going off in a rage. It’s pervasive and obnoxious. But you don’t have to be raised non-Christian to be non-Christian.

        For ex-Christians there are different kinds of anguish in this season.They are likely to have family that expects them to perform Christianity, even though it isn’t their religion any more. But that’s not the point of this letter, IMO.

        But please don’t imply that “once a Christian, always a Christian”. It’s quite frankly insulting.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          I’m not sure what you’re looking at, but nowhere in this post have I told you that you’re anything. If you read what I wrote, I asked for specific voices to respond in this particular conversation. The one you’re proposing is important too, but it’s not the one I’ve created this particular space for today. I stand by that and am going to continue enforcing it.

          1. Letter Writer*

            Letter writer here.

            I also want to thank you, Alison, for centering people who were not raised Christian in this conversation. I recognize that takes time and energy and is so much easier said than done.

            One trend I’ve noticed is that many conversations of this nature are often heavily dominated by formerly Christian folks. I definitely want to acknowledge that they have a unique experiences and often a lot of trauma and hard feelings to unpack. And, when those are the voices that are being centered, the conversation still ultimately always resolves around Christianity. A focus on being no longer Christian is still a focus on how people relate to Christianity one way or another.

            For those of us who simply aren’t Christian, never were, there can be limited space outside of our own specific religious communities to discuss our experiences without that Christianity centric lens. I appreciate Alison making space for that here.

            I also think it may be worth considering why you push back against that “culturally Christian” label to this extent? Your culture inherently reflects your heritage and the traditions and identities that you were raised with. That’s what culture refers to. It’s our background. Your current religious identity can certainly be something different and that’s valid and real, but it does not change your culture. We’re all impacted by the cultures that we come from, in both good ways and bad, and that’s important to acknowledge.

        2. annonie*

          You are missing the point. As Roland said above “Having a cultural background and having complicated feelings about it is incredibly different from fully having a different cultural background. If people like that want to strategize together I support it, but that’s not the conversation Alison is hosting today.”

          I appreciate you defending the space for the people it was intended for, Alison.

  141. Shana125*

    I’m Jewish. A few years ago we did a Secret Santa at my work. There were about 15 people on the team, 3 of whom were Jewish. Most of the gifts exchanged were personal and not at all holiday-coded (cozy blankets, books, cookware). The person who drew my name (and knew I was Jewish) got me tons of Christmas decorations – window signs that say “Merry Christmas”, toy Santas, an elf serving dish, etc. She made a big deal about it – “I thought this was perfect for you to decorate your apartment for Christmas.” I’m not one to complain about gifts – I generally believe it’s the thought that counts, but this gift felt really weird. I don’t know if she thought “Christmas is secular,” or was trying to get me to embrace Christmas, or just bought a gift in advance that she thought was appropriate for “anyone” and didn’t consider and/or care about the fact that she drew the name of a Jewish person. The whole thing made me uncomfortable, like my identity was just being ignored or erased or belittled. At the time, I just smiled and thanked her.

    1. Kayem*

      Oh my bob that makes me actually angry. There’s really no good excuse for her actions. At best, she just doesn’t care enough to be considerate and at worst, it was intentional, which is so awful.

  142. Singleasapringle*

    I feel sp much of this post. As a non christmas celebrator it can be overwhelming at times. My personal experience at work is very much to go with the flow but try on my own time to avoid christmas as much as possible. I find by limiting my time in stores, not listening to mainstream radio with Christmas carols and surrounding mysf with others of my faith I tolerate the christmas overload at work.
    FYI my reasons for not celebrating christmas are that I am one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, however We do consider ourself Christians as we believe in Jesus!

  143. Just Ugh*

    Right now, I’m super resentful that we’re having a super intense time at work “so everyone can relax over the holidays”. I get that the calendar here centers on Christmas, including school closures (even my kids’ Jewish school is closed for it), because most people celebrate it. I don’t resent that. What bothers me is nothing that we are doing needs to be done now. It could be done any other time of year, but this is when they always do it. This year, it means I’ve had basically no bandwidth to do any Hannukah planning or celebrating after my kids have been so excited for it. They do genuinely love lighting the candles and spinning dreidels but basically I had to reach into my secret candy stash because my partner overthinks present buying to the point of paralysis and I’m exhausted and didn’t get things in time for the kids.

    Sorry for having no helpful advice for you, LW, but you’re not alone.

  144. Texas Teacher*

    I’m an Atheist and a Teacher. May I suggest contacting the Freedom from Religion Foundation not just the letter writer but all the others who have posted their stories here?

    Yes FFRF is an Atheist/Humanist group, but their main focus is on the separation of church and state. You don’t have to sue. They will write a scathing letter pointing out the laws the school/district is breaking – without revealing who contacted them. It got my principal put on a short leash – after he spent staff development money on Preacher to come scream at the staff. Many if not most districts cave right after getting that letter – especially if they didn’t know what was going on at that school.

  145. PragmaticB*

    As room mom across multiple years, our holiday parties were all about Solstice (Science), Yule (ancient culture and traditions that coincidentally were co-opted by Christianity) and the coming New Year. It was like spitting into the desert, but it was all I could do.

