12.14.2008

i hate christmas, part two

Further to my earlier post, I came into work this weekend to find the office (where I work on weekends) has been decorated to the nines. Someone had the idea of using cubicle decorations as a way of raising money for a needy family, and who can complain about that. Surely not me.

I don't like the wreaths, I don't like the ribbons, I don't like the snowflakes. Despite the wintery themes, this is still about Christmas. But I can't say anything - especially working part-time.

But when my own cubicle - which I see a mere two days each week, and which I share with two or three other employees - is adorned with pictures of Baby Jesus, Mother Mary, angels and wise men, I have to speak up.

I noticed there is a Hanukah motif in one cubicle, so I tried to pre-empt that weak argument.

My email, below.

[HR people]:

I'm sorry to bother you with this, but I feel compelled to speak up.

At this time of year when most people are celebrating Christmas, it's worth remembering that not everyone does. Holiday decorations are always pleasant, but I think pictures depicting religious scenes are not appropriate for the workplace.

I don't think Christian employees would feel comfortable if Muslim or Jewish employees hung religious pictures or symbols. Likewise, those of us who are not Christian may feel uncomfortable seeing religious pictures in our secular workplace. I do. Hanging Chanukah decorations does not make things "even". I don't think any religious depictions are appropriate.

I wonder if you could ask employees to limit Christmas decorations to the non-religious variety. Naturally I would appreciate it if this note is kept confidential.

Thank you very much for your understanding.

Let's see what happens.

35 comments:

impudent strumpet said...

My inner child wants you to sneak pentagrams into the decorations. The wine I just drank wants you to steal it, replace it all with Halloween decorations, then put the xmas decorations back up in August. My inner disgruntled December birthday girl wants you to randomly put up birthday decorations.

Amy said...

Good for you, Laura! Let us know what kind of response you get. Over the years I have complained about Christmas decorations to no avail, although at least ours are not specifically religious---no baby Jesus, no crosses, no manger scenes. But Christmas decorations nonetheless.

L-girl said...

I didn't have the heart or guts or... I don't know what... to complain about decorations in general. The pressure to say nothing about those is too great. It's a battle I can't fight.

But the religious pictures, man, I had just had to say something.

steal it, replace it all with Halloween decorations, then put the xmas decorations back up in August.

That would be so much fun! A great fantasy.

Amy said...

I always make a comment about the "secular" decorations without any real thought that things will change, just to remind people that not everyone feels comfortable with Christmas. I know I cannot really challenge or stop them, but at least maybe they will think about the fact that there are many who do not celebrate the holiday. Mostly I get shrugs in response.

L-girl said...

I think that's great. Perhaps if I were more a part of this firm - if I were a lawyer, or at least if I worked there during the week - I would do the same. As part-time support staff, I'm already on the outside enough that it would be highly uncomfortable to complain about the decorations in general.

Tom said...

This year they had a "Christmas Potluck" at my job, I was away during the event, but I decided when I got back to thank the one person who was smart enough to call it a "Holiday Party",out of the dozen e-mails for the event. She thanked me for being the only person to notice the difference.

John A. Ardelli said...

If you ask me, if your cubicle at work is being shared by more than one person, you should be extra cognizant of the feelings of the other person or persons who share that space. That being said, however, unless decorations in a cubicle are actually physically in the way of your work, one should be a little more tolerant of the decorative choices of those who share the space.

For example, a couple of years ago while I still worked on the production floor at my call center, I had a sticker in my cubicle (which was shared by another person on the night shift) with a silhouette of a person on a bicycle with the slogan, "Put the fun between your legs." Yes, certainly this was a "suggestive" slogan but hardly blatantly vulgar; I saw no harm in it.

Apparently, the idiot on night shift complained; I had to take it down. This rankled me particularly badly given that this female employee had posted numerous calendar images of hunky men with their shirts off in the same station. I didn't much like those, yet I had enough respect for her decorative tastes to stay out of it so long as her decorations didn't infringe on my actual working space.

Personally, I have no compunctions about religious-themed Christmas decorations, particularly given that the holiday, like it or not, does have deep roots in Christian belief (it is, after all, the celebration of the birth of their Savior). Honestly, if you ask me, unless that Baby Jesus, Mother Mary, angels and/or wise men are actually blocking your keyboard or your mousing space, I don't think you really have any reason to complain.

