“Happy Holidays!” When religion clashes with holidays

by admin on December 6, 2011

I get that this was done with the best of intentions, but it was ridiculous anyway.

The program I studied in college was a very specific one, and thus I didn’t have too many classmates. We all knew each other, and at the very least had some sort of acquaintanceship. The overall atmosphere was much closer to a work environment than a school, so imagine the dynamics of the office. It should also be noted that while I wasn’t the only non-christian there, I was the only one of my particular religious affiliation. You wouldn’t know it to look at or even spend some time with me as I’m pretty casual about it, but that has never stopped certain folks from making assumptions once they find out.

So holiday season roles around and things start to get pretty festive. Despite it not being “my” holiday and the lack of tree in my home, I enjoy this time of year. There are greetings of “merry Christmas!”, “happy Hannukah!”, “Eid mubarak!” and of course “happy holidays!”.. and basically whatever someone wishes me is what I wish back. It’s all good. Everyone should be able to celebrate their holiday as they see fit. Shortly before my class is meant to go on our holiday break posters go up informing us of the upcoming departments’ Christmas party. It was open to everyone, so no rsvp was required.. all we had to do was show up and enjoy. When I checked the actual date of the party, I realized I wouldn’t be able to attend. Boo, but I had other plans so what could I do?

About a week before the party one classmate asked me if I would be attending. I said I wouldn’t be able to, but that I hoped everyone would have a great time. They asked me if I actually celebrated Christmas and I said no, it’s not a part of my faith, but I love this time of year. The conversation petered out and I didn’t think anything of it. A few days later I noticed that the vibe towards me from a couple of other students seemed a little bit different. Not hostile or terribly off-putting, just different.  Eventually the student who was in charge of the party came up and told me that he was sorry if I was offended, and that he hoped I’d come to the party now. I asked him why I would be offended and this is what he said to me:

“Well we knew you felt excluded because it’s a Christmas party and that’s why you’re not coming. We’ve changed the name and theme to a “holiday” party, so we really hope you’ll join us now!”

Seriously?

Basically the chatter was that I don’t actively celebrate this holiday and thus wasn’t going to attend this party as part of my tiny, passive-aggressive war on Christmas. Not only that, but they’d changed the whole thing to accommodate me! It certainly explained why I was getting weird vibes from some students. Even after I pointed out that it had nothing to do with my beliefs, but rather that I had obligations elsewhere, I continued to get some attitude. And they never changed it back to a “Christmas” party.

The saddest part is that, despite my “victory”, I still wasn’t going to attend. I already had a friends’ Christmas party to go to.  0608-11

{ 71 comments… read them below or add one }

stepmomster December 6, 2011 at 1:48 am

I call that passive aggressive politeness… we won’t ask you why, we assume the worst, but will be the bigger people to fix it whether you asked us to or not… and excuse us for the martyr complex, but we did go out of our way to assume drama. FOR YOU.

*insert sarcasm here*
You Grinch you; You stole their “Christmas” :P.

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DocCAC December 6, 2011 at 2:01 am

