This resource is for anyone who wants to be more inclusive and accommodating of non-dominant holidays, observances, and celebrations in the workplace throughout the calendar year.
Expanding Workplace Cultures Around Holidays, Observances, and Celebrations
During holidays, we must consider who may be left out. Whether our team members celebrate different holidays or celebrate in different ways, we must make space to support them and learn about cultures, religions, nationalities, groups, and identities other than our own.
Non-Dominant Holidays, Observances, and Celebrations
Not all holidays are religious, traditionally celebrated as “happy,” or officially recognized by governments, organizations, and workplaces. These events are often considered “non-dominant” because the media and organizations are less likely to recognize them.
For example, in North America, Christmas is a dominant holiday; it is promoted and often presented as universal. Yet, many do not celebrate Christmas or experience this holiday as a positive time of year, which can be lonely or othering. Expanding our workplace celebrations and acknowledging non-dominant holidays can be validating and welcoming.
Here are some other perspectives on non-dominant holidays, observances, and celebrations to consider:
Diversity in Methods of Celebration
- Be aware that people celebrate and observe different holidays, observances, and celebrations, and how they do so varies.
- Celebrations take different forms depending on the culture, traditions, and norms.
- Some people prefer to celebrate in big groups, while others prefer to relax alone and take time to recharge.
- Celebrating can be a privilege, and some cannot do so for various reasons, such as financial resources, struggles relating to mental health, medical barriers, lack of family acceptance, familial obligations, etc.
- People who are a part of multiple groups or communities might celebrate numerous holidays that may seem contradictory or non-traditional to some.
- People express celebration in different ways. For example, Día de Muertos is observed in many Latin American countries, where loved ones’ deaths are celebrated.
- Not all celebrations are “happy” in the traditional sense. Some people may commemorate days that signify mourning and loss, such as the Trans Day of Remembrance.
- Not all celebrations are religious or cultural. Pride can be a significant part of the year for many people who belong to the LGBTQIA2+ community or have loved ones in the LGBTQIA2+ community.
- Not all celebrations occur at a fixed time of year. Birthdays or adoption days will vary for each person, and certain holidays depend on moon cycles, like Lunar New Year, Eid al-Fitr, or Easter.
“Pride celebrations are some of my favourites because I witness so many people feeling called to greater authenticity at these events and truly showing themselves to the world, sometimes for the first time. Pride is colourful, fun, and unabashedly queer - it’s so refreshing to see that front and centre in public spaces when LGBTQIA2+ people are so often shamed, stigmatized, or rendered invisible in pop culture and mainstream conversations.” - Maeve Plummer (She, Her)
Holidays, Observances, and Celebrations with Complex Histories
Many holidays, observances, and celebrations have complicated histories. As such, they can mean different things to different people. For some, these celebrations can be a positive form of commemoration, recognition, and celebration. However, these holidays can be a continual reminder of trauma, inequity, or pain for others. If you choose to celebrate these holidays, we encourage you to apply a “yes, and” approach. An approach that allows you to embrace what you believe is positive about the holiday AND consider potential injustices these holidays may bring to others. The following are some celebrations to apply a “yes, and” approach:
Canada Day commemorates the Canadian Federation anniversary, when the separate British colonies were united and officially recognized as “Canada.” For many, Canada Day is an opportunity to celebrate what Canada has provided or provides to them as a country. However, this holiday also represents the French and British colonization of Turtle Island and its Indigenous Peoples and the enslavement of Black and Indigenous Peoples. Celebrating Canada Day can erase this history and pacify the ongoing genocide of Indigenous Peoples and Black people’s oppression by creating false national narratives. You can learn more about Canada Day in our blog, Canada Day is Not a Celebration.
