Office Christmas (Part 2)

I'm the white one

Actually, this is almost what it looked like.

Yesterday, I mentioned that somebody at work was so fearful of offending any coworkers that she was afraid to put up a few Christmas decorations in her cubicle. That reminded me of the days when I used to be offended by Christmas.

I haven’t celebrated Christmas since I was 20. There are many reasons for that. My rejection of Christianity some years before was one of the reasons. Sure, lots of atheists celebrate Christmas anyway, but I didn’t know that. I didn’t know any other atheists (actually, in those days I thought I was agnostic, even though my beliefs were little different from now.).

There were several other reasons, though, that were much more important. That was a rotten time in my life, and the stresses and demands of the holiday season just made everything that was going wrong so much worse.

In those days, I worked for a crappy little aluminum distributor. They paid me $6 an hour. No benefits. No medical insurance. And they didn’t withhold payroll taxes. That’s weird, I thought. Aren’t they supposed to do that? That’s fine with me! I couldn’t afford to live on what I would have netted if they had withheld taxes. I didn’t care if they got in trouble with the government!

This shows how ignorant I was of how the tax laws worked. It turns out they had set me up as an independent contractor without telling me. This shows how ignorant I was of business in general. They were taking advantage of me.

Early the following year, I got tired of not accruing vacation and not having medical insurance. I started pushing them to actually give me that stuff. They hemmed and hawed and told me how it would “be just another week or two, but there’s this red tape problem you see, but we’ll have that fixed next week, and then everything will be OK and then we can put you on the company plan.”

This went on for over a month. They actually had no intention of putting me on their insurance (or making me a real employee), but they weren’t going to tell me that. Their plan was to string me along for as long as they could. I finally told them that I needed the insurance, and they had to give it to me now.

So they fired me.

A few weeks later, I had my taxes done. That’s when I discovered the difference between an independent contractor (which I never agreed to be) and an employee (which they had implied I was). I also got walloped with a massive tax bill that sent me reeling.

Oh. So that’s how that works.

Why doesn’t anybody ever tell me these things?

That’s when I discovered that maybe 20-year-olds aren’t smarter than their parents.

Anyway, all of that is just backstory to let you know what a horrible company I was working for.

So it was that December, just two months before being fired for asking for medical insurance. This was the early 1980s. There was little multicultural sensitivity in those days (political correctness was just starting to rear its ugly head). The prevailing assumption in those pre-PC days was that everybody celebrated Christmas, except the Jews (and those crazy Jehovah’s Witnesses, but nobody had any sympathy for a group of people who wake you up on Saturday morning). So if you weren’t Jewish, the expectation was that you were at least nominally Christian, and you celebrated Christmas.

Lots of people decorated their desks (We didn’t have cubicles. They probably would have had to pay us more if we did.) with a few Christmas ornaments or Christmas cards. Did this offend me? No.

We had a secret Santa game. Was I offended? No. I even participated in it. (That’s right. I bought one of my coworkers a Christmas present, but I didn’t give anything to any of my relatives.)

We even had a Christmas party. Everyone was expected to attend. This was primarily because it was during work hours on the last work day before Christmas. I attended, unoffended.

But here’s what did offend me: People coming up to me and wishing me a merry Christmas.

First of all, you have to remember that I hated Christmas in those days. So some of my offense was just my redirected anger. But some of that offense was legitimate and justifiable.

Participating in Christmas rituals at work was OK and non-offensive, because (1) it beat working, and (2) it wasn’t the actual act of celebrating Christmas. Eating a sugar cookie shaped like a Christmas tree is not the same as worshiping the Christ child.

What offended me back then was the assumption that I celebrated Christmas.

“Well of course you celebrate Christmas. Why wouldn’t you?” was the implied message.

That assumption does not exist today. Everybody is tuned in to the fact that there are a multitude of beliefs out there. Half the people at my current job are immigrants. I know we have several Hindus. We have at least one Muslim. I know I’ve worked with Buddhists in the past.

People these days say “happy holidays” at least as often as “merry Christmas”. Many of those “merry Christmases” don’t seem to have that same assumption of rigid adherence to a social norm anymore. It’s like many people are really saying “Merry Christmas, or whichever holiday you prefer.”

Sure, there are always the fundies. There are always those Christians who insist that Christmas is the only genuine holiday this season, and anybody who celebrates anything else is not worthy of their good wishes.

But so what? They’re entitled to their holiday, just as the rest of us are entitled to whatever else. So when a fundie wishes me “merry Christmas” and means Christmas only, I’m not offended. They’re no longer the norm. I no longer have to conform to their expectations. Society at large has moved on.

(And it pisses them off!! But that’s another story.)

10 Responses to “Office Christmas (Part 2)”

  1. Lindsay Says:

    I don’t get particulary offended whatever I’m told a holiday greeting. I say both Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays interchangeably. I probably say Happy Holidays more often than not as I live in a Jewish neighborhood but most of them I know aren’t really offended by Merry Christmas either. So really…at the end of the day what’s the big stink? I think it’s the sentiment (of wishing someone well) that counts.

    Though if I do run into fundies, I ALWAYS make sure to wish them a Happy Holidays.

  2. Parrotlover77 Says:

    (And it pisses them off!! But that’s another story.)

