A friend of mine, who’s Catholic, was asked to plan the office “Christmas” party. He explained to his boss (a Turkish Muslim) that it was really more appropriate to call it a holiday party. The Muslim boss shrugged and asked, “Who are we bulls—-ng? It’s a Christmas party.”
Call it what you want, but the holidays can be a touchy time, especially at work. It’s all about respect. Here’s another, opposite example: One day about a year ago, a friend of mine who’s Jewish walked in to work to find her cubicle festooned with Christmas decorations. Now it wasn’t a symbol of hatred, but it was disrespectful, even passive aggressive. It put my friend in an awkward position. It’s one thing to ask someone if they would like to be included, it’s another thing to presume they would.
As Christ-followers, we’re called to care about everyone, not simply our own. In that spirit, here are five ways to bring a little more peace, love and social savvy to your office during the holidays:
1. Brush up on a few faith traditions other than your own. A good link to get you started: http://www.interfaithcalendar.org.
Keep in mind, the holiest days outside of Christianity don’t fall in December. For example, in Judaism, Yom Kippur (pronounced Kip-PUHR)—the Jewish day of atonement—falls in September or October, and Rosh Hashanah—the Jewish new year—falls ten days before Yom Kippur. In Islam, Ramadan—which commemorates Muhammad’s receiving the divine revelation recorded in the Qur’an—happens in September.
December holidays such as Chanukah and Kwanzaa might show up in Hallmark stores, but they shouldn’t be thought of as “Christmas for non-Christians.” And truth be told, a lot of people who don’t call themselves Christians still celebrate Christmas. But don’t assume that’s the case.
In the right context (e.g., one on one, versus in a staff meeting or a crowded lunch room), questions such as, “How do you celebrate the holidays?” can open the doors conversations with co-workers of a different background—or even ones with similar backgrounds. Be willing to listen and share.
2. Keep the boss’s gift impersonal. I don’t think you’re required to get the boss a gift—but if you do, it shouldn’t be too familiar. Golf balls, yes—cologne, no. Restaurant gift cards are a safe bet—a size extra-large sweatshirt, not so much. Especially if it has a big teddy bear on the front. Your relationship with your boss is professional—keep your gifts the same way.
The best gift of all might be a simple note of appreciation. And if the boss takes you to lunch, or otherwise shows holiday generosity, I’d say it’s a requirement. Sending thank-yous isn’t brown-nosing—it’s simply the right thing to do, even if it’s nothing more than a brief but upbeat email. The idea is to help people feel glad they went out of their way for you. Nobody ever complained about being too appreciated.
3. Take it easy at the company party. You’re still at work! Not literally, of course, but for all practical purposes. Even if your boss or co-workers are drinking and getting a bit loose, your job is to keep it reined in so you can still look yourself in the eye on Monday morning. Your boss might forgive her own behavior, but she might not forgive yours—let alone forget. “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world …” (Romans 12:2)
4. Accept that some of your co-workers are more jazzed about the holidays than others. I have this theory that Christmas music amplifies whatever spirit we’re already in. For example, the year I started my new dream job, Christmas music was like Heaven. The year after my childhood best friend died, the same songs ripped my heart out. Most years, thankfully, are not so extreme in either direction.
I don’t want to be a Debbie Downer, but the fact is, the person in the cube next to you could have lost a loved one, or have a family member fighting overseas, or may have other troubles weighing on their hearts. A little extra sensitivity can be much appreciated—and a little insensitivity will be remembered years after the fact. So decide how you wish to be thought of, two years from now.
5. Go easy on the office goodies. I know the temptation of burrowing my way through a giant tin of cheesy popcorn, but I can tell you it’s not worth the added weight or the utterly stoned feeling that comes from overeating. Sugar is even worse, because for many of us—whether we realize it or not—it’s a drug. If you’ve ever been on a mid-morning cookie-dough bender, you know what I’m talking about.
At the university where I used to work, I would always participate in the holiday weigh-in. If you maintained your weight within two pounds from mid-November to mid-January, you won a small prize. Of course, the best prize was having a wardrobe full of clothes that still fit.
Gina DeLapa is the director of Real-World Etiquette, LLC and an adjunct instructor in the University of San Diego graduate counseling program. She can be reached at email@example.com.