Juneteenth and The Fourth of July
In the United States, the Fourth of July claims to celebrate “freedom” and independence from Britain. In reality, this holiday represents the official establishment of the colonization of Turtle Island, the institution of slavery, and the beginning of a destructive and violent global empire. On the Fourth of July, we must acknowledge that throughout history and today, Black, Indigenous, and other communities experiencing marginalization do not have the same freedoms as other citizens. It is also critical to acknowledge the importance of Juneteenth, commemorating the emancipation of slavery in the United States. Many Caribbean countries celebrate similar holidays, such as Emancipation Day.
War and Military
During holidays that celebrate veterans, fallen soldiers, and military achievements, we can critique violence and imperialism while also mourning the loss of loved ones.
- Instead of celebrating the nation - celebrate, mourn, and support veterans.
- Take an intersectional approach and acknowledge the relationship between the military and those experiencing marginalization. In some countries, military sign-ups are disproportionately people of lower socioeconomic status because they provide access to opportunities and resources they would not have otherwise.
- Consider donating to veteran support organizations, as many veterans face issues with mental health, substance abuse, and homelessness.
- We can also mourn the lives of those lost due to war and imperialism who weren’t from our home nations; their lives are equally as important.
- Avoid glorifying war by being critical of the role of violence, death, and imperialism.
Holidays With Colonial Histories
Be critical of holidays that pacify the relationships between colonizers and Indigenous Peoples.
- Thanksgiving pacifies this relationship to erase the history of genocide and further oppress Indigenous Peoples.
- Each year, its celebration emboldens the false narrative that Indigenous Peoples and European colonizers had positive relationships and that Indigenous Peoples were passive and even welcoming to the colonization of Turtle Island.
- Learn more about how the narrative of Thanksgiving was and continues to be changed over time to excuse genocide and colonization in The Myths of the Thanksgiving Story.
- If you celebrate Thanksgiving, do so while remaining critical of its history.
- Find ways to foster a discussion or infuse education into your celebrations.
- Consider actionable ways to decolonize Thanksgiving.
Apply a critical lens to holidays celebrating historical figures known to have committed oppression and colonization, such as Christopher Columbus.
- The truth about Columbus Day should be acknowledged and his violations of human dignity named.
- Many states and towns in the United States (U.S.) have decided to replace the holiday with Indigenous Peoples Day.
Intersectionality in Our Celebrations to Recognize All Communities
Various countries have established times to celebrate and recognize certain cultures throughout the year. We must continue to inform ourselves directly through the celebrated community to understand the most respectful and supportive way to recognize these communities. It is also important that we are intersectional in our understanding of who should be included in certain celebrations and how to broaden the celebrations to encompass the entirety of that culture’s history.
- Do not approach these equity-themed days and months as only one-off initiatives. They are year-round commitments.
- If you want to engage with Hispanic and Latine Heritage Month, include the experiences of all identities encompassed in Hispanic and Latine culture.
- For International Women’s Day, include all women in your celebrations.
- When recognizing Pride Month, be intentional about supporting all expressions and lived experiences. Pride Month also typically coincides with Indigenous History Month, so it’s important to be intentional about acknowledging non-Western forms of gender and sexual diversity and decolonizing Pride celebrations. Furthermore, remember to take intentional actions toward reconciliation during this time and recognize the enduring effects of colonization worldwide.
- For Black History Month, we can expand our understanding of the history, legacy, and continued contributions of the Black community by incorporating an intersectional approach to our education.
- When celebrating Disability Pride Month, we want to include people with invisible and visible disabilities, whether physical, mental, or neurocognitive.
- If your company works internationally, remember that countries often have different histories and pride months. For example, people in the United Kingdom celebrate Black History Month in October. While in the United States, people celebrate it in February. Pride and history months may also be different within the same country.
Not All Holidays Are ‘Happy’
People experience holidays differently - not only because of their identities but also because of their lived experiences. Holidays are not always joyous for various reasons, and assuming they are can be harmful. These can be described as “non-dominant” holiday experiences.
Allowing space in our conversations for non-dominant holiday experiences is essential in supporting our friends’ and colleagues’ inclusivity. Our blog, “Happier Holidays: Making Space for Non-Normative Experiences,” elaborates on some non-dominant holiday experiences.
