Planning An Inclusive Holiday Celebration

We’re preparing for the upcoming Holiday season and looking forward to time with family and friends. As we mark the holidays in the workplace, we need to remain mindful and intentional to ensure that we’re inclusive and extending a sense of belonging to everyone—taking into account the rich diversity of traditions within today’s increasingly diverse workforce.

In the Americas, Europe, and beyond, many of us look forward to Christmas and Hanukkah of course, as well as other traditions like Kwanzaa, and the Winter Solstice/Yuletide, a neo-Pagan and Wiccan commemoration. 

What’s Changed . . .

Demographics of course. Today’s workplace continues to diversify at a rapid pace. Add to that increased globalization and more cross-cultural work environments resulting from more international remote work opportunities that connect people across borders and time zones. As people broaden their appreciation for the many ways people celebrate important holidays it is important to take into account those differences in planning holiday season events and activities. 

And while many of these holidays have a religious component, the holiday season is also marked by people of no particular faith—including Christmas which has secular and commercial importance as well as religious significance. 

A 2013 study by Pew Research found that 90 percent of Americans still celebrated Christmas, but only 75 percent believed in the religious aspects of the Holiday (i.e., the Virgin birth and biblical story); while about 30 percent saw it as a purely cultural tradition rather than a religious one. The same study found that some 80 percent of the non-Christians also marked the occasion. So obviously, the Christmas Holidays are now celebrated broadly without regard to religious affiliation. Rather than be alarmed by the trending away from religiosity, perhaps we should be embracing the opportunity to expand the seasonal celebrations so that more people can feel included rather than excluded from festivities which in many ways would go a long way toward reflecting the “true spirit of the season”—which for many is about reflection, family, and renewal as we approach the shortest and darkest day of the year. 

In some quarters there’s been a backlash to more inclusive holiday celebrations. We’ve heard about the so-called “War on Christmas” and other sensationalistic warnings about a loss of national identity and not just in the U.S. The same concerns are expressed globally in many places. But it’s clear that we’ve been moving in the right direction by acknowledging everyone’s traditions in an inclusive and respectful way. 

Does that mean that companies have to avoid holiday celebrations altogether? Of course not. The vast majority of companies in the West still mark Christmas as do most businesses. The same with Hanukah, Kwanzaa, and even Winter Solstice. 

Tips for Planning 

Being intentional is key. And that requires knowing your workforce and understanding their cultural backgrounds and traditions. In the U.S. and elsewhere employers generally are barred from asking about candidates’ religious beliefs or affiliations—unless it’s specifically tied to the position or the organization’s mission. Similarly, religious expressions in the workplace can be alienating and impact employee morale in negative ways, which doesn’t mean we’re not allowed to identify as a particular religion per se, most of us do; as do those with no religious preferences or affiliations. Being inclusive means recognizing the diversity of those traditions and those who adhere to them. It’s about more acknowledgment not less. Understanding that, we can continue to celebrate the holiday season using it to embed our organization’s DEI values and strategy even more into our workforce. 

Here are a few tips on how to be inclusive throughout the holidays:

  1. Be equitable in planning

    : Don’t play favorites. Most of your employees may indeed skew to a certain tradition like Christmas. But even in that case do you want to really have a Christmas Party (Exclusive) rather than Holiday Party (Inclusive)? What would be the point of alienating or excluding an important—even if a small segment of your workforce? You’re certainly free to do that, but to what end? As you plan holiday celebrations make sure that the planning team is representative of the diversity in your organization. 

  2. Don’t force people to participate

    : Celebrations aren’t very celebratory if attendance is mandatory. Many people have severe anxiety over the holiday season for a variety of reasons and forcing them to attend or participate in work-related events can have unintended consequences. It hurts rather than helps. 

  3. Offer floating holidays

    : Offering floating holidays that allow when employees want to take time off rather than telling them when they have to is being offered by more and more businesses and organizations. Floating holidays empower employees and provide an equitable option that everyone can take advantage of regardless of their backgrounds and traditions. Just be sure the time off offered is fair in terms of duration.  

  4. Decorate Inclusively

    : You can still put up holiday décor without offense. As noted previously, Holidays like Christmas and Winter Solstice have spiritual, religious, and secular importance. In the U.S., many non-religious and even atheists celebrate the season for different reasons. Christmas trees are still very popular and we see them everywhere. Add a Menorah as well, for Jewish employees who celebrate Hannukah from December 18-26. For African Americans, Kwanzaa decorations are advisable. You can also decorate with seasonal items like boughs with ribbons, gingerbread houses, snowmen (and women), candy canes, and other secular items. But let’s be honest the Creche is best left at home or at your local church

  5. Plan food and drink accordingly

    : A lot of people overlook this simple but important element. Make sure your event menus address dietary restrictions and the religious restrictions some people have to adhere to for health or religious reasons. One great approach is to allow employees to bring in holiday dishes they and their families enjoy as part of their traditions. This potluck approach is always well received and also provides an opportunity for employees to learn more about the diversity within the company—while also helping strengthen relationships among co-workers. Ask them to share a short story about the dish to add more color and context. Similarly, when it comes to alcohol. Be cognizant of cultural or traditional restrictions on alcohol for things like gift exchanges. Does this suggest there should be no alcohol? Not in the least. Just be sure to have plenty of non-alcohol alternatives for those who don’t drink. And drinking games always end badly so avoid activities that encourage people to overdrink. 

  6. Make sure the location is accessible

    : Sometimes committees or individuals host a holiday event offsite. Be sure to take into account employee travel to and from the event; as well checking to make sure that people with disabilities can attend without having to face frustrating accessibility issues. 

These are just tips for you to consider in planning a genuinely inclusive holiday celebration. How is your company or organization celebrating this year? Leave a comment and let us know. And have a happy and safe holiday season and a very Happy New Year!