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My coworker has been announcing that her birthday is coming soon. I work in a small office with only five employees. I like her but I don't want to wish her because I don't believe in birthdays. Never in my life I wished a person on their birthday, nor celebrated one (not even to my wife or children. Yeah, we exist!). Please tell me a way to avoid this awful situation. I am thinking of taking a day off on that day. Very dreadful!

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    Can you be polite to her AND stick to your belief by replacing the usual and casual birthday party/greetings with an un-birthday one, like the one in Alice in Wonderland ? – OldPadawan Oct 14 '17 at 19:00
  • @OldPadawan I did not watch Alice in Wonderland. – loveTrumpsHate Oct 14 '17 at 19:15
  • @lovesTrumpsHate : GIYBF :) just look for Alice in Wonderland unbirthday and check if it could make it for you. If so, we may craft an answer working around this ;) – OldPadawan Oct 14 '17 at 19:18
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    I really didn't mean any offense, just thinking that including why you don't celebrate may be relevant to your question and lead to better answers. – apaul Oct 14 '17 at 22:10
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    How did you get away with not wishing to your wife and children ? You could use same tatic here. – user47771989 Oct 15 '17 at 14:08
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I think the only thing you can do here is 'be polite'.

If your co-worker is that excited about her birthday, she obviously attaches more value to it than you do. That's okay, people are all allowed their own 'opinions'. So, just like it's your right to 'not believe in birthdays', it's your co-worker's right to be super-excited about it.

That doesn't mean you're required to congratulate her. If you can think of a reason that sounds a little bit plausible at all for not doing so, feel free to tell her. The fact that you're thinking about taking a day off, however, makes me think this is more a matter of firm principles than solid reasoning.

Luckily for you, the human mind is a funny thing. This means you can be polite to her without explicitly wishing her a happy birthday or congratulating her.

When they mention "today is my birthday", you could say: "Have a nice day". Because of how the human mind works, the person in question thinks that implies wishing them a nice birthday, while in fact, it did no such thing at all! It just tells them to have a regular nice day, which could be done on other days as well. But because they are so full off 'It's my birthday', they will think that it's a way of wishing them a nice birthday.

This is a way of remaining polite, although it's bordering on your principles of 'not believing in birthdays'. But really, are you going to spend 5 of your hard-earned vacation days just because you can't spend 20 seconds of being polite? You don't even have to mean it, just make sure you sound convincing.

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Birthdays are not something you can believe in or not. They are a matter of fact. A person is born, and once a year this day repeats.

What you can chose to practice or "believe in" is celebrating that occasion. Its perfectly fine not to celebrate certain things.

I do not celebrate Jewish holidays, nor Muslim ones (nor many, many others, e.g. July 4th, its not my country). Its not my own religion, after all. But I do wish the people in my circle that do celebrate them all the best on this day and a happy celebration. Because it is the polite thing to do and acknowledges their beliefs, without diminishing my own beliefs. That is what a tolerant society is about - letting everyone be as they wish.

That being said, it would be impolite of you not to acknowledge that this is a special day for your co-worker, and that they think it is important.

With that in mind, keep your wishes focused not on the aspect of it being a birthday, but on the fact that they have a nice day - that you want them to be happy on a day that is special to them:

Have a pleasant day!

or

Have a great party!

Both things are just common courtesy. If someone has a party for any reason, its polite to wish them to have fun. It doesn't say anything about whether you believe in or support the cause or not. Same with wishing them a nice day. Could be done on every other occasion as well.

In the end, you need to take a step back and focus on what you want. Is 20 seconds of politeness - regardless of cause - really worth being so stressed about? Really worth a whole vacation day? There is more important stuff to worry about.

On the other hand, when your own birthday comes around, its perfectly reasonable to tell people you do not wish to be congratulated on it and that you do not celebrate your own birthday in any way (if they even know about it, if you do not tell them about it, they might not even know). I would expect that they extend the same courtesy you show them (being polite) back to you and also respect your beliefs when the time comes.

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You don't believe in birthdays, or in celebrating them? Hard to deny this person was born?

Jehovah's Witnesses also don't celebrate birthdays because they think only God is worth celebrating. I used to know one. He just told me best way is to tell this person you don't want to celebrate because of what you believe. This is as polite as it can get in your situation.