I wouldn't.

penlan said...

Personally I agree with John Ardelli.

The holiday itself is "Christmas" with everything that entails, or we wouldn't be having a holiday right now. It would just be another time of year with nothing going on.

No, I don't like the crass commercialism that it's become but it's also the only holiday I like throughout the year - for various reasons.

As John said, as long as the "decorations" etc. are not in your way while you work then perhaps you could just let it go. It's only for a short time anyway & then they'll be gone for another year. :)

I'm not criticizing you at all L-girl just stating my thoughts.

L-girl said...

Personally, I have no compunctions about religious-themed Christmas decorations,

What you have no compunctions about isn't really the issue. It can't be left to individual taste.

particularly given that the holiday, like it or not, does have deep roots in Christian belief (it is, after all, the celebration of the birth of their Savior).

That's my point. It's not "like it or not", it's my central point: it *is* a religious holiday, not a secular holiday, and there aren't supposed to be religious symbols of any type in a secular workplace.

Honestly, if you ask me, unless that Baby Jesus, Mother Mary, angels and/or wise men are actually blocking your keyboard or your mousing space, I don't think you really have any reason to complain.

Because we share cubicles - and because we may have to change cubicles at any time, with no notice - we aren't supposed to have any personal stuff out at all. Period. No photos, no stickers, no cutsey sayings.

If I shared a cubicle with someone who posted pornography that I found offensive, it wouldn't have to be actually blocking my ability to work for everyone to understand why it shouldn't be there. I find these "baby Jesus and angel" scenes as offensive and inappropriate for work as some people would find pornography.

It will pose no hardship to whoever put up the Jesus scene to remove it. She can look at that at home, in her car, in her church. She doesn't need to see a picture of Jesus at work to remember what she's celebrating. Everyone else manages to practice their religion without constant visual reminders.

L-girl said...

I got back to thank the one person who was smart enough to call it a "Holiday Party",out of the dozen e-mails for the event. She thanked me for being the only person to notice the difference.

That's nice - and it shows you how "outsider" it is. Do you know if she celebrates Xmas?

L-girl said...

As John said, as long as the "decorations" etc. are not in your way while you work then perhaps you could just let it go.

But why do they need to be there? No one else who practices any other religion expects other people to look at their religous symbols and accommodate them. Why does that person need to have religious scenes *in her shared workplace* for a month every year?

It's only for a short time anyway & then they'll be gone for another year. :)

So every year I have to feel uncomfortable, annoyed and out of place because this person can't do her work unless she looks at pictures of Jesus for a few weeks? It's a workplace. It's not an extension of our homes, and it's not a church.

I'm not criticizing you at all L-girl just stating my thoughts.

I know that, no problem.

John F said...

A church near my house has just put this motto up on their sign:

"COME HOLY SPIRIT COME"

This, combined with the "HE IS RISEN" they put up at Easter, makes me wonder if the pastor has ever heard of pornography.

Hey, I have to get my laughs where I can!

L-girl said...

combined with the "HE IS RISEN" they put up at Easter

This sign brought to you by Cialis...

John F said...

This sign brought to you by Cialis...

Hey, that's a good idea for a marketing campaign: "Resurrect your sex life with Cialis!"

Greg said...

"Remember the Reason for the Season!

Axial Tilt!"

Seriously, even as an atheist, I like the gift-giving, tree-having, lit-up part of Christmas. But if someone actually went so far as to stick a baby Jesus in my cubicle?

WTF. Get your own cubicle and do your Jesus over there.

L-girl said...

Axial tilt. :)

But if someone actually went so far as to stick a baby Jesus in my cubicle?

WTF. Get your own cubicle and do your Jesus over there.


And since we don't have our own cubicles in my line of work... leave it the fuck at home!

Greg said...

Oh, and also, it's not a Christian holiday. The Christians just co-opted it from whatever pagans were around 2000 years ago having Winter Solstice celebrations.

If they hadn't plugged Jesus in at that point, we'd have been celebrating the same festival with a different name.

L-girl said...

Oh, and also, it's not a Christian holiday.

I disagree. Of course the roots of Christmas are pagan, as are the roots of most Christian holidays. But the modern Christmas is distinct from how the holiday started. And the modern Christmas is a Christian holiday.

