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I am in quite the predicament. I started working for a new company couple of months ago and everything was great. Loved my co-workers, managers,etc.. Everyone seemed to like their job and we all have our usual 'good morning' routine. Until last month that is.

My co-workers decided to throw a Christmas party (I'm new to the company so I wasn't told about this before starting) and a gift exchange celebration. One of the colleagues (works in HR) approached me as asked what I was bringing to the Christmas party and the gift I was bringing. I told him that I wasn't Christian and that I wouldn't be taking part in the celebrations. I really didn't care whether they had the party or not.

Fast forward a couple of days and no one would talk to me! I'm getting nasty looks, co-workers avoiding me, not forwarding emails to me and just felt 'unwanted' If I go to HR, I'm afraid I would be seen as a 'Grinch' or someone who hates Christian. What's the best course of action? I really enjoy the company and my job!

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    what country is this? In many western countries Christmas is a non-religious celebration, so this isn't about religion in the workplace, but about skipping a company-wide party. – Kate Gregory Jan 8 '17 at 20:05
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    This seems less about religion and more about learning to be polite, friendly, tactful, and respectful. Unbridled honesty and full disclosure about one's intentions and beliefs are not always the best policy. Consider trying harder to be one of the team, and working well with others. – mcknz Jan 8 '17 at 20:39
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    "I really didn't care whether they had the party or not." Did you actually say that? Did you convey that message through body language? Don't tell me that you are one of those who poke their fingers into other people's eyes and wonder afterwards why everybody is mad at them. – Vietnhi Phuvan Jan 8 '17 at 21:32
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    @KateGregory Christmas most certainly is a religious(-based) celebration, especially in Hispanic countries, which have strong Catholic roots. – Pedro Jan 9 '17 at 2:57
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    @Pedro yes, the name speaks for itself. But in many places -- like corporations -- it's celebrated as Xmas, without any religious intent or symbolism. – mcknz Jan 9 '17 at 3:41
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In many countries Christmas is not about religion. It's about family values, love, candles and tons of ginger bread. Declining their invitation is probably seen as either cheap (finding an excuse to not bring presents), rude or all out weird.

If the chance is still there (from the date I'd guess it's gone) you could go to HR and ask how much religion is part of their party. Tell them you thought it would be religious but you are happy to attend if it's okay that you are not Christian and don't believe in it. In Europe that should not be a problem. I have attended Christmas parties for about 20 years and I have not seen a single cross or other Christian symbol (neither Santa nor the tree are christian symbols by the way). And I'm not a Christian either, I simply love ginger bread and egg nog.

Alternatively, you could bring a lot of stuff for whatever holiday you believe in and share it with everyone, so at least you aren't seen as cheap.

  • not to pick nits or anything, because I largely agree with your advice, but Santa Claus is a christian/catholic symbol. IIUC, santa claus is somewhat of a bastardization of the name "St. Nicholas" in dutch. And believe me, St. Nicholas, the patron saint of children, is most certainly a religious figure in Catholicism. – 2ps Jan 9 '17 at 5:11
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    @2ps: maybe he was, once, but in modern time there's nothing religious about him left in many countries. – Erik Jan 9 '17 at 6:01
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    Point of clarification: many Christians no longer feel the event is particularly religious but those of other faiths often do have a problem with these types of events and that's not inherently a problem. It should be fine to bow out of such an event citing religious beliefs but that should be done tactfully which is presumably what OP screwed up. This answer amounts to telling the OP to get over it and participate anyway, which is one possible approach to the situation but won't work for everyone. – Lilienthal Jan 9 '17 at 7:11
  • Just saying: On the last two Christmas parties at my company, people of all kinds of religions were present and enjoying themselves. – gnasher729 Jan 9 '17 at 9:29
6

I can relate to what you're saying. My husband and I are both non-Christians, but not atheists either.

