I didn’t grow up celebrating Christmas.
It was “their” holiday. It wasn’t until I met my late husband that I experienced the “magic” of Christmas; the amazing smell of a living tree, the fun of decorating, the comfort of lights on dark winter evenings, the eggnog, the gingerbread and of course, the chocolate. I was hooked!
On December 6, 2001 my husband was diagnosed with terminal cancer. He had his first chemotherapy treatment a few days later and spent his last Christmas in a hospital bed. He made me promise to have Christmas as usual for our five year old daughter. I will never forget being in our basement on Christmas Eve, after having put out the milk and cookies for Santa, crying and wrapping, lamenting, “I can’t do this! What do I know about this? I’m Jewish”.
Although my husband has been dead for seven years, we still celebrate Christmas, along with all of the Jewish holidays. As the Jewish holiday of Hanukah is also celebrated in December, on Christmas Eve I have a Chrismukah dinner. Instead of mashed potatoes, I serve latkes, potato pancakes, aka round hash browns. For dessert, along with the Christmas goodies, there is suganyot – an Israeli jelly doughnut, another Hanukah treat. The kids play dreidel, a traditional Hanukah game which involves a spinning top and a pile of gold chocolate coins (or money). My friend’s daughter had so much fun playing dreidel at our house, the following year she asked Santa to bring her a dreidel for Christmas.
I have to say that one of the things I like most about celebrating Christmas is that it allows me to feel included.
It is no longer “their’ holiday. Now it is my holiday too. I can participate in the fun and the excitement of the season. I can talk to strangers on the street about getting the tree up, the shopping, and the wrapping. It has created a larger community for me.
I share a story in Road to Respect about an experience I had a number of years ago when delivering Respectful Workplace training to a group of municipal employees. I was talking about how human rights are about the recognition of differences and the balancing of rights. One participant commented that, in her opinion, the balance was getting skewed in the “wrong” direction. Now, this is a comment I hear quite often. I asked her if she could share an example of what she meant. She said that she was really upset because the municipality had decided that employees could no longer say Merry Christmas, as that might offend some of their clients. In the discussion that followed, it became obvious that this was an issue that had touched a nerve for a lot of people, regardless of ethnicity.
This is an example of what can go wrong in the well intentioned interest of recognizing difference and wanting to be respectful of that difference.
It is true that not everyone in our multi-cultural country celebrates Christmas – and it is important to acknowledge that. However, in the workplace, this acknowledgment must be part of a broader, clearly communicated strategy to promote a respectful, inclusive culture. In a North American workplace, this culture clearly includes a celebration of Christmas. If that is not recognized, an employer risks promoting divisiveness and alienation rather than inclusion and acceptance.
I suggest using the Chrismukah approach to send a message of inclusiveness to all employees.
In the December/January “holiday season” some employees may celebrate Christmas. Some employees may celebrate Hanukah. Some may celebrate Bodhi Day, Eid-Ul-Adha, Oshogatsu, or the Birthday of Guru Gobind Singh. In a multi-cultural environment, it is respectful and appropriate to demonstrate awareness of all of these different holidays and to acknowledge them. You can model respect by involving employees in discussions about the holiday season, as well as asking for their input and creative energy for your festivities.
I do not believe that the fact that I celebrate Christmas in any way diminishes my identity as a Jew. Rather, it has promoted commonality with others, while encouraging a renewed interest in my own ethnic traditions and culture.
In a respectful workplace culture, the goal is to promote respect for, and recognition of, the unique differences that each individual employee brings to the workplace. Adopting a proactive strategy to acknowledge and learn about each other’s traditions and celebrations provides employers with a wonderful opportunity to foster more harmonious, collaborative, and productive work relationships. These types of relationships will translate into bottom line results and give employers the competitive edge that they need in today’s diverse and competitive business environment.