It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year: Reflecting on the Diversity of the December Holiday Season

Interfaith Peace Sign

By: Kim Kushner, Assistant Director of New Student and Family Programs

December is here and traditionally in the United States that means it is time for all things merry and jolly. December can be a joyful time, as there is a convergence of festivities and traditions to celebrate this “holiday season”. There also tends to be a heavy focus around Christmas as the pivotal religious holiday and cultural event. In a U.S. society where about 70% of the population identifies as Christian, and where a large focus centers on Christmas, how can we recognize and honor other religious and secular holidays that coexist? How do we create spaces, events, and policies that are sensitive to various identities, observances, and belief systems? This article aims to share a few ways we can reflect on this topic area, helping us move toward a more inclusive holiday season.

 

Review Interfaith Calendars when scheduling events, programs, and meetings. Online interfaith calendars are very helpful in learning about and accommodating holiday celebrations. Some holidays move each year. Some holidays begin at nightfall. Some holidays are celebrated on one day, while others may span multiple days or weeks. Looking ahead when planning major events, parties, class deadlines/exams, or meetings can help to avoid potential scheduling mishaps. Below is a list of interfaith calendar resources that highlight 2019 December dates and beyond:

  • Anti-Defamation League: https://www.adl.org/education/resources/tools-and-strategies/calendar-of-observances
  • Harvard’s Pluralism Project: http://pluralism.org
  • Interfaith-Caldendar.org: https://www.interfaith-calendar.org

 

Engage in respectful dialogue and seek clarity. Another way to build inclusivity through this holiday season is to “be curious, and ask respectful questions” (2019). According to The Tanenbaum Center for Interreligious Understanding (2019), the December season is an excellent time to raise awareness around topics of religious diversity. Asking what holiday greeting someone prefers, or if they have any holiday practices to be aware of is “one of the best ways to avoid misunderstandings and make sure that everyone feels included and respected”. Moreover, many holiday celebrations center on food. Being mindful of dietary needs and the significance of religious dietary restrictions (ex. fasting) can go a long way to express to someone that they are valued.

 

Recognize that not everyone celebrates. According to the Pew Research Religious Landscape Study (2019), 22.8% of Americans identify as “unaffiliated”, “atheist”, “agnostic”, or “nothing in particular”. This identification may mean that some do not celebrate holidays at all, while others may celebrate Christmas in a more “secular” manner. Moreover, some religions, such as Jehovah’s Witnesses, do not celebrate holidays. Lastly, the December holidays may trigger stress or anxiety. Meinart (2018) writes that “people who are grieving, depressed, or otherwise dissatisfied with some aspect of their lives can find the holidays to be painful reminders of who or what they’re missing.” Thus, it is recommended to make holiday celebrations voluntary. There may be personal or religious reasons why someone chooses to not celebrate; space, events, and policies must be accessible and inclusive to address these needs as well.

 

Developing a greater awareness of the diversity of religious holidays and observances throughout the traditional “holiday season” can have significant benefits. There exists so much variation within and amongst traditions. December provides a vibrant foundation for continued education, advocacy, and outreach that can lead towards unity year round.

 

References:

 

Keiserman, Kimberly. (2015, November 30). Teaching the Holidays: The December Dilemma. Retrieved from http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/global_learning/2015/11/teaching_the_holidays_the_december_dilemma.html.

 

Meinert, Dori. (2018, November/December). How to make holiday celebrations more inclusive.  Retrieved from https://www.shrm.org/hr-today/news/hr-magazine/1118/pages/how-to-make-holiday-celebrations-more-inclusive.aspx.

 

Pew Research Center. (2019). Religious landscape study. Retrieved from https://www.pewforum.org/religious-landscape-study/.

 

Tanenbaum Center for Interreligious Understanding. (2019). The December dilemma. Retrieved from https://tanenbaum.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/11/December-Dilemma-2019.pdf.