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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

Turn the December Dilemma into an Opportunity – Resources for Teachers

Dear Educators,

December is a time of celebration and family togetherness for many Americans – and not just those who celebrate Christmas as a sacred holiday or cultural event. Jews celebrate Hanukkah, Buddhists celebrate Bodhi Day, many African Americans celebrate Kwanzaa, and cultures across the world celebrate the Winter Solstice.

For educators, however, the convergence of so many holidays can create The December Dilemma: how to acknowledge and respect the wide variety of traditions students and their families hold dear without implying that some are more important than others.

Turn this dilemma into an opportunity for promoting inclusion and religious literacy. Teach your students about the many ways people celebrate in December – and throughout the year. Use our holiday planning template to create a yearlong schedule of holidays to explore in your classroom.

To learn more:
• Read our information-packed blog post, Teaching the Holidays: The December Dilemma
• Listen to Addressing the December Dilemma in Schools, a webinar created in partnership with Teaching Tolerance. (Complete the free registration to access the full recording)

• Download an elementary-level lesson on the Winter Solstice.

• Download an elementary-level lesson on Rituals and Traditions about Light: Hopefulness and Waiting.

• Check out Tanenbaum’s curricula for all grade levels.

Image credit: Painting by Manuel D. Baldemor

The Season of Inclusion – Navigate the December Dilemma!

Dear Friends,

What does your office look like during this time of year? Are there Christmas trees and menorahs in the lobby, or are decorations strictly snowflake-themed? Are departments planning Christmas parties or perhaps a holiday potluck?

Whatever is taking place at your office, the December Dilemma is in full swing. Hanukkah starts on December 6th and Christmas is coming up too (many will celebrate on December 24th and 25th, and some will celebrate January 6th [Armenian Orthodox] and 7th [Eastern Orthodox]).

Whether your company acknowledges specific holidays or takes a more general approach to the season, awareness about the holidays taking place during this busy time of year is key.
Use Tanenbaum’s tip sheets on Christmas, Hanukkah, and the December Dilemma to navigate decorations, time off and scheduling, and holiday greetings. Let’s celebrate the season of inclusion!
In friendship,
Mark Fowler,
Managing Director of Programs

Diversity and Inclusion Worldwide – A State Dept. Strategy Session

I experienced two things at my workshop in D.C. that confirmed the absolute urgency and human impact of combating religious prejudice, but more on that later.

Yesterday, the U.S. Department of State convened over 100 top diversity leaders for the first "Diversity, Inclusion and U.S. Foreign Policy" strategy session.  The day’s agenda focused on the impact of diverse professional environments and the way in which the diversity and inclusion agenda informs U.S. foreign policy.
 
Refreshingly, the session was much more than the same old conversations.  It was new.  Representatives of the State Dept., leaders in the field, and fellow presenters were saying that our global human rights agenda are directly linked to the U.S.’s success in foreign policy and global workplaces that thrive on diversity.  In other words, practicing what we preach will lead to a safer world. 
 
The range of issues discussed and diversity of thought was powerful, but I especially appreciated the opportunity to lead a workshop on Implementing Faith Based Diversity Initiatives.  The workshop’s conversation was lively and I was able to share a few of our better practices – including the importance of creating religious diversity policies in companies and governments.  Two things showed me that we moved the needle by getting key folks focused on this issue.  First, as a group, we discussed the core learnings that came out of our discussion.  Everyone agreed that addressing religion as an issue in the Diversity and Inclusion efforts of global companies is more than just a consideration – – it is key in the entire diversity conversation.  The second thing that proved the workshop was useful happened just after it ended.  One of the participants came up to me and said, “Joyce, I have to hug you.”  And she did.
 
Joyce S. Dubensky
CEO