Holidays in the Hospital

As the end of the year approaches, whether you are decorating a tree with colorful lights, lighting a menorah, or burning a Yule log, it’s important to keep in mind that while holidays are an opportunity to celebrate culturally and religiously significant events, they are also an opportunity to learn more about traditions that are unfamiliar to us.

Tanenbaum likes to call this stretch of holidays the “December Dilemma,” as this convergence can often result in misunderstandings, miscommunication, and marginalization of less familiar traditions. There is no space in which this is more important than the hospital, where patients and their families may adhere to certain celebratory beliefs and practices that impact their care. For example, when observing Yom Kippur, which usually falls in September or October, many Jewish patients engage in fasting, prayer, and reflection. This could impact scheduling appointments, medication intake, and other dietary needs or concerns. Similar considerations also apply to Muslim patients observing the holy month of Ramadan.

Additionally, hospital staff and co-workers may also have certain religious and cultural practices that could impact scheduling, diet, and religious/cultural expression. In 24-hour workplaces, it is already difficult to try to schedule meetings with staff, provide food that everyone can eat, and ensure that requests for time off are accommodated. The holiday season can further complicate this when workplaces often have holiday celebrations and many staff members request off to celebrate with their friends and family. In order to better navigate these situations, Tanenbaum has put together some recommendations and resources, so you can proactively and respectfully address issues and conflicts that arise!

First, it is important to be aware of the holidays that may fall in or around December.

These include:

Eid al-Fitr, a celebration that marks the end of Ramadan in the Muslim faith. The Eid has shifting dates, and although it has fallen over the summer during recent years (it will fall in early-June in 2019), it can fall much later in the calendar and is, therefore, a holiday to consider in thinking about the December Dilemma.

Diwali, the Hindu Festival of Lights. This five-day celebration usually falls in October or November. In 2019, Diwali begins on October 27th and ends on October 31st.

Bodhi Day, a Buddhist holiday celebrating Siddhartha Guatama’s (the Buddha’s) realization and presentation to his fellow seekers of the Four Noble Truths. Bodhi Day is traditionally celebrated on December 8th (the 8th day of the 12th lunar month).

Hanukkah, the Jewish Festival of Lights. This eight-day holiday can fall in late November, December, or occasionally early January. In 2019, Hanukkah will start at sundown on December 22nd and end at sundown on December 30th.

Christmas, a celebration of the birth of Jesus, the central figure of Christianity. Christmas is celebrated on December 25th by Christians who use the Gregorian calendar. Christians using the Julian calendar—many of whom are Eastern Orthodox Christians—celebrate Christmas on December 25th on the Julian calendar, which translates into January 7th on the Gregorian calendar.

Kwanzaa, a week-long secular holiday honoring African-American heritage. This holiday is observed from December 26th through January 1st each year by some African-Americans in the United States.

The Lunar New Year, a traditional Chinese holiday marking the end of winter that falls sometime during January or February (in 2020, it falls on January 25th). The Lunar New Year is an East and South East Asian celebration. In China, it is known as the “Spring Festival” and marks the end of the winter season.

Yule, a Wiccan or Pagan celebration of the Winter Solstice, will occur (in the northern hemisphere) on December 21, 2019. Yule celebrates the rebirth of the sun, the beginning of the time when the days will become longer, and welcomes the bounty of spring.

Second, it is also a good idea to download an interfaith calendar, like the one provided by Harvard Divinity School, so your calendar can make you aware of upcoming events and celebrations. For more recommendations and tips for navigating the December Dilemma, please refer to our December Dilemma resource, our religious factsheets, or our Tips for Respectful Communication.

May you all have a safe and happy holiday season!

Warmest regards,

The Tanenbaum Health Care Team