Since you had another Christmas party to attend, it might have been nice to say you couldn’t come for that reason. In all likelihood, that would have prevented the question being asked, and would have definately prevented the changing of the party theme from the original Christmas party to a holiday party. You might still have gotten a comment like “Oh, I didn’t think you celebrated Christmas.”, which you could have responded to in any manner you liked. I don’t think there would have been any shift in attitude if you had told them this. I am Christian, and don’t expect any party like this to be anything but secular in tone but some get offended by the name change. Please don’t lecture me on the history of how this started out as a non-Christian holiday, etc.; I’m aware of it. As long as I can say Merry Christmas, sing songs and carols celebrating it as Chrst’s birthday (even though it is highly unlikely He was born in Dec. but Dec. 25th is as good a day as any to celebrate His birth), I personally don’t care what greeting you use or what you call your holiday, if anything. I think your behavior was appropriate but it might have been nice to add what I mentioned at the first of the letter. I think the organizer added 1+1 and got 3, but was trying hard to include you since you didn’t make it clear why you weren’t attending (not that you had to really, but when they asked if you celebrated Christmas at all, you mentioning the other Christmas party along with the fact that you didn’t but loved this time of year could prevented the resentment or what ever). The shift in attitude wasn’t rude per se, more like possible resentment that Christmas had been superceded by the more generic holiday. People talking about this behind your back? I wouldn’t send them to eHell for this. I was in a very small group of students in undergrad with my major, but we were more like extended family instead of like a work environment, and we probably would have done the same thing assuming the original student didn’t just ask straight out if not celebrating Christmas was why one of the group wasn’t attending. Then again, we might not have given it much thought at all and just gone ahead with the original plan. My undergrad years were more than a few years ago, before anyone worried about holiday parties vs. Christmas parties, but we did understand religious differences. You don’t mention if the shift in attitude persisted past the holiday break. If it did then those people need to just get over it, but it is not out-and-out rude IMHO.

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Rabbit December 6, 2011 at 2:07 am

It sounds as if the letter writer had some real friends there who truly wanted the writer’s company and went out of their way to accommodate and include the writer in their party. I think what they did was rather sweet. Awkward and overboard, but sweet none the less.

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Stacey Frith-Smith December 6, 2011 at 2:45 am

I think the story points out the problems with making assumptions about people based on how the groups they are affiliated with are perceived. Your group could have saved themselves an enormous amount of angst simply by communicating with one another and with you. I love the idea that everyone is free to celebrate- this is how life is best savored! And without respect to the holiday per se, may I simply wish you joy for the sake of the smile your story gave me!

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Dina December 6, 2011 at 2:46 am

Oh the irony ;__;

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Margaret December 6, 2011 at 3:50 am

I hope you told him that the reason you couldn’t attend the holiday party was that you were attending a Christmas party.

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Rei December 6, 2011 at 4:16 am

I think this is a poorly played game of “Telephone” mixed with a lot of good intentions from a few people and a lot of begrudging acceptance of the good intentions by the rest.

It seems as if the lead planner of the party and maybe another person or two went “Oh no, we left out Jamie [not knowing the OP's gender, neutral seemed appropriate]!” after one person misunderstood Jamie’s statement as really meaning “Oh…I guess I’m not really welcome…*sad face* Oh well, I couldn’t go anyway, I’m busy…”

I find that very sweet and well-intentioned. However, it would have been better if this small group had found the confidence to just talk to Jamie without changing anything. Also, I suspect there were other people in the group who thought Jamie was being a poor sport and treated him/her oddly accordingly.

Hopefully, this group communicated more effectively after this little mix-up. :)

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NicoleK December 6, 2011 at 5:08 am

You should make a token appearance.

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Lilya December 6, 2011 at 5:20 am

In the words of miss Manners, “what interesting assumptions…”
I wonder what prompted your classmates to elect themselves your knights in shiny PC armor and whether they realized they just came off as gossips and rumor mongerers. Even if they thought something bothered you, do they think you’re a child and can’t be trusted to speak your mind?
If there’s one thing I hate is people thinking they know how I feel about things better than I do.

The person in charge of the party should have talked to you before implementing any change on heresay alone. I’d cast all of them in E-Hell, but the gossiping classmates go on a deeper level.

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lkb December 6, 2011 at 6:57 am

It’s so sad that we are all stumbling over ourselves to try to not offend anyone. It sounds like the OP and her classmates were trying really hard to not offend anyone and the result was the classmates ended up walking on eggshells to be politically correct, which made the celebration less fun for everybody. (I can almost guarantee at least one of the attendees inwardly winced at it being billed as a “holiday” party rather than a “Christmas” party.)

I admit I’m a Catholic Christian and I use “Merry Christmas” (to me, “Happy Holidays” sounds so bland, generic and plain vanilla, though I do of course understand and acknowledge that others celebrate different holidays).