We both work for big company names in the UK and find that adapting to our work culture is a give and take relationship. I never minded working over Christmas every year as we don't celebrate (hospitality so no closing hours), which gave celebrating employees time at home; and work would always be kind enough to give me time off for our own celebrations, even if this meant shuffling things around at busy periods for my sake.

As far as celebratory references or parties go, neither of us go out of our way to say 'Merry Christmas', or give gifts. But if someone says Merry Christmas, we will always reply in like. Same with gifts/cards. Just so not to be rude. We will participate in an office 'secret Santa' if they're doing one. And we'll attend the Christmas party for a short while before taking our leave - though we don't go every year and it's never been a problem.

Since Crimbo has acquired pagan, Christian and secular aspects through the ages, it is safe to say that people's beliefs don't adapt to Christmas, Christmas adapts to people's beliefs. Many people today would agree that it's about family, good food, letting loose etc.

However if adapting isn't something you feel comfortable doing, then I think it's best that you've opened up about it in the first instance (so long as you weren't rude or snobbish about it).

Even as adults, we can sometimes become cliquey and stand-offish when someone says or does something we don't expect or like. They might judge you for a while, but there will be a new office-gossip topic soon enough. Let it go. Your work ethic will speak for itself. Sometimes it's the case that we feel certain people are behaving in a certain way as a reflection of our own insecurities about something, and it may not actually be the case. But even if it is the case (that colleagues are acting weird), I'd just get on with things, be yourself and let things blow over. You are who you are and going to a Christmas party or not does not determine your value to the company, nor your ability to socialise and build ties. People will realise this in time.

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It is certainly possible to beg off from a holiday party if done tactfully. "I'm sorry, it's not my holiday and I won't enjoy it. Have fun."

Sounds like you're a bit late for that. In which case all you can do is continue being friendly and helpful and such on the job and trust that they will forget it in a few weeks.

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Christmas is not considered a religious holiday. If you don't want to participate in the activities, try to beg off without coming across as a boor. There's always someone who goes out of their way to offend the natives' customs and sensibilities and then genuinely can't understand why the natives are rising up in revolt.

You seem to be treating Christmas as a religious holiday. In that context, your general attitude seems to be "I don't give a damn about their Christian religion". If I carried your attitude to a Hindi community in India at around Diwali or a Muslim community in say Indonesia at around Eid, my life expectancy would be around 15 minutes. That's why we tiptoe around each other's religion. You seem to have no problem with disrespecting the natives' Christian religion. At the minimum, this is not a recipe for getting along with the natives.

Drop the attitude. You did not bring gifts but you certainly are bringing baggage. Tell me again why the natives should feel lucky to have you around for company.

Treating the natives with courtesy starts with getting it right. Christmas. I repeat, is not considered to be a religious holiday in the workplace.

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    -1: "Christmas is not considered to be a religious holiday in the workplace" is how you see it. Others would (and clear do) disagree. – dave Jan 9 '17 at 0:29
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    You're making WAAAAAY too many assumptions. Why are you taking this as a personal attack? When did Christmas not become a Christian holiday? I've never worked for a company that had these sort of holiday celebrations. Previous companies I worked for just gave us the holiday off and never had the celebrations and gift giving. It's a very conservative company. I am very respectful of other people's religions and have many Christian, Muslim, Jewish friends. – Noah Jan 9 '17 at 1:23
  • @Killer066 - If you are that clueless, stop wasting my time. "On the really secular side of Christmas, the giving of gifts from Santa, the change is even more dramatic. 93 percent of people will do that, so secularizing the holiday has been good for business. Even 80 percent of non-Christians engage in giving gifts at Christmas or getting together with family and friends to celebrate. So Christmas is as strong as ever, it just isn't a Christmas that has a lot to do with religion." science20.com/science_20/… – Vietnhi Phuvan Jan 9 '17 at 1:32
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    @VietnhiPhuvan that's why you should've asked where he lived before assuming, like others did. – Erik Jan 9 '17 at 6:04
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    It was his responsibility to specify and your responsibility not to answer with assumptions until he did. – Erik Jan 9 '17 at 6:16

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