Thinking critically about how we reference, discuss, and practice celebrations is necessary to promote inclusivity. Here are some reminders:
- Don’t presume that everyone has a “home” or family members to visit.
- Don’t presume that everyone has a nuclear family. “Family” comes in many forms, and for many, chosen families are critical.
- Pressures to give gifts can reinforce classism. Indulging in consumerism is an economic privilege many cannot participate in. Having limited finances to spend during this short period may cause guilt and shame.
“My family always enforced the idea that family matters above all else, but I’ve realized that my chosen family is far more important to surround myself with. Holiday celebrations with my blood family are stressful. As the only queer, genderqueer person in my family, I have to prepare myself mentally to educate while being (mostly) unintentionally misgendered. My chosen family respects and celebrates my name, pronouns, and boundaries. Being with them charges my batteries, while my blood family drains it.” - Anonymous
How to Be More Intentional About Holidays, Observances, and Celebrations
Experiences with holidays, observances, and celebrations are not universal, so what can we do? This section focuses on expanding our understanding of a diversity of holidays, provides tactics for being inclusive of those with non-dominant experiences, and gives some strategies for being more intentional in our workplace policies and practices.
Expand Your Knowledge
Instead of assuming which holidays are most celebrated in your workplace, seek out the information. Learn what is important to your people, allocate time and resources to expand your knowledge, and put these practices into place.
Consider an optional and anonymous survey that asks:
- What holidays, observances, and celebrations would you like recognized in the workplace?
- What holidays, observances, and celebrations are important to you?
- How would you like those holidays, observances, and celebrations to be celebrated and acknowledged?
- Is there anything else we should know about the holidays, observances, and celebrations that are important to you?
If you would like to learn more about your colleagues’ experiences with holidays, don’t pry unless the conversation arises naturally. Some people may feel exoticized or uncomfortable if they are put on the spot. Consider bringing up the topic of holidays in general. Discuss it in a way that doesn’t require them to divulge information but gives them space to do so if they wish.
Take the time to research holidays you aren’t familiar with to learn what your team might be experiencing. Learn about what non-Muslim friends can do to support Muslim people during Ramadan using Fahmida Kamali or Areej AbuAli’s advice.
Now that you know which holidays are important in your organization, ask team members what support they may need during this time. This is helpful information for planning and creates an understanding of people’s experiences.
- How will you be observing this holiday, observance, or celebration?
- Will you take time off?
- Will you be spending extra time with family or friends?
- Will you be working from home during this time?
- Will you have increased friend or family obligations?
- Is there something that I could do to support you during this time?
- Is there something that the organization could do to support you during this time?
“Growing up in India, I have always been part of Catholic institutions, which have a reputation for teaching ‘good values.’ My holiday experiences mainly included yearly Christmas skits at school, where students were Hindu, Muslim, and Christian. I still remember how Christmas events received more budget and resources while Diwali was usually a small event, and Eid celebrations rarely happened. Thinking about it now, in the context of inclusive holidays, I realize how kids are socialized early on to give importance to certain holidays more than others.” - Siddardh Alwar (He/His)
When presented with new information, share it with others respectfully. This can take the burden off those who experience holidays in a non-dominant way. Educate those who are new to your country or unfamiliar with holidays with complex histories. Newcomers can experience pressure to conform to dominant holidays and assimilate into the dominant culture to be accepted. The pressure to do so can contribute to their oppression and contribute to others’ oppression in celebrating holidays with complex histories. There are many ways to introduce holidays and create celebrations that don’t pressure people to celebrate in ways that contradict their personal beliefs and customs.
Be Inclusive About Non-Dominant Experiences
Being surrounded by colleagues and leaders who assume positivity and consider dominant holidays, observances, and celebrations as the “norm” can be lonely for many.
Here are some ways to be more intentional about inclusion when acknowledging these non-dominant experiences.