I wish I knew what the solution to this is.

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Jai December 6, 2011 at 7:17 am

One year my workplace announced they weren’t going to have a tree or decorations as it might offend the 5% of staff who were Muslim. The Muslim contingent complained that they wanted one – they might not celebrate it but, like you, they loved that time of year. They said the tree cheered the place up and made everyone happy and nicer to work with (true). Management gave in and we’ve celebrated Christmas in style ever since.

I celebrate Christmas and I’ll fight for my right to do so – just as I’ll fight for the rights of anyone who wants to celebrate whatever holiday they want. Obviously we need to be aware that not everyone celebrates the same holidays, but stopping people having good clean fun is political correctness gone mad. As long as they aren’t hurting anyone, let them get on with it.

And happy holidays!

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Jojo December 6, 2011 at 7:39 am

Ah, political correctness is a wonderful thing. I’ve never met anyone that objected to other people celebrating a religious festival. Nor have I ever met anyone who wasn’t delighted to be invited to a religious festival held by another faith. After all, it’s always fascinating to see what happens in other faiths and cultures.
What always gets me is that it’s not the person that objects but that someone else always takes it upon them to reinterpret the original set of circumstances in such a way as to make things awkward for everyone else. I have a particularly toxic aunt who is very skilled at winding up situations so that the original intent is completely twisted and it creates totally unnecessary dramas. One wonders if this is how the Crusades really started.

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QueenofAllThings December 6, 2011 at 8:08 am

I wouldn’t read too much into this. Sure, they made an assumption about your reason for not attending, but they were also trying (not too successfully, but trying) to be inclusive and accommodating.

Sometimes, you just can’t win – if the menorah doesn’t go up next to the Christmas tree for the party, someone gets annoyed. If it does go up, someone else gets annoyed. It’s hard to know the right thing to do.

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Ramey December 6, 2011 at 8:40 am

As a Buddhist, I get it, and it’s comforting to note that you can see that your team had the best of intentions. When it comes to religion, even the nicest, most well-intentioned, sensible people can behave in the most awkward manner.

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alex December 6, 2011 at 9:43 am

I think you have an excellent attitude towards other religions and their holidays and wish more people would take your opinion and allow others to celebrate as they see fit. I am sorry you could not get your classmates to understand that it was not that party but that you had, in fact, another obligation at another Christmas party!

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sv December 6, 2011 at 10:03 am

As a mostly non- practicing Christian, I enjoy Christmas for the feelings of goodwill more than I enjoy it as a celebration of Christianity. I cannot imagine being offended when someone wishes me “Happy Hannukah” or anything else, because I see that as simply an extension of happiness and warm wishes. Sounds like the OP is the same and as such, I feel for you for having to deal with such an awkward and annoying situation!

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LovleAnjel December 6, 2011 at 10:15 am

That sounds so irritating! OP, did you mention you had a prior engagement, or just leave it that you weren’t going? I wonder if the attitude would have been different if it was known (in general) why you weren’t attending. I suppose they might think you were fibbing and hold it all against you anyway.

Don’t make assumptions about people or their intentions based on what little you know about their religious beliefs. A party’s a party, and those of us who are not Christian are just as happy to get in on the food & socializing as everyone else. I wonder how much of this is a result of the annual “War on Christmas” news cycle. Would they have even thought changing the name would please the OP if they hadn’t been hearing about how non-Christians are so offended by decorated trees that they sue whoever put them up?

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Natalie December 6, 2011 at 10:26 am

@ lkb “It’s so sad that we are all stumbling over ourselves to try to not offend anyone.”

That seems like an odd statement to make on a website devoted to discussing etiquette. Perhaps the execution wasn’t graceful, but IMO most actions that are labeled “PC” are largely indistinguishable from etiquette. Is there really much of a difference between “being polite” and “trying not to offend”?