Otherwise if you think it is silly, but you don't mind a celebration be polite and say happy birthday anyways. (You don't say it for yourself but for the other person.) Doing it does not mean you believe in it. (Christmas, Santa Claus: No parent believes it but does it anyway.)

  • Your example isn't quite accurate. Jehovah's Witnesses do celebrate things like graduations or marriage anniversaries, but birthday celebrations have some unique complications that make them unfit for Jehovah's Witnesses to celebrate. Here's more info: jw.org/en/jehovahs-witnesses/faq/birthdays – 4castle Sep 24 '18 at 1:03
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There are a couple of things for you to pick and choose from. Let's begin with:

I like her

The choice that I would ask you to make is this....

  • Is your hard-line take against not celebrating birthdays more important than the person you think you like?

  • Will going out of your way offend you badly enough if you wished her on her birthday?

If you answer these questions with yeses, then by all means, don't say a word to that colleague on her birthday. But then, the trade-off you get is that, there's no polite way to express your train of antagonist thoughts (which have ingrained in you over the years) against an event to a person you've only known for a few months or so (I assume?), and that too on the day of the said event which is visibly something she likes to acknowledge.

I don't endorse manipulation and so I don't know what else you could say, or how you'd pretend that you don't remember, when you happen to make an eye contact with her on that day.


Also:

I work in a small office with only five employees. [...]. I am thinking of taking a day off on that day.

Not sure if you'd be doing yourself a favor with that idea. What if you happen to receive a call from her on that day, even for some official reason? What if you and her come face to face in a supermarket on that day? Also, what if you had about 40 people in your team, instead of 5, and had good relations with everyone? How many times would you avoid a similar situation by taking a leave whenever it's someone's birthday?


Ultimately, to turn the argument on its head, let's just consider a thought for further deliberation...

If someone's birthday isn't a special day (for them), then one could pursue the same line of thinking to even propose that no day is unusually special. And so, there's no need to even wish Hello / Good Morning / Good Evening / Bye, to others either.

Sure, one could do that. No one would stop them. However, you might ask yourself... What impression would you gradually develop about one such person if they were working in your office? And what cumulative effect it will eventually have on your rapport with them?


So, effectively, it's up to you to see which one of these would come across as a better thing to do:

  • Getting into the complications of avoiding a situation? (Think long term)

  • Risk denting the rapport with a colleague that you like? (Consider a handful of people)

  • Or politely wishing, "Happy Birthday! Hope you have a pleasant day ahead!" (just like "Good Morning") and moving on with your day without parting ways with your beliefs in your realms (i.e. yourself and family)?

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I think we need to understand a little better what the problem is. Is it that you don't want to say anything birthday related? Are you afraid there's going to be a party and you mustn't go? Is signing a birthday card off limits too? Depending on what your office's custom is, there might be quite a bit to dodge.

You ... could ... take the day off. There are 4 other people in the office, so that's gwine eat into your vacation allowance pretty quick.

Hmm. I wonder if it wouldn't be better to go in to work. Be extra nice to the lady -- 'Swounds man, that can't hurt much, can it? Say as much as you honorably can. Can you get so far as "Congratulations" or "Big day, eh"?

Of course, you will have to talk to her. Why? Because in most of the US, ignoring someone's birthday can be seen as a snub -- especially if the office is doing card, party, etc. Just tell her that the custom of your family is that birthdays are not celebrated, but you are all about wishing her well in general.

You know this is going to come up again with the other folks in the office, yes? Just smile and get through it, one co-worker at a time.

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How can you not believe in birthdays? People clearly are born. This has always been true of people, and will likely be true for some time into the future. Birthdays are literally a fact of existence.

If you don't believe in celebrating birthdays, I suppose that is another matter. I personally feel that is unfortunate, but I won't begrudge you whatever your belief is, as long as it doesn't proactively harm other people.

However; try to consider what you're really saying, here. The fundamental thing that we're talking about is whether to wish this woman happiness on a day that happens to be her birthday. It clearly, objectively, is her birthday, since it is the same calendar date as the day she was born. The earth is in the same position relative to the sun. It's the anniversary of her birth. This is simple objective, irrefutable fact. Do you wish her to be unhappy on this day? If she happens to enjoy some happiness on her birthday, are you going to resent her for it?

If you aren't opposed to people being happy, why not just say the words?

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