Validate Non-Dominant Experiences
- Acknowledge that non-dominant experiences exist and validate them in communications to your team, clients, partners, and social audiences.
- Provide some context surrounding holidays. Connect with team members privately and ask if they would like to share how they observe holidays and celebrations. Try and make it a collaborative effort to learn and educate; don’t leave the responsibility only to those participating.
- Create awareness of other religions. Start with an interfaith calendar and let everyone in the organization know which holidays team members will be observing; you don’t need to specify who.
Don’t Make Assumptions
- Avoid assuming a dominant holiday experience in your dialogues.
- Not everyone can afford gifts, so asking, “have you finished your holiday shopping?” can make some people feel uncomfortable or stigmatized. Not everyone has parents or family who are accepting, so asking people if they are “celebrating with their family” should be avoided.
- In places where Christmas is dominantly celebrated, “Merry Christmas” is shared widely, and we must be intentional with the use of the greeting.
- If someone mentions they celebrate a particular holiday, ask them about it openly and let them lead the conversation.
- When people share non-normative experiences relating to holidays, actively listen to them.
- Do not minimize their experiences, and don’t tell comparative stories; both act as a means of suppressing people’s real and lived experiences.
Be Intentional About Food, Beverages, & Catering
- Do not comment on what people choose to consume.
- Do not expect people to eat, drink, or consume alcohol.
- Do not comment on what people are eating/drinking, how much they are eating/drinking, and if they are eating/drinking.
- Food and drink-oriented events can be triggering and uncomfortable for people with disordered eating or people who face shame because of their size. This can also be tough for people managing addiction or people in recovery. If someone close to you struggles with mealtimes, eating in front of others, or being around alcohol, make an effort to connect with them and learn how to make the celebration more comfortable.
- Be proactive in making voluntary space for your team members to share any important dietary restrictions they have, whether medical, spiritual, values-related or personally elected. As a baseline, organize a menu or choose a venue that has options or accommodations for vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free, dairy-free, kosher, and/or halal diets in addition to common food allergies (e.g., peanuts, tree nuts, soy, shellfish, eggs, etc.)
- Always provide non-alcoholic beverage options.
- Consider your team members’ relevant fasting schedules when deciding a time for the event.
Be Intentional About Event Space Selection
When choosing a venue, consider the following:
- Are there gender-inclusive, single-stall, and accessible restrooms available, especially for non-binary, gender nonconforming, and disabled team members?
- Is there any private space for breastfeeding/chestfeeding, praying, caregiving responsibilities, or sensory retreat purposes?
- Is the venue accessible to people using assisted mobility devices like wheelchairs, walkers, canes, crutches, scooters, etc.?
- Are seating options appropriate for team members of different sizes and health statuses, such as offering back support, having arms-free seating options for larger colleagues, and tables with adequate height for all attendees to sit comfortably.
- Is the venue accessible to people who do not have a personal vehicle, such as those travelling via public transit, biking, etc.?
- Is there accessible parking at the venue?
Consider offering virtual alternatives for events where it is not feasible for certain team members to convene in a physical space due to health risks, timing, outside obligations, etc.
Value Community Over Consumerism
Purchasing and wrapping gifts can support capitalism, consumerism, and excessive waste, exacerbating climate change. Many might feel shame or guilt because they cannot afford to buy gifts and decorations or do not have the time or resources to plan elaborate celebrations.
Try to focus on the holiday’s core values rather than tangible items during celebrations.
If you have the means:
- Support small and local businesses that reflect your values, community, and organization.
- Purchase sustainable gifts and gifts in sustainable packaging to reduce environmental impact.
- Try gifting experiences. These gifts might be more meaningful, and in some instances, they create a lower environmental impact than tangible items.
- Organize a gift exchange of “pre-loved” items.
- Instead of giving gifts, ask friends or family to donate to a community organization you support.
