Happy Holidays Revised

The time between November and January has come to be known as The Holiday Season. From an inclusion perspective, this is a positive nomenclature change from the exclusive focus on Christmas but challenges remain for many organizations. The word “holidays“ is a derivation of “Holy Days” in Christianity, however, it is important to recognize that employees come from a variety of faiths and traditions. What’s more, approximately 23% of the U.S. population reports no religious identity. Faith is a core identity for many people but one that may not be visible or known to others. 

What is the holiday season?

It has been commonplace practice to take the religious significance of Christmas and attempt to ascribe that same importance to other religious and/or cultural holidays simply because they occur towards the end of the year. For example, the most significant holiday in the Jewish faith, Yom Kippur,  occurs in September and often goes unrecognized, yet because Hanukkah usually occurs in December a menorah or other references to the Jewish faith are often incorporated into company decorations and observations. There are in fact no less than 20 religious/cultural holidays celebrated worldwide between November and December. Different cultures also celebrate the new years at times other than, or in addition to, January 1. 

How can we be more inclusive?

Employee Resource Groups or Diversity & Inclusion Committees should take the lead to utilize employee input to identify and celebrate days of religious or cultural significance throughout the year. Workplaces dominated by reminders of holidays you do not share can create feelings of discomfort and exclusion. Informative decorations and displays acknowledging multicultural celebrations increase awareness and understanding of others.  

How should we talk about the holiday season?

It is important to become more cognizant of your small talk.  Saying “Happy Holidays” is inclusive and generally accepted. Asking “Do you do anything special or traditional with family at this time of year?” can encourage dialogue.  If you are certain about what holiday a co-worker celebrates and are familiar with the timing and best way to acknowledge the holiday, use it!    

How should we celebrate?

Many organizations have moved to an end of year celebration that provides an occasion to socialize, celebrate, recognize employees, and reflect on accomplishments. While COVID protocols and hybrid workforces may change celebrations for 2021, there may be opportunities for in-person gatherings. Here’s some tips for holding more inclusive year end events:

  • Don’t host a holiday or year end event that’s a thinly disguised Christmas Party.
  • Make it voluntary. There’s lots of reasons people may not want to participate in a work event.  Religious reasons may top the list, but this time of year can be difficult from a mental health perspective. 
  • Discourage group gift exchanges. Gifting is most prominently associated with Christmas and even “voluntary” exchanges can make people feel pressured to participate.  
  • If in person, provide food options that are culturally representative as well as address individual dietary needs. 
  • How will you handle alcohol? In addition to responsibilities regarding drinking and driving, members of different groups don’t drink, and some are not comfortable when alcohol is served. If this is important for your celebration, consider a two-stage party. The first part might be alcohol free, followed by a different type of celebration with alcohol, music, and dancing. The schedule of events should be clearly spelled out in the invitation.

Lastly, be forgiving of yourself and others. A diverse and inclusive organization is not one that never makes a mistake but one that uses mistakes as opportunities for learning. The foundation is showing respect for everyone.

That said, “Happy Holidays, Let’s Celebrate!”

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