The “Holiday Tree”

Credit: Flickr

In a recent speech, President Trump announced: “we’re saying merry Christmas again.” This statement started the yearly conversation about what Tanenbaum calls the “December Dilemma.” Every year, we get questions from clients about different aspects of December Dilemma (the period roughly between Thanksgiving and New Year’s), including decorations, parties, gift exchanges, and greetings. As companies strive to become more inclusive, Christmas poses a challenge: how do you make the holiday season more inclusive without alienating employees who have come to expect and enjoy overt acknowledgements of Christmas?

One trend that I have noticed over the past couple of years is the emergence of the “holiday tree.” Sometimes when we ask a client if their offices are decorated for Christmas, they reply, “No, we don’t have Christmas decorations, just a secular holiday tree in the lobby.” The first time I heard this, I made a note to look up “secular holiday tree” after the call. After talking to my colleagues, I realized that what the client meant was essentially a Christmas tree without religious or overtly Christmas-y (red and green) decorations.

I think the “holiday tree” is a good example of the balance that many companies try to strike during the December Dilemma. Take something that used to be a company tradition, like an office Christmas party, and make it more “secular” by turning it into a “holiday party.” But is a holiday party really any different from a Christmas party if all that has changed is the name?

To me, a holiday tree is a Christmas tree, whether you call it that or not. Is there a difference between a towering Christmas tree with an angel on top and a nativity scene nearby and a smaller Christmas tree with subtle silver decorations? Yes. The former is more closely related to the religious roots of the holiday, while the latter is more in line with a secular celebration and is likely more appropriate for the workplace. But they are both Christmas decorations.

According to Pew, 92% of Americans celebrate Christmas. That means there are plenty of people who celebrate Christmas but don’t necessarily identify as Christian. Additionally, 32% of Americans say that for them, Christmas is more of a cultural holiday (as opposed to a religious one). It follows, then, that it isn’t just Christian employees who would be happy to see Christmas decorations at work. At the same time, there are non-Christian employees (and some Christians, like Seventh Day Adventists) who wouldn’t be so happy. And I am not convinced that having a silver Christmas tree instead of a red and green one makes a big difference for that group. What would be more significant would be decorating, acknowledging, and celebrating diverse holidays. It is okay to acknowledge Christmas, as long as it isn’t the only holiday that is acknowledged throughout the year.

[Click here for more tips on how to handle the December Dilemma]

By Liz Joslin,
Workplace Program Senior Associate, Tanenbaum