We have lots of traditions in our homes about Christmas and the New Year but in the workplace I think it is also important to recognise the celebrations of other faiths. Rather than thinking about withholding holiday festivities and celebrations, I think it’s a really positive thing to do to find out how we can help others in a multicultural workplace to recognise and celebrate important times in their own faith. In doing so we show understanding and respect but also learn from each other.
Apart from Christmas, there are many different festivities and cultural and religious holidays that might be recognised by those we work with:
Hanukkah or Chanukah, the Jewish Festival of Lights is celebrated in November or December and celebrates a miracle in Jewish history when Antiochus, a Syrian king, attempted to make Jewish people worship Greek gods. After 3 years of war the Jews recaptured Jerusalem from the Syrians and set about cleaning and repairing the Temple before rededicating it to God by lighting the lamp Menorah. They could only fine one jar of oil which was enough to burn the lamp for one day, yet it stayed alight for 8 days.
Jewish people celebrate Hanukkah by lighting a candle each day on an eight-stemmed candelabrum known as the Hanukiah. Traditional songs are sung, fried foods are eaten and there is gift-giving and prayer.
Ramadan, a time when Muslims fast, takes place in the ninth month of the Islamic calendar to celebrate the first revelations given to the Prophet Muhammad. At this time Muslims do not eat, drink or smoke until sundown each day. During the day they concentrate on their faith and the end of Ramadan is marked by a festival and holiday known as ‘Eid al-Fitr’. At this time there is feasting, gift-giving, and praying.
Kwanzaa is a cultural holiday celebrated from December 26 through to January 1 by many African-Americans. Kwanzaa is Swahili for “first fruits of the harvest” and during the celebration families and friends gather to discuss and commit to seven guiding principles. A candle is lit each day to signify one of the seven principles of unity, self-determination, collective work and responsibility, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity, and faith. A feast takes place on December 31 for remembering, reassessing and rejoicing.
Bodhi Day is observed by Buddhists on December 8th or the Sunday preceding it, to celebrate the day of Prince Siddhartha Gautama’s realisation and presentation to his fellow seekers of the Four Noble Truths, after which he became known as Buddha, the enlightened one. Celebrations include stringing lights to represent the pathways to enlightenment as well as feasting on traditional foods.
Remember also however that some religions such as Jehovah’s Witness don’t celebrate holidays so take care not to make them feel uncomfortable.
If members of staff feel comfortable with celebrating their beliefs at special times, it’s a great idea to get them and others involved in plans to support this in the workplace with decorations, sharing food etc. It’s a good way to engage employees and encourage teamwork as long as it is handled sensitively and respectfully.
What religious and cultural festivities do you celebrate in the workplace?
Also have a look at our Top Ten Tips for Employee Engagement