Christmas as a Government Holiday

In the thread on prayer at graduation, this topic came up. Since that thread is long enough anyway, I decided to split it out.

Papabear said:

I’d say that really depends on what that workload entails. Where I work (for state government), I’d get more done if there weren’t so many people around! There may be some instances where what you have said is true (for example, see below where I’m going to talk about schools), but I don’t think it is correct as a general statement.

Who says I tolerate other superstitions? :slight_smile:

Melin said, in the same thread:

Some suburban Chicago schools are the same way. And while I think it’s still a bit touchy, I do think that is a valid reason (note that the reason is based upon how many students and/or teachers would be there on that holiday, not just because it’s a holiday for one particular religious group). But I also think this is a case that is specific to schools and cannot be applied across the board to other governmental institutions – and even in schools it needs to be watched to make sure a line isn’t crossed.

“It’s a very dangerous thing to believe in nonsense.” – James Randi

I nominate David B. to be the one that gets to sort out all the logistics involved in reconciling the various religious holidays that federal workers feel they need to observe with day to day operations.

Why is it so hard to recognize (and accept) the practicality of closing down the government on a day that most Americans would refuse to work?

It seems that since the courts ruled against school prayer (a just and necessary ruling I might add) some liberals have decided to pursue petty, technical violations such as municipal creches (?) and federal holidays. There are certainly more worthwhile crusades out there.

As a Federal employee and a Christian, I appreciate my employer’s generous offer of closing down for Christmas. However I don’t believe that the government SHOULD give Christmas off as an official holiday. The generous leave policy that all Federal employees have would allow them to take the day off, while keeping the “wheels of government” turning, albeit slowly. My chief complaint is that I get this day off automatically, without having to use any leave time, while my Jewish friends must use their leave for Yom Kippur or Rosh Hashanah. Ditto with those who are of other religious traditions. If there is supposed to be a separation of church and state (and where to draw the line is admittedly a debatable point), I would submit that there should not be an official Christmas holiday.

I live in the state of Wisconsin, and two years ago they stopped giving Good Friday off for workers because the state suprememe court ruled that it violates the separation of church and state amendment. However, Christmas is still a holiday. Why the contradiction? I don’t know, but I am going to try emailing politicians to ask them. You can too:

Because Christmas is considered a secular holiday. Yes, I know, but the vast commercialization and celebration of the holiday makes it more than just a religious observance (remember, Christmas was pretty much a minor holiday until relatively recently). Christmas itself ties in with various other holidays; quite a few cultures have holidays around the time of the winter solstice.

Good Friday is purely a religious holiday. At the same time, selecting Good Friday as work holiday is no more a recognition of a religion than choosing Labor Day.

Rather than making a bunch of separate posts, I’ll combine my replies into one.

PapaBear said:

If it pays more than what I’m making now, I’ll take it! :wink:

As I indicated in my message, there are cases in which it would make more sense (such as with schools). But until somebody shows me otherwise, I stand by my statement that it just doesn’t matter for most others (such as the state where I work). The state allows for flexible work schedules that put some people here for hours when practically nobody else is around. Why is Christmas any different?

Well, first I’m not exactly crusading against Christmas (I know I’d lose because, as RealityChuck noted, the courts have idiotically ruled it a “secular” holiday). Second, I think the fight against creches makes sense, since that is a prime example of a government body promoting religion. Just because it might not bother you doesn’t make it less of a First Amendment violation.

earendel1 summed up my feelings quite well in his statement (no reason to completely requote it just to say “Yeah!”).

Cheese Head said:

As Reality Chuck noted, the courts have ruled Christmas to be a secular holiday. It is fairly ridiculous to say the day representing the birth of the messiah, according to that particular group of religions, is a non-religious holiday? Yup, but that didn’t stop 'em. They used some mumbo jumbo to claim that because it’s been commercialized and all, that makes it less religious than, say, Good Friday. It’s a massive stretch, but it allowed the courts to make a decision that didn’t piss everybody off and still claim to adhere to the First Amendment.

