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The December Dilemma – Celebrating Holidays in the Workplace

December 5, 2023

The December Dilemma is that time of year where multiple holidays collide and people with good intentions can find themselves in the middle of potentially toxic misunderstandings. Below are some tips that can help create an inclusive workplace during this holiday season.

Many holidays take place throughout the fall and winter. Since many holidays fall on different dates each year, it’s important to refer to interfaith calendars. Here are the holidays in December 2023.

  • Bodhi Day, a Buddhist holiday celebrating Siddhartha Gautama’s (the Buddha’s) realization and presentation to his fellow seekers of the Four Noble Truths. Bodhi Day is traditionally celebrated on the 8th day of the 12th lunar month. In 2023, this will be on December 8th.
  • Hanukkah, the Jewish Festival of Lights. This eight-day holiday can fall in late November, December, or occasionally early January. In 2023, Hanukkah will be observed from sunset on December 7th to nightfall on December 15th.
  • Christmas, the 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 December Dilemma Checklist

Review your Policies

Review your company’s religion in the workplace policies to be clear on what is acceptable and not acceptable during the December holiday season.

Be Curious and Ask Respectful Questions

The holidays are an excellent time to raise awareness around religious diversity in your office, so don’t be afraid to ask respectful questions of your coworkers. For instance, it is appropriate to ask a coworker what holiday greeting they prefer or if they have any holiday practices to be aware of, as long as the questions are respectful and come from a place of genuine curiosity. Asking your colleague, a question is one of the best ways to avoid misunderstandings and make sure that everyone feels included and respected during the holiday season.

Avoid Scheduling Mishaps

During this time of year, it is particularly important to make sure you’re not scheduling an important meeting or special event on a holiday. Remember that holidays such as Hanukkah and Ramadan occur at different times each year. Use interfaith calendars as a reference while you’re scheduling meetings, or for more information about an unfamiliar religious tradition.


Whether you’re planning an office celebration, or bringing in end-of-year treats, it’s important to think about all of your colleagues. Send a note or email to find out about your colleagues’ dietary needs and be mindful of the significance of religious dietary restrictions. Your colleagues themselves are the best source of information about their personal needs (but not the needs of others).

Remember that each individual practices differently, and that religious practices change and fluctuate over time.

Celebrate Inclusion

Planning holiday parties and celebrations can be stressful and difficult. If you are involved in the planning process, remember to make them as inclusive as possible, and re- evaluate any long-standing traditions. For instance, instead of hosting a “Secret Santa,” try offering a “Grab Bag” instead. And if your office chooses to put up holiday decorations, accompany those decorations with appropriate educational materials that address the significance of the holiday. It’s also a good idea to start new traditions, like acknowledging holidays that fall outside of December, sending fall or winter cards to clients and co-workers, or doing a charity project together.

Remember that not everyone celebrates holidays, and some observe holidays with cultural or family traditions rather than religious ones. According to Pew, about 23% of the U.S. population is unaffiliated, meaning they are agnostic, atheist, or “nothing in particular.” While many unaffiliated people celebrate Christmas and other holidays in a secular way, some may not celebrate at all.

Additionally, some people who are religious, like Jehovah’s Witnesses, do not celebrate holidays. Considering the enormous diversity within and among traditions, you are always better off avoiding assumptions when it comes to the “holiday season” (and all year round!)

Finally, consider how your time off policies align with inclusion.

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