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

Originally Posted on December 6, 2019 by Lona Davenport, updated November 29, 2021

December is here, and traditionally in the U.S. that means it’s 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 (Public Religion Research Institute [PRRI], 2021), 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, belief systems, and worldviews?
This article shares ways we can reflect on this topic, helping us move toward a more inclusive December holiday season, as well as a more inclusive campus climate that supports diverse religious identities.

Review interfaith calendars when scheduling events, programs, and meetings. 

Online interfaith calendars are helpful in learning about, and accommodating, holiday celebrations and observances. Some holidays move each year. Some holidays begin at sundown. 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 are two calendar resources that highlight 2022 December dates and beyond:

Engage in respectful dialogue and seek clarity.

Another way to build inclusivity is to “be curious and ask respectful questions” (Tanenbaum Center for Religious Understanding, 2019, para 5). The December holiday season is an excellent time to begin raising your own awareness around topics of religious diversity. Asking what holiday greeting someone prefers, or if they have any holiday practices to be aware can avoid misunderstandings and help everyone feel included and respected (Tanenbaum Center for Religious Understanding, 2019). 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 Smith (2015), 22.8% of Americans identify as religiously unaffiliated, atheist, agnostic, or “nothing in particular”. This identification may mean that some do not celebrate holidays at all, while others may celebrate Christmas or other holidays in a more secular manner. In addition, some religions abstain from most religious and U.S. holiday observances. Lastly, holidays may trigger anxiety, and the December holiday season can especially enhance this stress. Meinart (2018) writes that “people who are grieving, depressed, or otherwise dissatisfied with some aspect of their lives can find the [December] holidays to be painful reminders of who or what they’re missing” (para 24). Thus, consider making holiday celebrations voluntary. There may be personal or religious reasons why someone chooses not to celebrate; space, events, and policies should be accessible and inclusive to address these needs.

Developing a greater awareness of the diversity of religious holidays and observances throughout the December Christmas 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.

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