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Phoebe161 December 6, 2011 at 10:28 am

Ah, the joys of trying to be PC. *sarcasm*

Kudos to OP for not being overly sensitive & being tolerant.

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WildIrishRose December 6, 2011 at 10:31 am

Has anyone noticed the propensity that political correctness has to bite itself in the heinie? :)

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Raven December 6, 2011 at 10:34 am

I think this mishap could have been avoided if OP had mentioned her absence would be due to a clash of schedule, and not a clash of religion. I think it’s partly due to the program’s small size that they went overboard to accommodate you; with a small group of people, an absence is more obvious.

It’s possible the religion issue had been raised in the past, prompting this decision. I agree that someone should have talked to OP but I also think OP should have been clearer as well.

As for roday’s trend of PC-mindset, I’ll just say this and move on: political correctness, like other institutions in our lives, began with good intentions but is now running amok. Wanting not to offend people is a good thing (think of it like social etiquette) but some people take it too far; others offend too easily and sue too quickly.

Happy holidays, everyone!

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Sara December 6, 2011 at 10:34 am

Ugh. I’m Jewish, but like many of the previous commentators, I love the whole Christmas season. It’s warm, it’s festive, it reminds us of all the things we have to be grateful for….and I also realize that the majority of this country’s population is Christian and/or celebrates Christmas. I’ve never understood why I should be so offended by someone wishing me a Merry Christmas or by having a Christmas tree put up in my workplace.
Hanukkah is actually one of the more minor holidays of the Jewish year, so many Jews that I know actually find the PC parade pretty ridiculous. Want to be truly sensitive to our culture and faith? How about giving us the day off for Yom Kippur so we don’t have to take a sick day to observe the most solemn and important day of our religious year? THAT would be an actual, meaningful expression of understanding.

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Wink-n-Smile December 6, 2011 at 10:41 am

While Miss Manners says that you have absolutely no obligation to state your reasons for declining any invitation, there is also no rule that says you cannot.

For office parties such as this, the best response would be an excited, “Oh, boy! I would LOVE to go,” followed by a saddened, “But I have a previous engagement on that date,” followed by another excited, “But I hope you have a WONDERFUL time!”

It’s nice to know that they tried, even if it did turn out badly.

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Pixie December 6, 2011 at 10:44 am

DocCAC, I have. To disagree. The OP is under no obligation to explain why he/she is unable to attend. And the OP shouldn’t feel responsible for everyone else’s gossip, which is the real reason the party was changed.

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Firecat December 6, 2011 at 10:49 am

I give your classmates an “A” for intentions, and a “Fail” for execution. As awkward as it would have felt, would it really have been so difficult for one of the organizers to take you aside and ask you if you’d prefer that it be a “holiday” party rather than a “Christmas” party? And then you could have explained that you had plans to attend a friend’s party, and most likely all would have been well. Still, I do think their intentions were good – they wanted to make you feel included, or at least not offended, but it ended up backfiring, because of some “interesting assumptions.”

Of course, it’s also possible that even if you had explained that you had plans to attend a friend’s party, your classmates may have assumed that it was a social lie. Sometimes you really can’t win!

Anyway, I’m a non-Christian myself, and I really would rather hear “Happy Holidays” than “Merry Christmas.” Yes, it’s generic – to me, that’s the point. By being generic, it acknowledges that there are many religions with celebrations this time of year (Solstice, Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, etc., etc.), and even many folks who celebrate in a purely secular fashion. But I’m not going to get offended or upset if someone says “Merry Christmas,” to me, and likely return it with “Thanks – you, too.”

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Hemi Halliwell December 6, 2011 at 10:53 am

Why couldn’t the person who planned the party just talk with OP and clear up any misunderstandings before anything was changed? Surely clearing up a misunderstanding isn’t rude.
Something similiar happened at my workplace. We used to have a “Christmas Party”. Some people of non-Christian faith become employed and the party was changed to “Holiday Staff Get-Together”. A couple of the non-Christian employees asked me (I’m the admin asst.) why they changed the party. I told them I didn’t know which was the truth- I was just told one day to change the flyer and sign up list.
Celebrate or don’t. Just respect others right to do the same.

