Holidays at the Office

As I write this blog, it is day three of the devastation that hurricane Sandy has wrought across the east coast. I have heard mind-numbing stories of loss and tragedy and of heroism. Even though I have heard the roar of hurricane winds and seen the devastation they can cause myself, I am stunned by what people have had to endure from this storm. At such a time it seems odd to write about the holidays, but this person’s letter reminds me that at their core the holidays are about people coming together. I pray for the people who are suffering, that they are safe and that recovery is swift.

Q. The holidays are a fun time for most everyone and the social atmosphere at most offices lends itself to some special holiday events; cookie exchanges, potluck lunches, Secret Santas, etc. How can we enjoy ourselves and still be respectful of those who choose not to celebrate, can’t participate because of financial restraints or may not be in the mood to join in the festivities? I’ve always wanted to have a multi-cultural celebration so that everyone can enjoy, and we can learn from each other. Like a very large portion of Americans, I celebrate Christmas, but I wouldn’t be the least bit insulted if someone invited me to another type of celebration.

M. M., Hillsboro, OR

A. You’re right that some people choose not to celebrate while others would celebrate but don’t feel they can because of financial or other reasons. For the former, the best thing you can do is to respect their desire not to take part in the office parties, potluck lunches, or Secret Santa exchanges. Let them know they are always welcome, but also be respectful of their wishes by not pestering them. Consider switching the “Secret Santa” activity for a “Yankee Swap” a more inclusive-sounding alternative whose rules often make it more fun, too. Alternatively, speak to planners and suggest an office celebration that is tradition neutral or that encourages participants to share elements of their holiday traditions that fall around the December solstice. It might be as simple as a brown-bag office lunch together.


There are also people who would want to celebrate but don’t or can’t because of financial circumstances. If your office is organizing holiday donations, whoever is in charge should make sure that no one is pressured to contribute and that ALL donations and participants are anonymous. Set price limits for any gift swaps, and keep them low. Make sure there are ways for employees to participate in the holidays that don’t involve money, too. Being the organizer of office events is a significant contribution on its own. As is manning the phones while any party is held, or helping with the decorating, set-up, and clean-up. Be creative and respectful and find a way for everyone who wants to participate to be involved.

I like your thoughts about the opportunity the holidays offer to learn about the ways different cultures celebrate. At home, you can take the initiative by inviting, a friend or colleague from another culture to your celebration. And let them know that you’re interested in appreciating theirs, as well.

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