Personally, if I were a Christian, I think I’d be rather offended at the courts ruling the birth of my savior was not a religious occasion…

“It’s a very dangerous thing to believe in nonsense.” – James Randi

Responding only to the last commont David B. made. I’m probably equal parts amused, annoyed and offended by the courts declaring the commemoration of the birth of my savior to not be a religious occasion. And really, that’s my reaction to a lot of the stuff I hear and see at Christmas as well. As was commented on elsewhere (at least indirectly) there is no reason to believe that Jesus was actually born on December 25. It is MUCH more likely he shares my birthday (October 6). (if someone is curious, ask me for an explanation and I’ll share one, but it isn’t really relevant to the subject at hand). I love traditional Christmas Carols, but find most stuff about Santa, reindeer, gifts, and snow to be really annoying.
Anyway, while Dec. 25 was probably not when Jesus was born, it is the date when most Christians today celebrate his birth. Unfortunately, most of us celebrate this day by giving and recieving gifts and spending time with family. There is nothing wrong with these activities, it is just that I feel sometimes that we’ve forgotten the “true meaning of Christmas” (And if you watch a lot of the Christmas specials, the “True meaning of Christmas” is about giving unselfishly, or love or other similar things, not about the birth of a Savior). So, since I think that to a large degree, even a lot of the Christians I know celebrate the holiday for the “wrong” reasons, I’m inclined to agree with the courts that Christmas has lost a lot of its religious flavor. That doesn’t mean I like it, just that I have more important things to do than act all offended that the courts recognized the secularization of the holiday, and tacitly gave their permission for such to continue.

My parents are both atheists, yet they celebrate Christmas. My own religious beliefs are … complex, but I celebrate Christmas too. It’s a good holiday, and most of its symbols have become secular: pine trees, tinsel, Santa Claus, good will towards mankind, etc. It’d be nicer if it were just a new year’s celebration so that people wouldn’t feel oppressed by it, but there you go.

On a tangent, I’ve heard that the pine tree was a symbol of Saturnalia, the pagan snow festival that Christians were trying to co-opt when they moved Christmas to December. Is that true?

Does anyone rememeber (and this was years ago) when Elvira, Mistress of the Dark, was on Saturday Night Live and talked about how we’ve all forgotten the “true meaning of Halloween”? Great stuff! :

“Halloween isn’t about candy corn and trick-or-treats and cute little tots dressed up like Batman and Snow White. It’s about blood and death! It’s about vampires and evil headless phantoms and flesh-eating zombies! So this year, let’s all try to remember the TRUE meaning of Halloween.”

The United States government will eliminate Christmas as a national holiday the same day that Israel does the same for Yom Kippur.

I am all for the separation of church and state, but David B. badly underestimates the number of people who will be willing to work on December 25th–regardless of whether or not they celebrate Xmas as a religious holiday.

Jews should not have to sacrifice leave for Passover–but to eliminate Christmas as a national holiday would, in my opinion, veer all the way from the “establishment” side of the First Ammendment pendulum toward the “prohibit the free exercise”.

“Interested in fashion, Harmonica?”
“There were three dusters like these waiting for a train.
Inside the dusters were three men. Inside the men were
three bullets…”
Once Upon A Time In The West

Edward said:

Israel is a “Jewish state.” You aren’t making the argument that the US is a “Christian state,” are you?

I do no such thing. I just say it should be up to those people to decide. Maybe only 5 people would show up at the office where I work. So what? The heat and lights are still on (they have to have guards there anyway), and we’d probably get more work done.

And how would you work this? Everybody gets to take off every holiday they want without using vacation days?

That’s ridiculous! I never said anything about preventing anybody from taking the day off! In fact, I specifically gave a good way it could work pretty well (with the personal holidays).

I’d love to hear your explanation on how what I’ve said here at all veers towards prohibiting the free exercise of religion.

“It’s a very dangerous thing to believe in nonsense.” – James Randi

David - Constitutionally you are technically correct. But I still don’t see a practical way for 5 or 10 percent of the federal work force to do anything but kill time on a day that everybody else has taken off.

What does the Jewish mail carrier do that day when the Christian mail sorters have taken the day off? Can the one athiest security guard out of a regular force of 20 be expected to adaquaitly protect an open Federal building on his own?

I’m sure there’s some cliched (but appropriate) metaphore for what your proposing (baby/bathwater, forest/trees), I just can’t think of it rigght now.