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Carol December 6, 2011 at 10:53 am

My theatre group calls our annual party Saturnalia. No one gets offended.

I think the worst part of this story is how the classmates don’t seem to want to believe that the OP isn’t offended. I personally would find that really frustrating, because their perceptions are forever altered simply because they don’t want to believe that ‘Christmas vs Holiday’ drama really is silly and unnecessary.

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Anonymous December 6, 2011 at 10:57 am

They were trying to be nice. I think we should judge people, especially younger people, on their intentions more than anything else. Some guidance is okay, but they meant well.

Funny thing, the Supreme Court has pretty much said a Christmas tree is a secular symbol. True to that, I had a friend who had a Muslim mom and a Jewish Dad and they had a Christmas tree.

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Chocobo December 6, 2011 at 11:00 am

As with all manners, there is a presumption of goodwill unless proven otherwise. The OP’s friends were awkward and presumed too much — a learning lesson for them — but it is no reason to get offended when they are only trying to please her or him.

If the friends truly had their own agenda, that would prove itself in time, but I would chalk this one up to awkwardness. Certainly I have had friends who truly just wanted to include me but didn’t know how to do it, and others who clearly showed their interest in a conversion more than a friendship over time. I would forgive and forget and move past the awkwardness with them. They may just not know how the OP really feels; the best thing to do is to be as effusive and cheery as possible so they won’t misunderstand and read too much into feelings that aren’t there.

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Enna December 6, 2011 at 11:01 am

Oh dear that does sound awkard.

@ NicoleK: the OP already had plans to go to a different Christmas party, so depending on logistiscs popping may not be pratical. The others should have accpeted what the OP said 1) he/she had somewhere else to be and 2) that he/she does love this time of year. They shouldn’t have jumped to conclusions or made assumptions. Maybe next time the OP shoud say he/she has another Christmas party to go to – could they change the date? I can imagine some of my non-Christain firends happily going to a Christmas party just selecting the veggie option for dinner.

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NK December 6, 2011 at 11:03 am

Look on the bright side—at least your classmates respect your beliefs enough to be willing to change the party theme for you. They may have been wrong in their assumptions, but it sounds like their intentions were good.

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Yarnspinner December 6, 2011 at 11:15 am

Political Correctness taken too far. Love the ending of the story.

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GroceryGirl December 6, 2011 at 11:32 am

I had a similar situation happen at my job. I make it a point never, ever, ever to discuss religion at work but one day I was eating lunch and reading a book when someone asked me a question pertaining to religion. Because I was distracted and without thinking I let slip my own personal religious stand point. The second I did I wish I could have caught the words and jammed them back in my throat but my coworker heard and told others. There was definitely a shift in the attitude of my coworkers once they heard. (Mind you, I didn’t say anything offensive I literally said “Oh, I’m _____”) No one was out-and-out rude or cruel or anything but I could tell they viewed me differently.

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Politrix December 6, 2011 at 11:37 am

I agree that perhaps the OP could have clarified the situation — and avoided an awkward misperception — by stating that she was attending another Christmas party on the same date as the one being held — but on the other hand, is it anybody else’s business why she turned down the invitation? Is it the other people’s responsibility to second-guess why she wasn’t going to attend the party? I’d think, “Sorry, I won’t be able to make the party, but hope you all have a good time anyway… drink some extra eggnog for me!” would suffice, and no further explanation would be needed. But I kind of see the other students’ point of view too, and it was nice that they went out of their way to include the OP. More of a misunderstanding than an etiquette breach, perhaps; but I kind of can’t help but wonder why the other students immediately jumped to the conclusion that it was the OP’s religious affiliation, and not the date of the party, that was the issue.
Anyway, happy holidays everyone… whatever you celebrate! And if you aren’t affiliated with any particular religion, season’s greetings and a Happy New Year!!!!! :)

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The Elf December 6, 2011 at 11:38 am

Count me in as another non-Christian who enjoys Christmas. Well, sort of. By the time Dec 25 rolls around I’ve become a curmudgeon who mutters darkly at hearing YET ANOTHER rendition of “Jingle Bell Rock” when I’m just trying to grocery shop. But I do like the decorations, the feelings of goodwill, and the parties. It doesn’t bother me in the slightest when someone wishes me a Merry Christmas, nor does it bother me when somebody wishes me a Happy Holidays.

