I was hoping I could still get some assistance with a minor but ongoing irritation in my life.
I am Jewish, and I live in the Midwest, and that is awkward. I’m almost always the only Jewish person in my social circle, workplace, etc. Eleven months out of the year, this is a non-issue. And then there’s December. Captain, why are people SO WEIRD about Christmas? Even non-religious friends seem to get swept up into it. I feel like all month I hear an unending barrage of “oh but it’s really a secular holiday so it’s fine if you participate!” and “you’re really hurting my feelings/ruining Christmas for me if you don’t participate in my tree decorating party/secret santa/whatever!” Guys. I DON’T WANT TO PARTICIPATE IN ANYTHING CHRISTMAS RELATED IT MAKES ME VERY UNCOMFORTABLE. Not only do I have my own holiday to celebrate that is much less stressful thank you very much, I really hate the constant pressure to observe someone else’s holidays. How can me not celebrating YOUR holiday ruin it FOR YOU? I don’t seem to be able to convince people that their holiday feelings are their problems and not mine.
Most of my long term friends are used to this and even if they don’t totally understand they leave me alone about it. But I feel like every time I meet someone new I have to go through a song and dance routine to convince them that no, really, I don’t celebrate Christmas NO REALLY I DON’T WANT TO. This particular year is extra stressful because I just started a new job and I always I feel like I’m missing some workplace etiquette this time of year. Having brand new coworker dynamics to navigate just makes things more confusing. For example, someone I don’t know (because I literally just started this job a week ago) left an admittedly very cute little jar of hot chocolate with a “merry christmas” note attached to it in my work mailbox (she gave one to everyone, it’s not just me). But. Do I have to get her something in return? Or write her a thank you card?? Can I just wear a shirt all month that says “Sorry, I’m Jewish, please leave me out of your strange Christmas rituals, Gentiles”??? Idk how to handle this at work especially where I’m worried my preexisting annoyance will come across as hostility or ingratitude to people I’ve just met but would like to develop at least an amiable working relationship with.
Any scripts or advice you have for getting people to believe that I really and truly want to be left out of All Things Christmas would be greatly appreciated!
~Christmas is Confusing
Hello and Happy Hanukkah-Just-Under-The-Wire!
Bad news: The good people of your Midwestern homeland are probably gonna keep inviting you to Christmas/”holiday” shit literally forever. It’s just so…dominant. I’m sorry. Most of them aren’t thinking about stuff like “Hey maybe insisting that Jewish folks celebrate Christmas with you is in itself a kind of anti-Semitism” or “Erasure is a form of violence” or “There is a kind of privileged obliviousness that is indistinguishable from malice,” they are thinking “I have to include everyone (in my culturally dominant thing) because the meta-narrative indicates that nobody should be alone or left out on Christmas and I am a nice person who wants to do the good thing here.” They are also thinking about themselves as individual nice people with good intentions and not thinking about the gauntlet of individual-totally-separate-not-oppressive-at-all-interactions that the person outside the dominant group has to run. Right now it’s like every Geek Social Fallacy mated with the Spirit of Christmas and then they high-fived the Invisible Hand, and anyone who isn’t psyched about this time of year is made to feel like they are broken somehow.
Since you’re new to the company and mostly asking about work, for me, this is one of those “do you want to change hearts and minds or do you want to get out of the interactions as quickly as possible” decisions. If your goal is quickly dodging the interactions with people – especially people you aren’t that close to, people senior to you at work, people you see rarely – one strategy at your disposal is thanking people for the effort at inclusion as you decline the substance of the invitation, like, “Thank you for inviting me/wanting to include me in your holiday celebration, that’s very kind of you, but I’m Jewish and it’s really important to me to focus on my own holidays at this time of year.”
Them: “But it’s not a religious party, we’re just decorating the tree and wearing ugly sweaters and playing seasonal music in a totally secular way!”
You: “I appreciate you wanting to include me, that’s very kind. I’d love to come hang out another time, but at this time of year I really like to focus on Jewish celebrations/my holiday traditions/my Jewish family & friends, so, I won’t make it.”