Kevin said...

I agree with you L-girl.

We do snowmen and penguins at the office because they are SEASONAL not religious images... and religious images have no place at the office.

deang said...

Your response helps me figure out what to do about the problem I mentioned after "i hate christmas, part one".

Like you, I am currently very part time at the position I referred to, though I have been full-time in the past, and I continue to work there only because it's pleasurable, since it's in the arts and I get to interact with lots of creative people. Unlike in your situation (I'm guessing), the person who put up the religious symbols in my workplace is an elderly retiree with car accident-induced brain damage that occasionally causes her to pass out and she's even more part-time than I am. I was afraid if I said anything directly to her about the transgression, she might have fainted in front of me.

I've decided I'm going to remove them myself, as surreptitiously as she put them up. She was hoping no one would know she'd done it anyway, so she probably won't say anything if they suddenly disappear.

Ryan said...

Why do you think the person put it up in their cubicle?

impudent strumpet said...

This made me realize that the single best thing for my morale that ever happened at my workplace was someone removing their (non-xmas) cubicle decorations because I don't like them.

People in my office tend to keep toys in their cube, which is normally no big deal and even kind of fun. However, this one guy had these horrible disgusting plastic bugs. They were larger than life, unnecessarily detailed, I'm getting a twinge of nausea just thinking about them five years after the fact. He sat them on top of the walls of his cube so everyone walking by could see them, and his cube was in a place that I had to walk by several times a day. I'd have to take off my glasses and avert my eyes just to run that gauntlet, and every time one of those THINGS got moved to a place where I wasn't expecting it, I'd break out in a cold sweat.

I never said anything because I was shy and new. Intellectually I knew the THINGS were harmless and Bug Guy was well within his rights to have his toys in his cube. I knew what I was feeling was irrational, and I knew it was unreasonable to ask someone to remove their harmless tchotckes just because I didn't like looking at them. Unfortunately phobias don't listen to reason, but that's my problem, not Bug Guy's, so I just kept taking off my glasses and averting my eyes.

A few months in, I was chatting with another co-worker and I mentioned in passing that I have these severe phobias. It was part of the natural flow of conversation and had nothing whatsoever to do with Bug Guy. However, when I got into work the next morning, the THINGS were gone. I don't know what went down, I don't know what happened to them, but I haven't seen them since and Bug Guy is perfectly nice to me without even a hint of coldness or resentment.

That did way more for my morale and for making me feel at home in the office than any leeway in decorating my own cube possibly could (and I say that as someone with a cube full of toys myself). An environment where the answer to "That makes me uncomfortable" is "Sorry, I didn't mean to," rather than "Well, it shouldn't!" is priceless.

L-girl said...

Why do you think the person put it up in their cubicle?

It's not "their cubicle" and to my knowledge, no one person did the decorating. The entire department was decorated by a group of people. My cubicle was part of that.

This isn't one person who decorated her own cubicle, and I happen to be sitting there. Maybe I wasn't clear about that.

As to their motives, I couldn't say. No one discussed it with me so I'd be guessing.

L-girl said...

That did way more for my morale and for making me feel at home in the office than any leeway in decorating my own cube possibly could (and I say that as someone with a cube full of toys myself). An environment where the answer to "That makes me uncomfortable" is "Sorry, I didn't mean to," rather than "Well, it shouldn't!" is priceless.

Imp Strump, this is a *very* cool story, and an excellent conclusion. I appreciate your sharing it with us.

L-girl said...

Dean, let me know how it goes!!

John A. Ardelli said...

To impudent strumpet: Now that was classy. Not only did you have enough respect to step back and realize that this person has a right to their free expression, once they did find out (ostensibly) that their decorations were troubling you, they decided to remove them of their own accord.

Respect is earned, not bestowed. I'd say that this gentleman respected your space, once he knew how you felt, because you respected his; I probably would have done the same thing in his place.

In my situation, it wasn't so much the fact that the person found my sticker offensive as that they didn't have the decency to confront me about it and instead took it to HR. I tend to respect people who come to me face-to-face and tell me what's troubling them a lot more than those who go through a third party.

L-girl said...

