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Happy Holidays: Celebrating at Work

Updated: Dec 21, 2021

Christmas is an important holiday in the US. Not just for religious reasons, although it is a religious holiday, for cultural and economic reasons as well. There’s music, food, lights, movies, and sale after sale of goods devoted to Christmas. When the calendar gets shorter and December gets closer, people start talking about Christmas. It’s inescapable. And if you don’t celebrate Christmas, it can be alienating.

Christmas isn’t the Only Holiday

You wouldn’t know it by looking at our popular culture, but Christmas isn’t the only holiday at the end of the year. There’s Hanukkah, a Jewish festival that lasts eight nights. Another festival, Diwali, is celebrated for five nights by Hindus, Jains, and Sikhs. Buddhists celebrate Enlightenment Day, on December 8, and the winter solstice, celebrated by pagans, occurs on December 21. Outside of religion, there is also Kwanzaa, which occurs during the last week of the year and celebrates African-American culture, and New Year’s Eve.

Of course, there are also people who don’t celebrate these holidays or any holiday for that matter. They might have a faith that doesn’t have a holiday at the end of the calendar year, such as Islam, they might be part of a faith that doesn’t recognize holidays at all, like Jehovah’s Witnesses, or they might not have a religious faith at all. Each of these spiritual traditions are valid and the people who follow them should be treated with respect, especially at work. Still, people want to recognize the December holidays. The challenge is, how can we recognize the winter holidays at work without making anyone feel excluded?

Don’t Ignore the Season, but Don’t Give Preference to a Holiday

December is a difficult month. The days are shorter, the weather is often gloomy and cold, and all kinds of year-end reports and other work must be done. Face it, in December, we all need to be cheered up, especially at work. We need happy music, extra lights, and good food. What we don’t need is an argument over theology.

One way to avoid religious disagreement is to stick to non-religious decorations. Instead of religious symbols, why not include winter images, such as snowflakes in office decorations? You could use cotton batting to decorate office cubes to look like snow. Adding fairy lights to office doors is a good way to give your office a warm, festive glow. Your goal should be to make your office feel celebratory without feeling exclusionary.

Involve Everyone

Group projects can be a great way to strengthen your team bonds and to make everyone feel included. Try setting up team competitions that will benefit the community, such as a clothing or canned food drive. Fun group activities like cookie decoration, snowman coloring, or snowflake parties can be enjoyed by everyone, regardless of which holidays they might celebrate.

And don’t forget about your remote teammates. If you have employees who work away from the office, be sure to include them in your activities. Employees don’t have to be in the office to participate in an ugly sweater contest for example. If you use a communication program like Slack, consider setting up a holiday channel, so your employees can upload fun pictures and music, and share family recipes and stories about past celebrations.

Why People say Happy Holidays

Every year, at the start of the holiday season, there’s always a public figure who gets upset that some people say “Happy Holidays” rather than “Merry Christmas”. It’s true that Christmas is the most widely celebrated December holiday in the United States, but it’s not the only one. We’re a diverse society, and our office cultures should reflect that. So be sure to include everyone in your holiday celebrations.

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