Appreciating Diversity During the Holidays:
It’s about more than just a simple “Happy Holidays” greeting card.By Kate Berardo and Simma Lieberman Guess who’s not celebrating Christmas this year? Millions of people in the US.That’s right. Tens of millions of Americans don’t celebrate Christmas religiously, either as followers of non-Christian religions (Buddhists, Muslims, Hindus, Jews) or as individuals with no religious affiliation. Because many stores tap into the cash value of Christmas with their plethora of Santas, ornaments, and Christmas fanfare at your nearby mall, we can easily overlook the depth of the diversity present in America during this season. In reality, many different events, both spiritual, religious, and tradition based, are being celebrated in many different ways during these times.It used to be that being inclusive meant sending out PC “Happy Holidays” greeting cards and changing Christmas office parties to “Holiday parties.” Today, it’s about more than just changing labels and titles. It’s about using a time to be with friends and family to build understanding and awareness about others.Three Ways to Build Your Awareness and Create an Inclusive Holiday Environment
- Learn about other celebrations. Carve out some time from online shopping or a Holiday TV show to learn about another culture’s celebrations during this time. Watch a TV special on other celebrations, do a Google search on a holiday, or check out books at your local bookstore while gift shopping. Share your learning with others, and use it as a chance to expand the conversation at parties and at the dinner table.
- Make no expectations. Realize that people celebrate a variety of holidays during this time of year, and some people choose to celebrate none. Be respectful of these differences by taking interest in other people’s traditions and making them feel welcome. Don’t be afraid to ask people what holidays they celebrate. Find out what they do during this time of the year that is special. Let it be an opportunity to learn about different cultures and religions and the traditions that accompany them.
- Mark your calendar and your address book. If the calendar or PDA you use does not list holidays like Kwanzaa, Hanukah, Ramadan, and Diwali, find out the dates and record them as reminders. Many programs like Outlook allow users to add calendar dates for celebrations from different parts of the world automatically, making this task quick and effortless. Take a few minutes to mark your address book with the holidays that people celebrate. When writing holiday cards, recognize their holiday, and include a little hand-written note acknowledging their celebration.
A Note for Employers:
Here are a few extra things employers can do to make their workplaces more inclusive during the holidays:
- Make sure your Holiday party isn’t a Christmas party in disguise. Decorations and food should be general, and non-specific to any religion.
- Consider having a New Year’s Party instead of a Holiday party. This type of party can get everyone on board with the company’s mission and vision for the New Year.
- Post holiday greetings on your webpage and intranet for many religious holidays.
- Be respectful of these special dates, and plan events and meetings around various holidays.
- Display a multi-cultural calendar to help all employees stay aware of important cultural events for the rest of the year.
- Be flexible with the needs of different employees.
- Encourage employees to share their celebrations through stories, decorations, and foods that they can bring to their workplace.
Simma’s Holiday Diversity Q&A
By Simma Lieberman
Q: Aren’t you being too politically correct when you tell us to not have a Christmas party? That’s a time when we get to socialize and feel good.
A: We have never said don’t have a Christmas party at your house. We are speaking about the work environment where you have many people who do not celebrate Christmas but celebrate other holidays. You can have a holiday party or end of year party. You can even ask people to talk about any holidays they celebrate this time of year. Before there was any consciousness around appreciating differences we would hear from other employees who said they did not feel comfortable participating or attending an office party that was just for Christmas. Celebrations in the workplace are for everyone. Is it more important to have a “Christmas” party at work which will make some people feel excluded and valued less or to be able to have full participation and good will that will last the year?
Q: What’s wrong with calling it a Christmas party? Everyone at work knows what it means. I think you are being nit picky.
A: There are a lot of people in the workplace that do not traditionally celebrate Christmas; Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Hindus, etc. Many of these people do not celebrate Christmas and feel excluded. They would like to socialize and be part of office festivities but are uncomfortable doing so. This results in them simply not attending. When this happens your organization has lost an opportunity to bring people together and help build a more cohesive team. Its very important for the success and productivity of employees that they see themselves as a valued member of an organization where they can be comfortable presenting ideas.
Q: How do I know what holidays people celebrate? I don’t want to say the wrong thing.
A: Just ask them. You might be surprised. Someone who seems a lot like you may celebrate very different holidays and someone who seems totally different may celebrate exactly what you do.
Q: Do I have to give my employees days off every time its one of their religious holidays? Won’t other employees start complaining. Is it ok if I ask people before I hire them their religion and how they practice it so I can avoid hiring people who want a lot of days off?
A: Questions from employers and employees regarding time off for religious observances are getting more frequent.
The best way for me to respond is to share with you some best practices of other organizations. Some organizations are giving their employees a certain amount of days for personal time or floating holidays. Employees can then choose when they will take those days. Those days can be used for any reason, so that no one religion is favored over others and people who are not religious get the same days off. If an employee goes over the allotted days, they can take the time off with no pay or in some cases are able to trade days off with another person. If one group is not awarded favoritism over another there will be no grounds for complaint.
It is illegal to ask someone what their religion is and how they observe before you hire them. After you offer them the job you can ask them if there is anything they would like you to know in order to help them work at their optimum level.
Q: One of my employees accused me of taking g-d out of this time of year and said I was being disrespectful of her religious freedom.
A: Everyone is entitled to believe or not believe and worship the way they want as long as they do not injure others. You can be as observant and active as you want to be outside of the work environment. It is not appropriate to proselytize in the workplace or insist that the company follows your beliefs. Not everyone believes in the same concept of g-d. Your beliefs are with you always. They are inside you and make you who you are. No one can take that away from you just because their religious beliefs are not the same.
It is important that the workplace is an environment where everyone feels comfortable and that their contributions are based on results rather than how they celebrate the holidays.
Q: I’m from a faith that doesn’t celebrate Christmas. When people at work or on the street come up to me and say “Merry Christmas,” what do I say? Are they assuming that I believe the way they do?
A: When someone greets you with “Merry Christmas,” they are wishing you well during this season. When I am greeted like that I view it as another person’s way of including me in their good feelings. At the same time it can also be an opportunity, to share some information about your culture with grace and good intent.