Pretty much the only thing that bothers me are people who insist that I can’t *possibly* celebrate Christmas without being Christian or who get offended if I use “Happy Holidays”.

I would have felt a little guilty that they went through effort on a false assumption, but hey, it was their false assumption. You didn’t have to tell them that you had another party to go to. “I have a another commitment that night” is a pretty standard and inoffensive reason to decline.

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Mippa December 6, 2011 at 11:39 am

I’m with the camp that feels these were well-intentioned people who were doing their best to include the OP, and were doing all they could to make sure they didn’t offend with any over-sights. I would hope that those who read this will see the good that came of it (broadened horizons, lessons learned) will veer away from being overly judgmental and see that there wasn’t really anyone worthy of EHell here.

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Mjaye December 6, 2011 at 11:41 am

I’m Jewish and really could care less when people wish me a Merry Christmas. I just wish them a merry one right back. Once when I was working part-time in a store, people would often wish me a Merry Christmas. A co-worker who knew I was Jewish began to get offended on my behalf. I told him that they were not being anti-Jewish and if I felt no offense, he should just relax.
OT, what really gets on my nerves to be honest is Hanukkah. It is such a minor holiday historically on the Jewish calendar that has been blown way out of porporation by its’ nearness to Christmas. The retailers have pumped it up as another way to get people to buy the latest toys, electronics. That is my opinion at least.

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Xtina December 6, 2011 at 11:50 am

I wish people would grow up and put on their big-girl (or boy) panties when it comes to this time of the year and not take (or assume) offense over whichever religion’s celebration a person, company or other entity chooses to celebrate, decorate for, or speak of.

Of course it is prudent to be respectful of other cultures’ celebrations and not actively do something that would be deemed irreverent or offensive to those people in the name of “MY” celebration, but at the same time, one must realize that if they are in a country or region that is predominantly [insert religion or preference], then they should expect to do as the locals do (and roll with the punches), so to speak–at least in terms of strangers giving them well-wishes, decorating, party themes, etc. At any rate, one shouldn’t be offended if someone mistakenly assumes NO offense in wishing them a merry Christmas, happy Hannukah, or whatever. Just try to remember the spirit behind the season (whatever it means to you) and say “thanks, nice of you to think of me”. One should only take offense if that sentiment is delivered with a vitriolic comment or rude question/assumption about one’s religion or culture.

This time of the year is important to a lot of people, religious and secular. Let’s all just try to enjoy each other’s company and keep the spirit behind it in perspective.

That said, the students here assumed too much of the OP. I hope they learned a lesson in speaking up and asking (respectful) questions before pulling a stunt like this and talking behind someone’s back. Also hope the OP told them that they couldn’t attend the HOLIDAY party because he or she had previously accepted an invitation to a CHRISTMAS party at the same time.

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Xtina December 6, 2011 at 11:55 am

whoops–to clarify my last sentence, hope the OP told them (the students) that he or she (the OP,, not “they”) couldn’t attend……etc.

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spartiechic December 6, 2011 at 12:04 pm

Well…you know what they say about assuming. I can see the good intentions behind everything, but, along the way, someone should have asked you before just changing everything. Also, those that were feeling resentful need to get off their horses and remember that, once upon a time, Christmas was called Saturnalia and didn’t have anything to do with Christianity. I highly doubt that it’s a coincidence that many religions celebrate some sort of holiday around the winter solstice. It actually makes it quite convenient really. I personally celebrate Christmas, but take a happy Chanukah, happy holidays, or anything else someone wants to wish me. They are well wishes and I accept them as such and will repeat them back.