Change Organizational Policies and Practices
Create an inclusive and intentional policy around holidays, observances, and celebrations to support people who celebrate holidays that aren’t traditionally recognized. The following are some methods for shifting and reframing organizational policies and practices to be more inclusive.
Implement Inclusive Holiday Leave/Days
- Create a format for team members to take time off for celebrations relevant to them and opt to work during dominant holidays and statutory holidays.
- Many workplaces in North America make taking time off for Christmas, Easter, and Thanksgiving mandatory, yet this is not relevant for all. Celebrations such as Rosh Hashanah or Diwali or Pride may be more important. Leaders and organizations need to be open to reallocating days off work. For example, Spotify has implemented a flexible public holiday policy where team members can “trade” time off during public holidays for holidays they prefer to celebrate. Learn more in 7 Months with Flexible Public Holidays.
- January 1st does not mark the start of the New Year for everyone, so allow team members to celebrate more than one New Year holiday.
- Check out 26 Completely Different New Year’s Days Around the World.
- How your organization uses their budget communicates which dates and thus which groups of people it values.
- Create a comprehensive budget plan that expands the dates your organization celebrates or engages beyond the dominant days.
- Reallocate money that would have been spent on a single holiday party to other internal initiatives that foster belonging and inclusion for more team members. Allow for more inclusive or expansive work perks/benefits.
- Allow team members to select a charity to donate their portion of a holiday budget and/or choose a charity and make an organizational-wide donation.
- If buying gifts for team members, consider supporting small, local businesses, such as those owned by people who experience marginalization.
- For virtual celebrations, consider offering a meal stipend for team members.
Considerations for Celebrations
This section outlines a framework for more equitable planning to create belonging, togetherness, and comradeship. It also provides some ideas and strategies for celebrating inclusively both in-person, online, and for winter holiday celebrations.
Determine Which Holidays You’ll Celebrate
“Celebrating” means that your organization will celebrate these holidays as a group, whether through a party, corporate event, a day off, or gift-giving.
Your organization can:
- Create one or multiple multi-faith holiday parties throughout the year.
- Instead of centring your party around certain holidays, celebrate organization-specific holidays like when the organization was founded or the first sale date.
- This can give team members time to bond and celebrate the great work they’ve accomplished.
“Growing up, I was reluctant to celebrate Chinese holidays like Chinese New Year, Mid-Autumn Festival, and Qingming Festival because it felt too “different” from what I was exposed to in the media, in school, etc. To this day, I feel detached from celebrating any holiday. Several years ago, my sister decided that our family should celebrate something over the winter holidays, so we have designated the Winter Solstice as our family celebration. It’s just a day in December for us to get together and have a family dinner because we now all spend Christmas day with our partners’ families.” -Tania Cheng (She/They)
Determine Which Holidays You’ll Acknowledge
Being inclusive throughout the year doesn’t mean your organization has to throw parties during every holiday. You can acknowledge holidays in smaller ways to show team members you care about what’s happening in their lives.
- Send email reminders, celebratory thoughts/warm wishes, educational pieces, and holiday considerations.
- If you have Muslim colleagues fasting during Ramadan, it might be helpful to include in your holiday email that colleagues should try to schedule meetings in the morning when people are more alert. For more information on supporting team members during Ramadan, read Five Tips To Keep Your Business On Track During Ramadan.
- Send e-cards.
- Draft handwritten cards/notes.
- Announce the holiday during team meetings, share what you’ve learned about it, and make space for others to share if/how they are observing if they feel comfortable.
- Check in with team members to determine if they need more support during this time or if their obligations add extra pressure.
Create a Diverse Planning Committee
- Create planning committee positions valued, respected, and delegated to all types of people across identities, backgrounds, leadership levels, and lived experiences.
- Organizations often rely on women and others experiencing marginalization to take on the emotional labour, event/birthday planning, decorations, cleanup, and administrative tasks.
- Consider how you can compensate team members for their time, as company parties are integral to forming bonds and improving workplace productivity and culture.
- Communicate your values and goals to the planning committee and ensure that your team members have the skills and knowledge to create inclusive celebrations.