DAVID B. – Correct me if I’m wrong, but Christmas is, in this country, a holiday (meaning a day off from work, not a ‘holy day’) for almost everyone, without regard to religion. If you’re Jewish or Buddhist or what have you, and your office closes for the day, you get the day off too. I assume that you’re not objecting to everyone getting a day off, right? I mean, if it was “National Day Off” Day, that would be okay. The objection is that it was, at one time, religiously motivated. So here’s the possible solutions: (1) Make every relgiously-based festival or observance a holiday for everyone – Rosh Hashana; Samhain; Tet. This is unworkable for reasons I think are obvious. (2)Don’t give anyone the day off for any religiously-based festival or observance, no matter how secularized it’s become. My office-mate will take a day off for Yom Kippur, and I’ll take a day off for Christmas, and we both will lose a day of vacation time doing so. The net effect of this is that we have both lost a “holiday” off, and gained another day, during the course of the year, when we will be expected to be at work. We have lost, in effect, one of our rare days off. But, because that day off happens to be Christmas, you apparently WOULD rather have everyone be required to work or take personal time. Is that correct? I don’t want to misrepresent anyone’s opinion. But if it is correct, I think it might win an award for “least popular idea” in the working world. The non-Christians I work with do not object to everyone having Christmas off, because they get the day off too, to do with what they will. They recognize that objecting to it being a company (or, in my case, government) holiday could only lead to everyone losing it as a day off. Why would they want to do that?

(I’m going to again combine responses here.)

PapaBear said:

Thank you. :slight_smile:

As I’ve said, that depends on what they normally do. I work for a state agency. For most of my work, it doesn’t matter if 95% of the other people around are here or not (especially for one day). Heck, today, being the last work day of the fiscal year and the day by which comp time must be used, about 75% of my unit is gone. But I’m still at work, doing what I usually do – writing messages on the SDMB, er, wait… Seriously, though, my work is not interrupted. I have projects I’m working on, and I’m doing them the same as if everybody was here (actually, I’m getting more work done 'cus I’m not interrupted as often).

This is a good example of the kind of thing in which cases you are correct. Like I said, there will be some of those cases, but I don’t think it applies overwhelmingly.

That building probably has to be secured no matter what. Heck, at our building, I think we have fewer security guards during a normal workday than when nobody is around.

Jodih said:

Nope, I think you’ve missed the point. The point is that one group of religions (Christians) gets special governmental recognition of their holiday (government employees are given the day off) while other religions (and those with no religion) get no such recognition. It is government favoring one religious belief.

Obviously, I wouldn’t object to National Day Off Day any more than I object to, say, Labor Day. But neither of those have anything to do with religion.

Correct, which is why I never suggested it.

That is correct to a point. I was about to get annoyed at you for not reading what I’ve written, but it appears that I wrote it in another thread, so I’ll repeat myself.

I have a friend who works at a major company. That company deals with this by giving each employee 12 (or so) “personal holidays” in addition to sick and vacation time. These can be used on whatever holidays the employee deems fit (or, in the case of an atheist, on birthdays and anniversaries and the like). So the Christian uses them to take off Christmas, Good Friday, etc. The Jew uses them to take off Rosh Hashanna, Yom Kippur, etc. Thus, you wouldn’t lose anything (though the Jewish person would gain the ability to take off the day that is holy to him without having to sit at home and waste a day on the day that means nothing to him).

But I bet if you asked them, they would probably rather be able to take off one of their own holidays – instead of having to use a vacation day to do so.

I believe what I have discussed here addresses all of your points and, of some importance, is Constitutional.

“It’s a very dangerous thing to believe in nonsense.” – James Randi

DAVID B. – I don’t know what you do for the government, but I am a government employee as well, and I can assure you that my office would be closed in every practical sense on Christmas regardless of whether the day was given to us as a holiday or not. It’s not just that there wouldn’t be anyone in my job or at my bureau; there wouldn’t be any secretaries, any drivers, any supervisors, any janitors, any cafeteria workers. Now, you may argue that it’s possible for individuals to continue to be productive in an empty office, but I think that the larger picture is that a business gets nothing done when 90% of its employees are gone, so it may as well shut down for the day. So I don’t think giving everyone Christmas off in a country that is overwhelmingly Christian constitutes “special governmental recognition” or the “government favoring one religious belief over another,” an argument that only applies to government employees in any case. Do you want to be the one to impose a governmental policy of no Christmas off, when everyone else in the private sector gets it as a holiday? Good luck.

My point is that we can’t equalize this situation in a positive fashion – that is, to the benefit of all the workers. There are only two ways to make it equal: Give everyone every major religious holiday off (which we agree is unworkable), or take away the holiday of Christmas, removing it as a day off given to ALL workers, and making ALL workers use vacation/personal days for holidays. How would that benefit the non-Christians? It seems to me that this “preferential” treatment (if indeed it is preferential to Christians, as opposed to merely being practical) works to everyone’s benefit – i.e., everyone gets an extra day off. But because you don’t like the REASON why the day off is given, you would prefer to abolish it entirely. This strikes me as being more mean-spirited than promotive of religious tolerance.