On another note, it’s ridiculous to punish someone with passive aggressive behavior because you blame them for something that was clearly the idea of the host. I’ve noticed that a lot of the problems on here could have been solved with good old-fashioned communication. Perhaps, if people actually talked more, they might be able to understand others better.

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Elizabeth December 6, 2011 at 12:26 pm

while they should have been forthright and just asked you about, it sounds like it was a sweet gesture. WHen you said at first you couldnt attend, had you mentioned it was because of another christmas party, there would have been no issue.

I think its also worth mentioning that while it may have been a work environment, these are still young college students and college students arent great with confrontation (after spending 4 yrs working with them, I can attest to this fact).
If you did like these people, I also dont see why you couldn’t have made an effort to attend both christmas parties. it would have been a considerate guesture to show up, even for a few minutes, say some hellos, then leave to go to your friend’s party.

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Duni December 6, 2011 at 12:50 pm

This reminds me of Ben Stein’s “Confessions for the Holidays”.

http://www.snopes.com/politics/soapbox/confessions.asp

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Sarah Jane December 6, 2011 at 12:59 pm

An office party (or class party) should always be called a “Holiday Party”, unless religious belief is inherent to the unification of the group (such as a church office or religious organization.) As many have mentioned here, a number of religious-based events are celebrated this time of year, so why choose only one to mention in the name? That being said, office/class parties are typically not designed to mark any religious occasion (I’ve never been to an office “Christmas” party where the birth of Christ was celebrated in any specific way), but rather to allow everyone in the group, regardless of their beliefs, to have a good time and spread holiday cheer. It doesn’t need to be titled a “Christmas party” or “Hannukah” party or anything else.

Is there some special reason you didn’t tell them you had other plans? You certainly weren’t obligated too, but if I were a member of a group as close-knit as this sounds, I’d naturally wonder why someone would decline with no explanation. He was left to speculate, which is what he did.

They drew a naive and silly conclusion about you, but I’m going to chalk it up to the fact that these guys were probably mostly young and inexperienced. At least they cared enough about you to try to make it appropriate so you’d want to attend.

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Shoebox December 6, 2011 at 1:28 pm

Speaking as a member of a faith that (rather famously) doesn’t celebrate Christmas or any other winter festival, I can vouch for the need to put people at ease over the concept. Many offices I’ve worked at do indeed pre-emptively rebrand the concept as a ‘holiday party’ — for one thing, my current bosses are Jewish — but I suppose a lot don’t.

It’s not right or wrong, just a sociological truth, and one that often applies to religious belief: if you’re behaving in a way that’s entirely contrary to the majority norm, that’s going to create a certain amount of weirdness in the atmosphere.

Going forward, I’d work out a little speech to give to the party organizers when the subject first comes up, based specifically on what you do and don’t feel comfortable with. (Mine goes, “No problem with the all-inclusive year-end celebration, but not participating in the Secret Santa, sorry.”) Then carry on with being cheerfully non-judgmental. Eventually the idea will be gotten.

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Emmers December 6, 2011 at 1:29 pm

I too, am not of Christian faith and have learned quickly that when someone asks a question like that, which has the core goal of learning your religious activities, I would answer as such “I made plans with close friends beforehand that I really can’t miss!” and leave it at that. If I personally didn’t find anything wrong with saying “no it’s not my holiday” I would go a route closer to “I don’t really do Christmas for myself but some close friends invited me to their party already. Thanks for inviting on me but I already promised I’d be there for them” Wishing them Happy Holidays and saying a pleasant goodbye.

