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Holiday Etiquette at Work: How to Keep the Season Fun and Inclusive

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Is it happy holidays? Merry Christmas? In Canada, we’re lucky to live in a multicultural society, but during the Christmas season there are often etiquette questions around the season’s greetings. But it doesn't have to be awkward. With Christmas decorations everywhere, it's easy to forget that not everyone celebrates the holiday. So how can you make everyone feel included in the holiday season without offending anyone? Here are a few tips to help navigate the holiday season in your professional life.

Celebrate Global Holiday Spirit

Although you or your colleagues may not celebrate it at home, about 92 per cent of Canadians celebrate Christmas in some form. Businesses shouldn’t hit the mute button on Christmas, but use December as a time to acknowledge holidays of other faiths and cultures, such as Hanukkah or Kwanzaa. The key to avoid offending anyone is to approach the holidays with a focus on inclusivity rather than the “otherness” of non-Christian cultures or religions.

So ask around the office, shop, or your entrepreneur circle. What does your community celebrate at this time of year? And don’t forget your customers as well! If you operate a business in a neighborhood with a large proportion of non-Christians, look for ways to include and acknowledge their December holidays. A cheerful sign that says “Happy Hanukkah” or “Happy Diwali” works (just check the calendar to make sure your timing is accurate!). And if you send out cards to clients, consider a “Happy Holidays” style greeting that is inclusive of everyone.

Promote Holiday Fun

To foster good cheer, keep work holiday activities fun and lighthearted. If you celebrate Christmas, wear your favorite ugly Christmas sweater to work. If you celebrate Hanukkah, offer to teach your coworkers dreidel games on a lunch break. Have an after-work holiday singalong and include upbeat songs from several different faiths — tunes like “Jingle Bells” and “Dreidel, Dreidel, Dreidel.”

Do Something Charitable

At the heart of every community — religious or secular — is an appreciation of the value of giving. Seek out a well-respected charity that helps out the needy in your community, find a way to give back, either a monetary donation or, if you work with a large team, organize a toy or food or clothing drive.

Host a Holiday Potluck Lunch

People bond over food. Holiday meals and sweetmeats are a hallmark of the season, and a great opportunity to celebrate Canadian diversity. Invite employees to bring in seasonal home-baked or home-cooked food in December reflective of their own culture of background. Consider bringing in egg nog or cookies. Or splurge on jelly donuts for all on the first day of Hanukkah. After all, who can resist a fresh jelly donut?

Be Respectful of All

The holidays are a time for celebration and fellowship among all, regardless of religious persuasion. Although many aspects of the holiday have become increasingly secular, be respectful of people who are actually religious about Christmas, and mindful about religious references. For example, more observant people might take offense to the short-form "X-Mas" instead of Christmas.

Finally, if you make a slip and accidentally say “Merry Christmas” to a non-Christian, just smile and follow it up with “I hope you have a wonderful holiday.” Not everyone celebrates Christmas, but most people appreciate warm wishes and well-meaning gestures during the holiday season.