  146. Corporate Goth*

    Quiet pagan here. A few others suspected and we now quietly trade our respective well wishes outside of work and don’t participate in anything with work. Though a recent party with the current job was fine, just a gathering with food that happened to be toward the end of the year.

    At the old job, I said no to dressing up as Santa if I lost the penny wars (don’t know, don’t care, they didn’t even ask before signing us up). I wouldn’t fill out a “fun childhood facts” sheet for a supposed holiday party game. I wear black all the time and just…kept wearing black. I don’t understand or care about your ugly sweater contest.

    Spouse, however, once delighted in dressing up as the Grinch. Minus the heart growth.

    Anyway, hold the line.

  147. Kayem*

    The thing that gets me the worst is the Christmas music everywhere. I can mentally shut out all the visual decorations (unless I’m tired or cranky), but I just cannot shut out the music and Christmas-themed ads audio.

    This time of year there’s almost nowhere I can shop that doesn’t have it playing and I can’t not hear it. And once I hear it, it gets stuck in my head. Relentlessly. For that, the only thing I can do is wear earbuds playing music and then use self-checkouts so I don’t have to take them out to talk to the cashier.

    I haven’t had as much issue with music in ads since we got rid of cable a few years ago and switched to streaming only services, at least at home. Though when out shopping, a store’s music can be standard radio hits but then an ad breaks in that’s Christmas themed and now “Jingle Bells” is stuck in my head for what I assume is eternity.

    Related to streaming, I was grousing tonight how inconvenient it is to browse for new shows this time of year because all the “top trending whatever” menus are crammed with Christmas shows and movies. And then so many TV shows just have to do the Christmas episode, which usually ends with someone grumpy about Christmas grudgingly accepting it or someone who keeps trying to make the perfect Christmas finally succeeding at getting everyone together and it’s all cozy and wonderful family time.

    I know this is mostly me grumbling about everything than actual suggestions, beyond earbuds while grocery shopping. I don’t think Christians/Christmas celebrants understand just how utterly exhausting it is to be inundated with all the audio and visual trappings of it for so many weeks. And it’s such the default setting in US society that saying I don’t celebrate Christmas becomes A Thing and so many people get Mightily Offended that I would even tell them that because they’re just giving me well-wishes, it’s benign, it’s not hurting anyone, it’s all coming from a place of love, etc. etc. Great, but when those well-wishes coming from a place of love are coming at me for every salutation for weeks on end, it does not feel benign. It feels like they just don’t give a nugget.

    1. Leave hummus alone*

      Yes!! Even Target started selling Christmas stuff in June! Target, you could throw us a bone and sell some Ramadan decorations and lights, or some Diwali decorations for my bestie. I don’t need to be reminded of Christmas for 6 months out of the year

  148. Regina Philange*

    just want to say that as the only Jew in my workplace, I completely relate. I work at a PUBLIC LIBRARY so similar to those who work in public schools, it feels that much worse bc it’s like government sanctioned. we have so many arguments about the decorations and the Santa Storytime every year.

    I have no advice bc my coping method is just to be grumpy about it and make sure I shove menorahs in next to the trees.

  149. Jasmine Tea*

    I really wish I could offer practical tips but my work does not put me in the same situation as you. I do offer sincere sympathy!

  150. Staja*

    I have been starting to be loud and make waves!

    Last year my (very multicultural) company sent out an invitation to Christmas lunch at the satellite offsite I work from – and since this was 2 weeks after the company made a big deal about hiring a new VP for DEI, I forwarded it to our corporate HR, asking how it was in the spirit of embracing diversity and inclusion.

    Readers: I got a sit-down with my HRBP. I got a lot of “but it’s the spirit of the season that matters”, but there is a lot of good language out there to explain why it isn’t.

    This year’s invite said “Holiday Season” lunch. I will take this small win.

    Happy Chanukah, friends. May we all be the light in the darkness this year.

  151. Princess Sparklepony*

    Really interesting posts. I’ve learned a lot and have a lot to think about. Thank you everyone for your insights and pet peeves. Some of them I share, others were new to me. (Yes, I’m in the group that isn’t supposed to comment, but it was super interesting and I feel that the people who commented were really sincere. I read every comment and stayed up way too late.)

  152. If there's good food involved, I'm in*

    So, not sure this will help, but as a non-Christian who does not celebrate Christmas at all, curiously I often found myself having to handle holidays / religious traditions from minority groups in the US, and I handle all these festivities the same way.

    For example, in a recent job I had in the US, 90% of the startup was composed by Indians. They’d celebrate Diwali and all other sorts of Hindu festivals I couldn’t even keep track of. They’d encourage all employees to bring food, and I’d just shrug my shoulders and bring a plate of Argentinian tapas (my family is from Argentina).

    Another time, some sort of Eid — the festival that marks the end of Ramadan — was a big deal at another job that had a bunch of PhDs from Egypt. Again, I’d just go with the flow, taste some food offered to me, smile politelym and not even bother to understand the meaning behind their festivities. Nobody would get offended.

    I think what helps me is not to see any of those celebrations with a religious undertone as something I’m required to take part of, and rather as something that is taking place at work because it happens to be traditional for the majority of my coworkers. I can then decide to enjoy the parts I like, such as taking a break from work to chat and eat with colleagues, and ignore what sounds strange or discomfortable to me, such as participating on a Secret Santa.

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