It may not have been a malicious action against you, but passive aggressively setting you on the pedestal of blame is inappropriate. Assuming that you yourself where acting aggressively in anyway, is also extremely inappropriate! My mother used to say “Assumptions make an ‘ass’ out of ‘you’ and ‘me’” and this scenario was clearly a case where the party throwers made a wild assumption on the reasoning of your actions and passive aggressively decided to do what they thought would ‘please you’, causing more harm then good.

Very often I am met with cursory passive questioning to gauge what faith I am, which while not malicious I still find to be intruding. Even if I did not attend their party based on passive aggressiveness it still was not their business to try and sniff out your religion.

I occasionally get ‘well meaning comments’ (the kind that are hiding that snarky tone and fake look of pity) about being an Atheist on Christmas. It’s reminded me of a South Park episode at times! But folks are truly shocked to find out I celebrate Christmas, not as a religious occasion but as a tradition I’ve done since childhood as will continue to do.

It’s better for people to try and avoid assumptions…

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Leslie Holman-Anderson December 6, 2011 at 1:58 pm

Like OP, I’m a non-Christian who has no problem with Christmas. It has, like almost all other holidays, both religio-spiritual and cultural aspects. The cultural aspects — Santa, trees, lights, gifts, etc — are how we as a people celebrate the midwinter festive season, and are something we all can share despite our private religious differences. And those religious differences are not, in the end, all that different, centering as they all do around the birth (or rebirth) of Light into a dark world. You can view that Light either literally — the return of the sun — or metaphorically — the spiritual Light of the World in one tradition, the Miracle of the Lamps in another, and so on, but the specifics of what we celebrate is, culturally speaking, less important than the fact that whatever our faith, together we all celebrate something at the same time. I don’t believe there’s another event all year long where the whole world pauses and remembers that we’re all in this together! So Merry Christmas and Blessed Be!

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Harley Granny December 6, 2011 at 2:25 pm

Wow…they went out of their way to try to make you feel included and in return they are getting raked over the coals. Unbelievable!
If we’re going to play the passive agressive angle here we could always blame the OP for being deliberatly vague just to watch the reactions. Which is just as silly as the others calling it a Christmas Party.
It all boils down to communication….It could have been easily avoided by just telling them that you had a prior commitment on the date of the party. No telling them where you going of why…you just have plans.
Why do people have to make things so difficult?

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Kat December 6, 2011 at 2:26 pm

Sara – I am not religious, but I too have always found it a bit weird the way the US makes Hannukah into THE Jewish holiday just because it so conveniently lines up with the Christian holiday.

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Goldie December 6, 2011 at 2:31 pm

My two cents…

1) The OP did not owe anyone an explanation. It’s not like she was calling in sick at work and had to provide proof that she was actually sick. Besides, she told her classmate that she was not able to attend. Which part of “I cannot make it” sounded to him like “I don’t want to come because I feel excluded”?

2) Further, the OP isn’t a mind reader. Her classmates could’ve jumped to any kind of conclusions, being offended about the party being called “Christmas party” is only one of them. How could she have explained herself if she did not know what kind of explanation was needed?

3) I guess what gets me the most is, getting everyone to agree to change the name of the party, changing the signs, decorations etc. takes some time and work. So I cannot help wondering — how much time did the OP’s classmates spend gossiping about her behind her back before they got all those changes going? They could’ve saved themselves a lot of effort by simply asking her if she’d meant what they thought she’d meant.

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JS December 6, 2011 at 2:45 pm

@Xtina: I always appreciate a “Happy Holidays” over a “Merry Christmas.” I know that I’m not part of the majority culture, and that I need to roll with the punches (although please be aware that many of us outside of the majority culture are doing just that every freaking day already), and I’m not going to let it get to me when people assume that I’m celebrating Christmas. However, in a society that prides itself on welcoming people from all walks of life, I always appreciate the effort on the part of the majority to acknowledge that their beliefs are not universal.

I’m always confused when people complain that they are burdened by having to respectfully restrain their celebrations to such a minor extent, as they did to OP. It seems to lead to exactly this type of baseless resentment.

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