‘Tis the Season: December Festivals in modern Britain

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Dear Rabbi Simon,
It of course is the festive season and my office and in particular my department team is organising x-mas events (in particular they are not end of year events but are “x-mas” dinners and events).
As a Jew, would it be right to go to such events? I feel uncomfortable going generally to anything that has to do with x-mas but I also don’t want to be the only one not going. I could say that I have other arrangements and they won’t be fussed but it might raise an eyebrow or two if I am not there.
What do you recommend I do? I am sure many people have asked this question from you before.
Kind regards

Dear Shai,
TY for your question.
In general, although office parties, events, etc. at this time of year are styled as “Christmas”, it is little more than a name borrowed from the Christian religious holiday occurring at the end of December. By this I mean that the party is in fact an end-of-year event which is held for reasons of custom, tradition, team-building, morale, relationship-building, client-appreciation, etc. I.e. business, not theology. For this reason one can justify attendance at such an event per se. More problematic is the food, drink, entertainment and general atmosphere. Still, IMO these considerations (assuming of course that you do not personally partake in consuming any of the above which are halakhically objectionable) would not make it forbidden to attend, in view of the professional benefits/detriments which may apply.
Having said that, one whose circumstances make it easy to absent him/herself from such a gathering, and chooses to therefor make his apologies and stay away, is acting in a praiseworthy manner.
This is true specifically of a commerce-related event/party. To attend a “Christmas Party” as a social or recreational choice—even if it is lacking in any religious of theological trappings—should be avoided.
I hope this is helpful.
Rabbi Rashi Simon

Dear Rabbi
With the arrival of Kislev/December, the “festive season” is nearly upon us. There is a practical issue I confront every year: Can I give a holiday gift to a co-worker, mailman, client, cleaner, supplier, etc.?

Dear Shy
Thank you for your timely question.
There is a Biblical prohibition to give gifts to a non-Jew for no reason; this is the issur of lo tehanem. The Gemara derives from this verse that one is not allowed to give gifts “for no reason” to a non-Jew. When one gives holiday gifts to employees or the mailman and other such people the motivation is either as thanks for past work/custom, etc or as encouragement for the future (or both). Therefore, it is not prohibited to give such a gift since it is viewed as a form of payment (Y.D. 151:11; Taz 8).
“Seasonal”, ie Christmas gifts, however, present a separate problem:
One should not give the gift on the holiday itself but should rather give it beforehand or afterwards (Rema Y.D. 148:12). If one normally gives a gift before the holiday and for some reason this year he did not give it before the holiday, he may give it on the holiday so as to avoid any feelings of resentment that the gentile may harbour against him. Additionally, when giving the gift one should not mention that it is because of, or in honor of, the holiday (Y.D. 147:2). Saying “Seasons Greetings” would seem to be allowed since it is not directly referring to a religious holiday.
Nevertheless, IMO it is best to give your gift in time for Hanukkah and say/imply that the gift is in celebration of our holiday (rather than theirs). (Even though the origin of Hanukkah presents is itself obscure and likely owes much to the seasonal gift-giving culture in the wider society.)
I hope this is helpful.
Rabbi Rashi Simon

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Ask the Rabbi: Quinoa on Pesach
Dear Rabbi Simon,
Where do you stand on quinoa (and the kitniyot ban) for Pesach?
Many thanks,
Dear Tzippy,
In line with other American authorities, I am in favour of quinoa. Although I reject completely the voices (mostly from Israel) seeking to abolish the ban on kitniyot entirely, IMO we do not need to include in the prohibition pseudo-grains that were unknown in the Old World until modern times. Best to buy with a Pesach hechsher though, to be free of any possible wheat contamination.
Rabbi Rashi Simon
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