Blog - Workplace Inclusion at Christmas

Blog - Workplace Inclusion at Christmas

Despite its cultural significance, and transcendence beyond religion, it’s important to remember that not everybody celebrates Christmas.

Workplace Inclusion at Christmas

For many people in the UK, Christmas is an important and significant time of the year.

While Christmas is a Christian religious event, it is also celebrated by atheists, agnostics and believers of other faiths alike. For some it’s not about religion, with many simply celebrating a time of goodwill and gift-giving with their friends and family.

This year Tesco has included a Muslim family and a Sikh man joining in Christmas festivities in its Christmas advert as part of its 'Everyone's Welcome' campaign, which has caused much debate.

Yet despite its cultural significance, and transcendence beyond religion, it’s important to remember that not everybody celebrates Christmas.

In today’s multi-cultural and diverse society, with the increasing focus on inclusion within the workplace, many employers are cautious about celebrating Christmas, out of fear of offending those that do not celebrate it. Some avoid recognising the event all together, or opt for using “politically correct” terms like "Happy Holidays" on greeting cards and changing Christmas parties to "holiday parties". Being inclusive isn’t about being fearful of causing offence, or changing labels and titles, it’s about recognising and celebrating each and every one.

In this article we will address some common concerns around Christmas, including: cards and decorations, along with Christmas parties, and wishing people a Merry Christmas.

Historically the Employers Forum on Belief outlined that there is no reason for individuals, teams or organisations to avoid celebrating Christmas for fear of offending minority faiths. The Christmas we know today is built on a wide variety of traditions and mid-winter celebrations which have been merged together. While some argue that playing down Christmas’ religious significance can avoid upsetting or alienating non-Christians, some Christians may also be offended of this. Whatever your stance it’s important to remember that everyone has a unique relationship with Christmas, regardless of their religion or belief.

What it’s like to be a Muslim at Christmas?

Sending Christmas Cards

“Should I send a Christmas card to a non-Christian?”

A common concern at this time of year is whether or not to send a Christmas card to a non-Christian, particularly someone from another faith, as it may appear culturally insensitive or even cause offence.

Firstly it’s important to recognise that Christmas can be celebrated by anyone regardless of religion or belief, so you shouldn’t make assumptions as to whether people celebrate it or not.

In a BBC article ‘10 common Christmas card dilemmas, Sharon Little, the Chief Executive of the Greeting Card Association suggested that this is "not something to worry about at all." In the same article, theologian Vicky Beeching also commented from a faith perspective, suggesting that “it's the thought that matters” when sending cards to both Christians and non-Christians.

The key message to keep in mind is to be inclusive. It would not be inclusive to exclude individuals from your Christmas card list based on their religious beliefs, or your perception of their religious beliefs. Best practice for sending Christmas Cards would be to be inclusive. You may wish to show some cultural sensitivity by avoiding religious themed cards, by opting for a non-religious option, or even a card with a neutral message such as “season’s Greetings” or “Happy Holidays”. However, this isn’t essential, everyone knows that Christmas is a Christian religious holiday, and a card is unlikely to cause offence, but be mindful not to expect one back in return.

Consider how you would feel if you received a Happy Diwali, Happy Hanukkah or Eid greeting card? The likelihood is that you would be thankful that someone had made the effort to include you in their celebration.


Workplace Christmas Decorations

“Can we have a Christmas decorations at work?”

There are many myths around Christmas decorations in the workplace, but the truth is many of the incidences where employers have banned them are down to health and safety concerns, rather than diversity and inclusion issues. In short it is down to the employer’s discretion and policy as to what is and isn’t allowed in the workplace.

If decorating the workplace, the religious nature of decorations should be considered, and you should opt for more secular traditions like Christmas tree rather than a nativity scene.

Don’t expect everyone to get involved in decorating the workplace, some people may not celebrate Christmas, while others may wish to celebrate it in a different way.

In view that it is down to the employer’s discretion and policy, decorations for other times of the year should also be considered in order to be inclusive, for not only other religious events, but also cultural events such as LGBT History Month.


Christmas Party

“Can we have a Christmas party?”

In short, there is no rule against Christmas parties, however as we live and work in a multi-cultural society and some employees may not wish to engage in an event described as a ‘Christmas’ party, you should consider whether this is inclusive, especially if no comparable event is held to celebrate other important religious festivals such as Diwali or Eid. Where possible, you should aim to recognise other religious holidays throughout the year.

There is much debate as to whether ‘Christmas Party’ should be rebranded with a different name such as the ‘winter’ or ‘year end’ party in order to be inclusive, and it often caused much debate. The challenge is that some may be offended if the Christmas party is renamed given that it is generally thought to be part of the UK's national tradition and culture. The Christmas party is about celebration, and as much about Christmas as the end of the calendar year, therefore a compromise would be to hold a “Christmas and End of Year Party”, in order to make it inclusive for all, but still acknowledge Christmas’ tradition and culture.

Make sure that your party isn't just a Christmas party in disguise by making sure the decorations and food are not solely specific to Christmas.


Wishing People a Merry Christmas

“How do I wish someone a Merry Christmas but avoid un-intentionally offending them”

There is much debate about whether “Merry Christmas” should be replaced with “Happy Holidays” which is widely used in America, and many people can feel like they are walking on eggshells around Christmas time, worried about saying the wrong thing to the wrong person and causing offence, so instead they say nothing. Sometimes people have the best intentions but are not sure how to be inclusive of others.

The key is awareness and consistency. By firstly being aware whether someone celebrates Christmas or not it makes it a simple decision as to what greeting to use. If you know someone doesn’t celebrate Christmas, then you may wish to use an alternative greeting to show cultural sensitivity. With that in mind, it is important not to make assumptions as to whether or not individuals celebrate Christmas, and if you are unsure you should be consistent in your approach to your greetings. For example, it would not be inclusive to wish all of your non-Sikh or Muslim colleagues a Merry Christmas, but then wish a Sikh or Muslim colleague a Happy Holidays without first understanding whether or not they celebrate Christmas.


So in summary, the key message is around inclusion and being aware that not everyone celebrates Christmas.

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