    I used to always say “Merry Christmas,” but now I purposely say “Happy Holidays” so that in the odd chance I’m talking to a fundie and don’t know it, I know deep down they will be really offended. To relatives and friends, I still say “Merry Christmas.”

    And since nobody else cares, it’s always a net win.

  3. SeekerLancer Says:

    Merry Christmas doesn’t annoy me since it’s pretty meaningless to me. People have been calling into the community sound-off section my my local paper arguing back and forth on the subject.

    Today’s gems included somebody complaining that if you don’t celebrate Christmas you don’t deserve to have the day off or get a Christmas bonus or anything like that because “Jesus is the reason for the holiday nothing else! How do you think they’d like it in Afghanistan if you went and tried to make their religious holidays generic and neutral?” I don’t care about that attitude either since I know they’re ignorant about the origin of their own holiday. You’d think they’d be happy that stores say “Happy Holidays” and try to separate the commercialism from their religious celebration but apparently not because it’s more about maintaining cultural dominance than theology.

    What does annoy me is the other call-in today supported saying happy holidays, but only out of respect for people of other religions because “they at least still believe in some higher power.”

    So it’s okay to be anything on the holidays except an atheist apparently. That’s the attitude that pisses me off.

  4. Parrotlover77 Says:

    I never understood the “at least they believe in something” attitude. You would think the religious would prefer atheism since it might be seen as a blank slate. After all, according to most fundies, atheists are perpetually depressed, uninspired, and generally don’t value living life. Atheists are just waiting to hear the good word!!

    But I guess in reality they are too worried about the threat of reason overtaking myth.

  5. Ron Britton Says:

    I never understood the “at least they believe in something” attitude.

    My mother said that once, many years ago. I was in 4th grade. She was helping me with my homework. It had something to do with the American “Indians” (and why we insist on perpetuating that 500-year old ignorant term is beyond me).

    Anyway, the chapter had something to do with their mythology and the many gods they had. My mother said “They don’t believe in God, but at least they believe in something.” I think her rationale in this case was that the various gods they had were just different aspects of her One True God. So they believed in God, they were just misinformed about some of the details.

    Then one summer 20-some years ago, I had a temp job building a database for a printer manufacturer (I don’t think I had health insurance then, either (notice a trend?), but at least I was a real employee.). I was working with another temp. She was an extremely devout Catholic. She ran over to the nearest Catholic church every day during lunch for a quickie. (Mass, that is. Keep your mind out of the gutter! She wasn’t an altarboy.) (The great thing about noon mass at the Catholic church is they feed you lunch. I don’t know how many calories are in the body of Christ, though.)

    Anyway, she also talked about God incessantly. For some reason this didn’t bother me at the time. I think it was because I didn’t know much about Catholicism, so I found everything she described fascinating (in a freakshow sort of way).

    At some point I mentioned something about one of the other monotheistic religions. She said “Well at least they worship only one god.”

  6. Syldoran Says:

    I’m not offended when people say “Merry Christmas.” I say it out of habit, seeing as that’s what I and my family celebrate despite a noted lack of religion. Yay, free gifts, time with family, etc. I’d train myself to say “Happy Holidays,” except I don’t communicate with people very often at all, so my greetings are rare anyway.

    I’m only bothered when they’re self-righteous about it; the whole “Jesus is the reason” thing. A car dealership in my town came up with a Christmas ad that starts out “Merry Christmas, folks. That’s right, we say Merry Christmas. We always have and we always will.”

    Yeeeeah.

  7. OtherRob Says:

    A car dealership in my town came up with a Christmas ad that starts out “Merry Christmas, folks. That’s right, we say Merry Christmas. We always have and we always will.”

    For me, that attitude makes me *less* likely to say “Marry Christmas”. Because I don’t want people to think I’m one of those people who think they’re special or “fighting against the forces of evil” by saying it.

  8. sue blue Says:

    So, I’m in the grocery store this last Monday – the friggin’ grocery store, no less – and this woman behind me in the check-out line says to the checker, “Merry CHRIST-mas”. just like that, with the emphasis and pronunciation on “Christ” as in Jesus. And this other woman with her chimes in, “and Happy Holy Days”. I looked at both of them, with their glittery, glassy-eyed smiles, and said, “And a serene solstice to you.”
    I thought about adding that I planned to sacrifice the ham I was buying to the Sun God just before having sex with the Earth Goddess in order to assure fertile crops this spring, but I somehow restrained myself. It would have been a waste of breath, anyway.

  9. Lindsay Says:

    sue blue, please tell me their reaction! Living in the Godless city of Chicago I never get opportunities to ruffle fundie feathers these days! I feel a bit dissapointed…but it’s very fleeting.

  10. sue blue Says:

    Lindsay, they just stared at me like I’d farted in church or something. The checker was actually pretty cool – she just said, “yeah, I’m gonna check out that lunar eclipse tonight.” I’m sure the church ladies just went off to see who else they could sound out with their stupid (ass)holy day crap. I do wish I’d said the bit about the sacrifice and sex, though! It might have led to all kinds of opportunities to point out the similarities between christian religious rituals and pagan rituals. It always causes their circuits to blow when someone compares their One True Faith to (gasp!!!) heathen beliefs! Such fun.
    And of course, there’s always the off-chance that someone listening might actually start to think.