I tend to respect people who come to me face-to-face and tell me what's troubling them a lot more than those who go through a third party.

In a law firm, it would be considered completely inappropriate to speak to someone about this face to face. In addition, as I've said above, there is no person to speak to this about. One person did not decorate the cubicle - a whole bunch of people decorated the whole department. There's no one to speak to.

In corporate law firm culture, the correct course of action is to talk to HR, and let them decide what to do. I understand it may be different where you work, but having worked in law firms for 18 years, I know this is the correct way to handle the situation.

John A. Ardelli said...

No, it's the same where I work; I've never agreed with it, though, and I've made no bones about letting my supervisors know about it. Some people have gotten the hint and come to me with their problems; others didn't. C'est la vie, I suppose.

L-girl said...

Well, like I said, this was a group of people - and they are people I never see. I work on weekends. I don't even know 80% of the weekday staff, and have no idea which of them put up the decorations. I wouldn't know who to address my concerns to, and have no opportunity to address them, except by email. In my case, it's HR or nothing.

John A. Ardelli said...

Oh, I'm sorry. There's a misunderstanding here. I wasn't talking about your case specifically; just cases like this in general. Of course if you don't know who is responsible you have to go to HR; I've been in that position, too (when some idiot decided it'd be funny to hide my bike helmet after I'd just finished putting in five extra hours to catch up on some work that night :().

Nigel Patel said...

Lovely!
I've always gone-along-to-get-along with Xmas but it does get to me.
Also the Christian manipulation of Chanukah as a sort of Jew-mas when I was under the impression that Yom Kipur and Rosh Hoshonah (No, I can't spell) were the big holy days in Judaism.

L-girl said...

Thanks!

Also the Christian manipulation of Chanukah as a sort of Jew-mas when I was under the impression that Yom Kipur and Rosh Hoshonah (No, I can't spell) were the big holy days in Judaism.

Those are definitely the most important holidays of the Jewish year. There are many others, but Chanukah is *way* down on the list.

L-girl said...

For anyone subscribing to this thread, today was my first opportunity to receive a reply from the HR person here.

She wrote:

Laura,

I appreciate and understand that not everyone in the firm celebrates Christmas and the firm recognizes and is tolerant of this. As all holiday celebrations are very short, we had agreed to allow staff to decorate their stations in order to raise donations for a worthy cause. We did not feel it necessary to impose guidelines as no one is imposing their religious beliefs onto others.

Please let me know if you wish to discuss further.


I was *very* surprised by this, as this is unheard of in HR in a law firm. But this person has no training in HR, is terrible at her job (everyone complains about her all the time) and is rumoured to have gotten her job because she has a relationship with a lawyer here. I don't know if that's true, but I do know that she has no training or experience in her field.

My reply to her, and the end of the discussion:

Thank you for your reply. I'm disappointed. Although technically no one is imposing their religion on me, I feel uncomfortable and disrespected by having to sit in a cubicle with religious symbols and icons. In my opinion, the firm does not really recognize and respect that not everyone celebrates Christmas if it allows religious symbolism in the workplace.

But I do understand your point of view, and I have to no wish to make a bigger issue than this warrants. Thank you for your reply, and best wishes for a happy holiday season.


It's pretty lame, but I'm still glad I said something.

MSEH said...

I just went back and got caught up on the earlier comments, including the HR response. I found this appalling: "I appreciate and understand that not everyone in the firm celebrates Christmas and the firm recognizes and is tolerant of this."

They *tolerate* that not everyone celebrates Christmas? WTF? Am I mis-reading something here?

L-girl said...

MSEH, I know! And I was stuck on that word for a long time, trying to decide what to say.

This person has very poor language skills, especially in writing. She is insecure about her position - as I mentioned, she has no experience or training, and she's way over her head. She tends to use a lot of verbiage to say very simple things, and very often uses the wrong word. I'm often embarrassed for her.

If I didn't know that, I definitely would respond pointedly to the idea that the firm somehow "tolerates" people who are not Christian. But I actually think she doesn't understand what she wrote.

So after struggling with it for a while, I decided, in my email, to substitute the word "respect" for "tolerate". "...the firm does not really recognize and respect that not everyone celebrates Christmas...". I thought this might be a way to clarify without seemingly picking on her language.

I appreciate that you picked up on that!!