I am sure this is not a new issue to most. It was tough getting through December. It seems like everyone at work is Christian. I get along get with my co-workers, but feel if they knew I was Atheist, some would treat me differently. I am usually not afraid to speak my mind. But, since this is a new job, I have been avoiding discussing religion. When people would wish me "Merry Christmas", I would just say same to you and walk away. But this made me feel bad, because I felt I was not being true to myself, like I am an "in the closet Atheist". I don't feel a need to annouce to everyone my beliefs. Though if someone at work were to ask me what religion I am or if I go to church, I would tell them the truth. Do you think it is better to avoid situations? I don't like confrontation.
Fortunately a work-friend who is a Jehova's Witness started to proseltyze me shortly after I deconverted. This has given me wonderfully cathartic opportunities to laugh, joke, and to rib him mercilessly. Fortunately he has very thick skin and does also get brownie points with his imaginary friend when he does this. These opportunities have helped me to come out of my shell. I tell him, "Al, I'm so glad you are here. I appeciate you. You make me laugh." Which causes a big grin and a chuckle -- and everything is okay. I also am a practicioner of reality based self defense and do train in coping with the emotional and physical impact of negative office situations -- which also helps.
If I were you I'd take Gopi's advice up above. Unless the workplace dominates your life and/or coworkers happen to be close friends, the people you work with have no business knowing your religious preferences. It's like picking battles; if you were to share all your convictions with every stranger you met than of course you run into arguments and stress yourself out needlessly. It isn't worth your time, your energy, or your job security to confide in people who may not respect you and definitely won't see things your way after just one conversation (people almost never do). So what if you have to be a little dishonest from time to time? I've flown under the radar like this at my work for four years. My closest friends, my family, and my girlfriend know that I'm an atheist and my coworkers are none the wiser. Works for me just fine.
Work is not the place for religious battles. I think your approach is appropriate. Unless someone confronts you directly about your beliefs, I personally wouldn’t feel obligated to say anything. As for the “merry Christmas” thing… I usually respond “happy holidays.” If you think about it, it’s really not a big deal. Christmas has become rather secular. It’s just an excuse to be with family and to buy shit, and for kids it’s a break from school and a chance to get the latest shiny object. Even a lot of the Christmas songs are secular. Pick and choose your battles.
One short thing about x-mas.
This is just a small thing that might get x-mas a bit better and enjoyable. In Scandinavia we celebrated the Midwinter festival around the 22:nd of december before the christening of the north began. It was a celebration because och the midwinter solstice, the darkest day of the year. After this day the days would get longer and with that the nights shorter until the midsummer solstice... which also is a celebration. Its not religious, at least not anymore since it's celebrated because daylight is more appreciated when you live a bit higher in the northern hemisphere. An occasion to gather with family and friends to eat well and drink to the future.
When the christians came they saw this as great threat to their reign... they then changed the date for christs birth to todays date so that we would celebrate him instead... which in its own way proves them even more hokey... it stuck... but only a few percent celebrate christmas because of the carpenter here. Sure we give gifts to the kids... but mostly we gather family and friends to eat well and drink to the future.
Things have become tradition here in a perhaps odd way.. we took what was nice about x-mas, eating, drinking, getting together and enjoying ourselves and rid ourselves of the christ-thing... we have pictures of the folklore-gnomish-santas and the christmas-goat which has pagan roots. And we believe in none of that either... but they are nice pictures and makes it festive.
Use this or something similar and times like x-mas might go smoother.
Btw. we still celebrate Midsummer festival ;)
I work at a historically black college with many devout Christians, mostly Pentacostal and Baptist. God comes up almost every hour, in the usual praise or prayer: "I pray to God I ace this exam," "I thank God for passing last semester," etc. (as if God would rather help you answer correctly than help keep starving children alive; such selfish and magical thinking).
Anyway, sometimes religion does come up, and sometimes it gets personal. I've been asked, "What church do you go to?" I've said, "I don't really go to church," and that was the end of the questions. Enough time had passed in our professional relationship that he had liked me enough and was comfortable enough to ask me that. It wasn't necessarily in an effort to feel better about me, but to just to most likely shoot the shit. That was the end of it and we get along just fine still.
I started talking to a co-worker about a book I'm reading on Good News Clubs and their controversial tactics in helping reshape the definition of religion as just a viewpoint that needs to be protected by the 1st amendment, in order for them to proselytize to children as young as five years old.
So, the separation of church and state came up and she brought up "that little atheist girl that tried to get the prayer banner taken down." I reminded her of the girl's name and she tried to defend the majority-rule argument. I then reminded her of our constitutional right being needed to protect minorities like Jessica Ahlquist from the majority rule. She didn't like that answer, and certainly didn't like it when I told her that she won.
She's such a sour and tactless woman that I don't really care what she thinks of me, but I didn't feel the need to define myself as an Atheist (or Secular Humanist, though that'd take even more explanation), since I wouldn't put it past her to spread rumors. If she did ask, I'd tell her that it's a personal matter and I don't feel comfortable talking about personal religious preferences at work.
But anyway, my point is know your audience.We can get along with people in the workplace just fine without religious discussions. If you want to have an Atheist friend at work, I'd talk politics with people that might seem to be on the same level. I found one guy and he brought me to this website, so that worked!