Jodih said:

Remember above where I said I was about to get annoyed with you? Well now I am. Are you reading what I write? I specifically went into an example of what would address the situation, be fair to all, and be Constitutional. You ignored it when giving your “only two ways to make it equal.”
So here it is one more time. Please read it this time:

Jodih continued:
It seems to me that this “preferential” treatment (if indeed it is preferential to Christians, as opposed to merely being practical) works to everyone’s benefit – i.e., everyone gets an extra day off.

My god – did you read anything I wrote? It most certainly does not work to everyone’s benefit, since the Christians get their holiday off free while non-Christians have to use a vacation day to take off their holidays. What part are you not getting here?

Maybe if you actually read what I write before you respond to it, you’d get a clearer understanding of the discussion. <sigh>

“It’s a very dangerous thing to believe in nonsense.” – James Randi

jodih said:

Sorry, but I have to agree with David on this one. I work as a government contractor, and it is MUCH easier to get things done when there are fewer people around. No interruptions, no crises that require all of us to work on something, and if it’s a holiday, no clients to call with a crisis either.

I also agree with David on having general holidays people can use whenever they want. In my office, the way our contracts are structured, we have to take the holidays we get within the correct month. However, they do not have to be taken on the proper day. An example: almost no one takes Veteran’s Day off in my office, although it is a holiday for us. Most people work that day and then take a “holiday” the day after Thanksgiving. I know that some of the Jewish people where I work do similar things at Christmas.

So, I agree David - it’s a workable suggestion. Too bad more companies don’t follow it.

“There is such a fine line between stupid and clever.” – David St. Hubbins, Spinal Tap

Falcon said:

Thank you. After the way Jodih responded, I was beginning to think my messages were invisible. <sigh>

While it would be nice if companies followed it as well, my concern has always been with government following it. Privately-owned companies should be able to have whatever religious holidays the owner wants.

“It’s a very dangerous thing to believe in nonsense.” – James Randi

The really sad part is now that I am a State employee, I identify with getting more work done on a holiday when most people are off. I plan on working this Memorial Day, and know I’ll be able to get a lot more done since I won’t be continually interrupted!

DAVID B. – You can’t imagine how desolated I was to find that you’re annoyed. But I’ll try to hang on to my composure long enough to respond. I assume that we are now talking about government employees only, right, as you’ve acknowledged that private employers can give whatever days off they want?

Practically speaking, the problem with it is that the government would be effectively shut down on major holidays such as Christmas anyhow. I know you disagree with me here, and it’s a point that’s hardly worth arguing about since neither of us have any way to prove our position. But if my secretary were Jewish and she came in to work on Christmas, she would be wasting her time as there would be no one here generating work for her to do. Same with the messengers, the copiers (the human ones), the drivers, and the rest of the support staff. Conversely, there might not be enough people around to keep things up and running on days that the government IS supposed to be open. Say I get twelve vacation days a year. I save them up and take 12 days off straight around Christmas, and so does everyone else that I work with. At that point, the government is effectively shut down, not for a day, but for twelve days. As it is now, we have a certain amount of vacation time and if we want to take a week off at Christmas, it eats into that time, which is an incentive not to do it. The holidays are spread out at a rate of roughly day per month, and you can’t “hoard” them for a more favorable time if you don’t feel like taking, for example, Memorial Day, off.

Philosophically, MY point, which YOU seem to be missing, is that I didn’t see – do not see – how it hurts non-Christians that everyone has Christmas off. You say Christians get their holiday off “free;” well, non-Christians get the day off free as well. You would not object if the same thing occurred for Labor Day. You’re sole objection is that some of the employees might use the day off for religious observance. But, you point out, a Jew must use a vacation day for, say, Yom Kippur. As a Christian, I must take a vacation day for Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, which are also major Christian holy days – in fact, to many, more important holy days than Christmas.

The bottom line for me is that a system such as you propose would be unworkable, and very few (okay, none) of the people I work with, regardless of religion, object to everyone being given the 25th of December off. Practically speaking, nobody works that day anyway.

Incidentally, I wouldn’t think that anyone would read my posts and imagine that one of my faults (and lo, they are many) includes an inability to read. If I do not address a point you make it is because I missed it or I don’t believe it merits a response. In such cases, feel free to make the point again, or to ask me point-blank how I would respond to it. It doesn’t strengthen your argument, however, to demonstrate how quickly you can go from civil to snide.