In other words, treat the person like they have good intentions, acknowledge that the invitation is kindly meant, and reiterate your refusal.
(I know. Thanking people for doing annoying shit is awful. I know. I’m sorry. It’s just…It’s just the quickest way.)
You don’t owe your coworker a note or a return present in exchange for the hot chocolate at work. If you wanted to say a verbal “Thanks it was tasty” or “Hey, I’m Jewish, what’s the thanking protocol here?” it would be just fine. Also, if you can find a cool peer to connect with, try being really honest: “Everyone’s so nice here and I don’t want to make a faux pas, but I’m Jewish and Christmas is super-not my thing, what’s the protocol for hanging back from holiday crap without looking like a jerk?” That person will know the office lore and can also be your ambassador with others.
Here’s where it gets interesting. If you say “thanks so much for thinking of me but I’m Jewish so nope,” most actually-well-intentioned people will understand that the social circuit has been completed and they will back off. If the person doesn’t back off, they are the ones who are making the situation really, really weird. If you feel safe to do so, go ahead and let it be as uncomfortable for them as it is for you. Discomfort is one way that people learn.
- :long awkward silence where you look at them and let the awkwardness build:
- “Wow, is there a problem? You seem really upset that I celebrate different holidays from you.”
- “Thanks, but I’m Jewish, I only celebrate Jewish holidays.”
- “I’m Jewish, and I know you mean to be kind by including me, but I need you to hear me right now: I don’t celebrate anything to do with Christmas.”
- “I’m Jewish, I find the whole Christmas season exhausting and pretty confusing, so I mostly put my head down for the month of December except for Jewish traditions.”
- “Still super Jewish, so, no thanks on bobbing for elves or making eggnog together.”
- “If I seem a little touchy about this stuff it’s because I am. I wish you well in how you celebrate your holiday, but I cannot stress how much it’s really not my jam.”
- “I know you didn’t mean any harm when you invited me, but you gotta take no for an answer about this if we’re going to stay friends/work well together.”
You’re not new at this, so you know what’s coming next, right?
Them: “Well I have a friend who’s Jewish and theyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy put up a Christmas tree/love eggnogg/do Secret Santa at work, come on, it will be funnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnn!”
You: “Huh, yeah, a lot of Jewish people have embraced the ‘best of all worlds’ approach but I only celebrate Jewish holidays, so you’ll have to get by somehow without me.”
I can’t turn down the background volume for you but hopefully this can give you some confidence in sticking by your crankiness without apology. If all else fails, tell people what a good friend told a particularly aggressive street preacher at a bus stop one time: “Oh, no thank you. Jesus was Jewish, and so am I!” We got on the bus and it pulled away slowly and his mouth hung open all the while as he tried to parse the truth of that statement.
People I’d most like to hear from in comments: Fellow Jewish folks who can give the Letter Writer comfort, humor, and solidarity in coping strategies. Did you defensively decorate your cube with a giant fucking dreidel so that the Party Planning Committee would step off? Tell us all about it. Also welcome: Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists and any and all non-Christian religious folks, etc., etc.
If you grew up celebrating Christmas and have complicated feelings about it now for whatever reason (estranged family, atheism, whatever) you know I hear you and you know I love you but maybe this thread is more of a listening-and-nodding-along thread than a sharing-all-your-thoughts thread. There’s a difference between leaving a tradition and never being inside it in the first place (and still being expected to comply).
If you want to patiently and sincerely explain that #NotAllChristmasLovers are like that and you would never, ever do this to a Jewish coworker, this is definitely a day to practice being quiet. If you’re not like that, then keep doing what you’re doing – you don’t need to justify it to us! Shhhhhhhh….here’s a funky song. Here’s another one.
Seven more days. We can do this, y’all. Seven more days.
December 21: After 601 comments, it’s time to close this discussion down. Letter Writer, I hope you got some good suggestions and solidarity.