“It’s the most wonderful time of the year….”
Thanksgiving is here, which means that we’re fast approaching a tidal wave of festiveness that will drag us through the new year. With so much forced celebration in such a small amount of time, there are a few holiday debates that always seem to pop up year after year:
“Should Christmas music be permitted before Thanksgiving?”
“Sweet Potatoes–to marshmallow, or not to marshmallow?”
“Is Die Hard really a Christmas movie?”
I may be an atheist, but I still celebrate Christmas with my family in a traditional sense; exchanging gifts, baking cookies, and tuning into 24 Hours of ‘A Christmas Story’ are just a few traditions I look forward to year after year. Given my secular background, I find myself having a more cynical perspective on some of the reoccurring holiday squabbles. One debate that has always baffled me is the supposed “War on Christmas“. If you’ve been living under a rock for the past decade, the yearly battle seems to resurface just around the same time that Starbucks releases its annual holiday-themed cups. The protectors of Christmas allege that there is a secular conspiracy to wipe out the holiday as we know it with areligious greetings and drinkware.
As an Atheist in the Christmas foxhole, I have a few thoughts on this:
Nobody is Trying to Cancel Christmas
Between Thanksgiving and New Years alone there are more than a dozen major religious holidays and observances. I don’t say “Happy Holidays” just because I’m an Atheist, I do so because it’s more inclusive (plus I’m lazy). Despite the conspiracy theorists, a growing number of Americans are indifferent to being on the receiving end of a non-religious seasonal greeting. And much like myself, more than half of Americans are already observing Christmas as a cultural holiday versus a religious one.
Yes, It Can Be Illegal to Force the Holidays on Your Employees
A few years back I stumbled upon a LinkedIn post where a company’s owner proudly boasted that he wouldn’t be accepting any holiday greetings besides “Merry Christmas”–“Happy Holidays” and “Winter Wishes” be damned! While his little public stunt riled up plenty of supporters and dissenters, the reality of the matter is when a company highlights one religious observance over another (especially when it comes from the top rungs of the organization), they’re opening themselves up to some not-so-festive lawsuits.
While the EEOC has declared the Christmas Tree fair game as a non-offending workplace holiday decoration, there are other holiday practices that employers need to be mindful of. As always, Title VII requires covered employers to allow reasonable accommodations for sincerely-held religious beliefs and observances. Regardless of how much planning and money went into your company holiday party, you can’t force mandatory attendance if it conflicts with an employee’s religious beliefs (plus you’re stirring up a whole bunch of yucky FLSA nonsense you really don’t want to get into). And finally, you can’t actually force your employees to say “Merry Christmas” if doing so would conflict with the employee’s religious beliefs.
In summary…the holidays are already a stressful time for everyone, let’s not make it more complicated than it needs to be?
Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Happy Kwanzaa, Have a Super Saturnalia, and most importantly–Happy Holidays, y’all!