Christmas Does Not Belong in the Workplace

Those of us who have no reason to celebrate it have to spend a month between Thanksgiving and New Year's dealing with Christmas at work.
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Christmas does not belong in the workplace because it undermines diversity at work. And businesses that promote diversity have more profits in the long run than companies that do not have a diverse workforce.

A big problem with Christmas is that those of us who have no reason to celebrate it have to spend a month between Thanksgiving and New Year's dealing with Christmas at work. Christmas is the only religious holiday that everyone has to stop working for. It's the only religious event that offices have parties to celebrate. These practices alienate non-Christians.

Businesses that curtail practices that alienate minorities will see growth to their bottom line as a direct result of this action. And besides, promoting acceptance of diverse backgrounds at work enriches our lives, independent of the bottom line.

But encouraging diversity doesn't mean diverse ways to celebrate Christmas. Diversity is giving people space to ignore Christmas. Forcing people to take the day off requires everyone to run their work life around this holiday in a way they might not have chosen for themselves. Yet still, Christmas continues to permeate workplaces across the United States.

Do you want to make a difference? Start with yourself. When it comes to discussing Christmas in the workplace, here are five offensive things people say to someone who doesn't celebrate Christmas. Don't say them.

1. "Christmas is not a religious holiday."

The only people who think Christmas is not religious are the Christians. Everyone else thinks, "This is not my holiday." In fact, only a Christian would feel enough authority over the holiday to declare that it is not Christian.

To think that Christmas is for everyone is tantamount to Americans who think that everyone says bathing suit for the thing you wear to go swimming. In fact, the British say "swimming costume" but you'd never know that if you only hang around Americans. The smaller your frame of reference the more convinced you are that the way you do things is the way everyone does things.

2. "Stop complaining! You get an extra day off from work."

I don't want a day off on Christmas. It's a great day to work. No one calls. No one interrupts me. And in many workplaces there's great camaraderie in the office on Christmas because only a few people are there, and they all have something in common: They don't celebrate Christmas.

I want a day off for Yom Kippur, which I usually have to take a personal day for. Why do I have to take a personal day for Yom Kippur but no one has to take a personal day for Christmas? This is not equal treatment for religious groups.

3. "Christmas is about good cheer. Focus on that and lose your bad attitude."

I know I have a bad attitude. But consider that the fact that good cheer is mandated in December is also a Christian trope. For example, Thanksgiving is the holiday that makes a lot of sense to surround with good cheer. It's about gratitude. Makes sense that we'd focus on Thanksgiving.

And the idea that we add Hanukkah to the mix is ridiculous. Hanukkah is about a war victory. The good cheer mandates are not coming from the Jews except in a sort of peer pressure way to cope with the Christian insistence that we all be happy because the Christians are happy.

4. "You can also take a day off for Hanukkah."

First of all, Hanukkah is eight days. Second of all, the holiday isn't a big deal to us, except that it's a way for Jewish kids to not feel outgunned in the gift category. Jacob Sullum wrote in Reason magazine last year, "It is make such a fuss over Chanukah, a minor Jewish holiday whose importance has been inflated in the popular imagination by its accidental proximity to Christmas."

So look, we don't want a day off for Hanukkah. Or any other Jewish holiday. We want floating holidays that everyone uses, for whatever they want. It doesn't have to be religious, or it can be. But we don't need our work telling us when to take time off. It's insulting and totally impractical.

5. "We get Christmas off at work because this is a Christian country."

People actually say this to me. Every year. I'm not kidding. People tell me that I should move to Israel if I don't want to celebrate Christmas. Really.

I tell you this so that you understand what it's like to be a minority. The majority of the country is not New York and Los Angeles, and in the majority of the country thinks Christmas is actually sanctioned by the government. For example, my son's public school in Madison, Wisc., has the kids make a December calendar that includes the birthdays of four saints. Surely this is illegal mixing of church and state, but I don't hear any complaining from parents.

People want tolerance and diversity but they are not sure how to encourage it. There is a history of tolerance starting first in business, where the change makes economic sense: Think policies against discrimination toward women, and health insurance that includes gay partners. Tolerance and awareness in the workplace reliably trickle down to other areas of society.

So do what you can at work, where you can argue that tolerance and diversity improve the bottom line, and you will affect change in society, where tolerance and diversity give deeper meaning to our lives.

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