Ah, the holidays… Christmas music in the air, shopping sprees with reckless abandon, and sweet treats around every corner. For many, this is a time of year for family and friends to come together, be thankful for each other’s company, and relish in whatever yearly traditions they may have. But for others, this time can be a constant reminder that they are different from their peers. Many people don’t celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, or any other religiously or culturally affiliated holidays and the holiday season is a time of disconnect and frustration. Let’s remind ourselves that the holiday season is seeded in religious tradition and the exclusive celebration of one winter holiday at work may exclude certain groups and create tension and frustration at the office.
The “Office Christmas Party”
Christmas is the Christian celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ. Hanukkah is a Jewish festival with commemorated the rededication of the Second Temple in Jerusalem. Kwanzaa is a celebration for members of the African Diaspora in the Americas to recognize their cultural and geographic roots. The reasons behind these winter celebrations are very different, so culturally neutral acknowledgment of the holiday season can be difficult to tackle. Though, when we remember the common themes in all of these holiday celebrations, it becomes more manageable. Use the holidays to celebrate generosity, community, and good faith.
A basic rule that many organizations are employing these days is dropping the “Christmas Party” from their company calendar, and replacing it with a holiday party. In practice, the parties may look very similar, but changing the name provides people who don’t celebrate Christmas a permanent seat at the table, as opposed to a guest pass to another religion’s tradition. For example, while the Muslim faith celebrates the Virgin Mary and acknowledges Jesus Christ as a prophet, it is a key tenet of the Muslim faith not to celebrate the birth of their Prophets, this can make the holiday season a difficult time to navigate for devout Muslims. This is just one example, but it highlights the importance of acknowledging the religious origins for some holidays, as opposed to simply recognizing them as a cultural phenomenon that has transcended the church.
Go Beyond the Open Bar
The holidays can be a difficult time for some people for reasons other than religious differences. Indulgence is a common theme during the holiday season. Cookies, pies, and bowls of chocolates are not hard to find in December. In some spaces, the same can be said for winter cocktails. Keep in mind that some members of your workforce may not look forward to the mulled wine, hard eggnog, and hot toddies as much as others. So if an open bar is the main attraction at your office holiday party, it may be time to rethink your celebration. Excessive alcohol can also create undue workplace drama for those who do partake. Try to take the focus away from the booze and draw attention to the real reason for celebrating: the end of another year.
Consider limiting your bar to beer and wine, and leaving the hard liquor out of the equation. Make sure there is plenty of food at the party so people don’t over-drink. Add some party activities to keep people engaged with each other; ever heard of pin the tail on the reindeer? Schedule the speeches for the end of the party so attendees know to keep their drinking under control for the better part of the celebration. Limit drinking by providing a limited number of drink tickets to attendees, or by providing a cash bar. Whichever of these options you employ, develop a plan to address over-drinking by assigning managers to watch-dog positions and instructing bartenders not to over-serve. Check out this quick video from Emtrain about the dangers of over indulging at office holiday get-together.
Another potentially problematic holiday tradition to consider: The Ugly Sweater Party. This may seem silly, but can create strife for certain individuals whose religious beliefs require that they dress a certain way. When planning your holiday celebration, ask yourself this key question: Can everyone participate in this activity? If the answer is no, try to think of a more inclusive holiday season alternative.
However you celebrate the holidays, remember to do it in the most inclusive manner possible and create a space that welcomes employee differences. Check out this YouTube playlist we put together, it highlights some of the most common reasons for holiday drama that we’ve seen. And if you haven’t already, subscribe to our newsletter to stay up to date on all of our workplace culture tips and tricks. Have any tricky holiday issues at work? Connect with us on LinkedIn and share your story!