Office Christmas (Part 2)
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.)