Office Christmas (Part 1)

He's regifting it

We have a relatively new employee at work. Let’s call her KC. She’s probably in her early 50s. She is very obviously Catholic. She doesn’t advertise this. It just comes out in her expressions and anecdotes every so often.

This is her first Christmas season with us. A few weeks back, she said to me: “Do you know if it’s OK if I put up some Christmas decorations in my cubicle? They’d be low-key.”

I said: “Why wouldn’t you be able to?”

She said: “Nobody else has.”

“That’s because we’re all a bunch of old sourpusses.”

“I thought there might be a rule against it.”

“Why would there be a rule against it?”

“Because somebody might get offended.”

Wow, I thought. Are we that bad? Have we been so successful at getting Christmas out of the government buildings and off of government land that the Christians think they’re not allowed to have it anywhere?

And what sort of backward companies has she been working for? Are there really employers out there who won’t allow somebody to put a baby Jesus figurine in their cubicle?

It’s her own cubicle! As long as it isn’t garish to the point that it’s disruptive or overwhelming to the point that it causes discomfort, she should be allowed to do it. If you don’t like looking at baby Jesus, stay out of her cubicle.

People decorate their cubicles with little mementos of their life. It makes them feel more at ease at work. It reminds them of the important things in their life. Are we going to tell people they can’t have that stuff? Because, really, how do you say what is acceptable?

Can I have pictures of the wife and kids? Surely that would be OK. What if I’m white, the wife is black, and there is a racist working for the company? He’d be offended.

Or what if I’m living with my girlfriend, and I have her picture on my desk? And what if there is a fundie sitting in the next cubicle? That picture is a constant reminder to him that I’m living in sin!

Obviously you can’t govern by the rule of “somebody might get offended”.

So what is it like at your workplace? Have there been any extreme examples (too far in either direction) at any of the places you’ve worked in the past?

(Tomorrow: When I was offended by office Christmas.)

10 Responses to “Office Christmas (Part 1)”

  1. Aegis Says:

    I wish the government here in the UK weren’t trying to govern by that very rule.

  2. Lindsay Says:

    No one really decorates their cubes for the holidays at my work, though we’re pretty multi cultural where I work. I wouldn’t feel offended if the Jewish guy in the office across from me put up a menorah if the pagan on the first floor did something for winter solstice. However, I don’t think I’ve ever heard it said per se but I get the drift that it is deemed “unprofessional” to put up too many decorations (at least that is the culture at my workplace). There are some decorations in the lobby (ie giant ornaments hanging from the ceiling) and poinsettias outside the elevators on each floor, but I haven’t seen a single holiday decoration outside of those places.

  3. The Nerd Says:

    It’s easy to think “omg, that’s so stupid, why would she think that?” Helps to remember that Jesus told her in the Bible that people will hate her for her religion. Christians anticipate antagonism from outsiders. We could be the nicest atheists ever, but when her religious leader says “blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you, and say all sorts of shit about you because of me” [paraphrased], she’s going to constantly look for that reaction from others as a sign that she’s Doing It Right.

  4. vjack Says:

    In my current workplace, I’m not aware of any policies along these lines. As a result, there is great variability. I have co-workers with pro-Jesus crap all over their offices and those without any of it. I have co-workers who attempt to turn their offices into a reflection of their personal interests and those who do not.

    All the psychiatric hospitals at which I worked in the past had strict policies against Halloween decorations of any kind. The reasoning was that some of the less stable patients would be overly freaked out. But Christmas and other holidays were fine.

    The only problem I have with Christmas decorations is that I do not believe the employer (state government in my case) should pay for them.

  5. Sam Says:

    I think it is because you all have fancy office jobs. I was working retail as a cashier and a customer gave me a religious tract. I didn’t feel right throwing it away so I put it somewhere. A manager saw it and I got a bunch of flack because it might offend a customer. I hated that job.

  6. BadKitty Says:

    Like playing Christian music all day long? The same CD? Over and over and over. Or trying to start a prayer group during the lunch hour? Or constantly talking about church and trying to convince me to go with her? Covering the office with flashing lights and tacky Xmas crap from WalMart was the least of her sins. She thought she was in serious danger of going to hell if she listened to heavy metal so, of course, I developed a taste for Black Sabbath. If I could have gotten away with it, I’d have hung crosses upside down all around my desk.

  7. SeekerLancer Says:

    With Dave Silverman appearing on Fox News to make the argument that we shouldn’t have Christmas trees in the workplace it’s easy to see why people are fearing grinches and a so-called war on Christmas.

    There are lines that should be fairly obvious but judging by the reactions of some people apparently they’re not. The secular versus the religious in the case of the tree and private displays versus public ones in the case of your co-worker.

    This is why an open dialogue is important unfortunately that dialogue is usually hijacked by the most extreme viewpoints (usually on the fundie side, but not always).

    I can’t think of any experiences with co-workers that I ever found offensive. Everyone’s work and religious lives seemed pretty separate save for maybe a few Christian trinkets on their desks which, as you’ve said, who cares? It’s their desk.

    My girlfriend however works with a lot of old women who like to bitch about people saying “Happy Holidays” instead of the one true “Merry Christmas.”

  8. Parrotlover77 Says:

    I don’t think anybody has any decorations at their desk. A few cards, maybe. That’s about it. However, there is an office christmas tree, with decorations on it. Employees were encouraged to donate ornaments. And there’s an optional (but highly encouraged) holiday party.

    Am I the only person who thinks getting together with the entire office, even if you are drinking and playing black jack, still feels like an extra day of work on Saturday? Fuck I hate office christmas parties.

  9. Thomas Says:

    Not Xmas specific, just happened around Xmas time.

    I was once told by a boss that I couldn’t wear my Pentacle in plain view, at least not anywhere that customers could see it. He likened it to the business’s rule about no visible tattoos or non-ear piercings. When I countered that he allowed Xian and Jewish employees to wear crosses and stars of David, he claimed not to see a parallel. It was only when I called the corporate office and threatened to call the ACLU that he relented.

    Most Americans seem to think that freedom of religion applies only to the religions that they understand.

  10. OtherRob Says:

    We have a fairly diverse group at our office, including some that I assume to be Hindu or Buddhist — though that’s just my own pre-judging based on their ethnicity showing since I’ve never actually talked to them about their religion. Quite a few people have decorated the cubicle and I’m not aware of anyone being offended or complaining. And, PL, our Christmas party had a casino theme this year, too. Though I had fun at mine.

    The big decorating holiday for our company, though, is Halloween. Not only are we allowed to decorate our cubicles, we’re encouraged to. There are individual and departmental prizes for the best decorations and employees are allowed to wear costumes to work.