Make Your Party Voluntary
- Communicate that team members are not obligated to attend.
- Keep tabs on those needing support and carefully communicate your appreciation for them.
Schedule Your Date and Time
- Consider scheduling the party when team members are not stressed with deadlines.
- Plan your event during work hours. Many team members have obligations and important commitments after work hours and might feel obliged to rearrange their priorities to attend. For example, team members should not be forced to arrange child or family care to attend unpaid work events.
- If your event is after work, check team member availability, and let your team know beforehand.
In-Person Celebration Considerations
Make your decor festive and cheerful, but avoid reinforcing harmful stereotypes or disrespecting valuable dress, symbols, or ceremonies. For example, non-Mexican people may unintentionally appropriate Mexican culture in their celebration of Cinco de Mayo. For ideas to celebrate in a way that honours Mexican independence, check out How To Celebrate Cinco De Mayo Respectfully.
Focus on selecting decor that reflects the values of the holiday rather than choosing culturally specific decor, as many celebrations vary in their expression across cultures. For example, Muslim celebrations and their respective decorations are usually associated with the Middle East and the Arab world, even though Muslim celebrations are commemorated worldwide.
When purchasing decor, consider selecting reusable items to limit waste. This is also more economical and can redirect your budget towards other more sustainable items and experiences that your team members value.
Event Activities and Food
Are music or entertainment options diverse or culturally inclusive to the various ways this particular holiday may be celebrated? Are food options diverse and/or culturally inclusive?
Account for Different Comfort Levels
Consider a two-stage party. Plan a party with two parts: no alcohol in the initial stage when leaders thank team members, make any special announcements, and later celebrate where alcohol is available. The events’ schedule should be spelled out in the invitation so attendees know what to expect and make choices accordingly. Many people don’t consume alcohol and may not want to be present where alcohol is served. Pregnant people, people managing addiction, people in recovery, and people of different faiths, such as Muslims, might appreciate the alcohol-free portion of the event.
Is your venue accessible? Is lighting sufficient for those with visual impairments? Is the music suitable for those on the Autism spectrum? Can all enjoy activities?
Virtual Celebration Considerations
Holidays, observances, and celebrations are meant to build community, comradeship, happiness, and connection between team members. Luckily, there are many other ways to achieve this in a virtual format!
Find New Ways to Organize
- Organize virtual celebrations not centring around a particular holiday.
- Try just coming together to celebrate your team and organizational accomplishments!
- Have financial resources? Organize an “event in a box.” These packages are sent to everyone’s home and include everything required to participate in a fun and remote experience. The theme could be self-care, arts and crafts, or something company-related!
- Plan accessible virtual games and activities that foster bonds between team members and allow everyone to have fun and connect.
- Check out Virtual Games to Play on Zoom with Coworkers & Adults in 2022
Inclusion and Expansion
Allow people to opt-in to workplace events and, when possible, expand the theme of the event. Try “Winter Wonderland Party” instead of “Holiday or Christmas Party.” Get creative! Instead of a “Christmas sweater” theme, try an “ugly sweater” theme, or consider other ways people can dress up, such as wearing fun hats.
If choosing to decorate the office or workspace, instead of being representative of Christmas (Christmas trees, presents, angels, Santa, elves, etc.), consider winter decorations (snowflakes, garlands, lights, woods, etc.) There is so much inspiration online!
Ensure plenty of non-alcoholic options and food with different dietary requirements.
This resource is not meant to be a static guide, but rather a compilation and reflection of our learnings to date. Everything changes - from technologies and innovations to social norms, cultures, languages, and more. We’ll continue to update this resource with your feedback; email us at firstname.lastname@example.org with suggestions.
About The Author
This resource was written collaboratively by members of the Feminuity team.
Give Credit Where Credit's Due
If you wish to reference this work, please use the following citation: Feminuity. "An Inclusive Approach to Holidays, Observances, and Celebrations"