How to Celebrate the Holidays With Inclusivity in Mind
We live in a world with thousands of different cultures, rich with diverse customs and traditions. These customs and traditions are especially abundant during the holidays. Practicing inclusivity during the holidays is the perfect opportunity to learn more about other cultures.
Keep in mind how important it is to be considerate of the identities and beliefs of others (and remember: it’s not just a matter of not offending anyone, it’s an opportunity to learn and grow yourself). Whether you want to plan a multicultural holiday party or simply teach your family about different cultures, here are some tips to help you make diversity a priority this holiday season.
Do Your Research
If you want to truly understand and celebrate other cultures during the holidays, you must take the time to do some research. Whether it’s through a book, a quick Google search, or talking to someone from a different culture, here are a few things that may be helpful to consider in your research:
- The history of a culture’s holiday: is it a joyous occasion, reflective, or somber?
- Customary greetings for other holiday traditions
- Traditional foods and drinks
- Customs: are gifts exchanged? Is there praying, singing, or fasting?
Finally, while it is valuable to learn from other cultures and listen to a primary source when you have the opportunity, it’s also important not to treat other people like they are a designated cultural ambassador. Even if you’re coming from a good place, not everyone wants to be placed in that type of role. Be sure to confirm with primary sources that they do in fact don’t mind being asked about their cultures and be respectful when you ask questions.
Understanding different cultures’ customs and practices is key to being respectful. Here’s a quick list of things to consider when practicing respect for others' boundaries during the holidays:
- Proxemics: Understanding personal space is an often overlooked way to respect boundaries across cultures. Some cultures believe it is perfectly acceptable to engage in very close contact with complete strangers while other cultures would see such proximity as rude. Be mindful of these differences.
- Cross-cultural taboos: Keep in mind that what might be considered a ‘normal’ expression or gesture in your culture could be viewed as offensive in someone else’s. For example, think about how people greet each other: is it customary to shake hands or kiss on the cheek (once or twice)? Some cultures believe burping after a meal is a sign of respect to the cook. Take the time to learn about these customs and gestures.
- Accept reasonable requests: If you’re hosting a holiday party, be flexible when it comes to what you request of your guests. If you suggest casual attire for your party, know that it’s customary for many cultures to dress up for parties and casual attire is not something they’d be comfortable with. And if the party is set to start at 6:00 sharp, know that some might not arrive until 7:00 and will think nothing of it. The same can be said for leaving a party: some cultures think it’s rude to leave parties at the designated end time. Be prepared, open, and accommodating!
Ask About Dietary Restrictions
Dietary restrictions and/or preferences are a common source of cultural differences, as well as a potential issue of accessibility. It’s completely okay to ask guests about dietary restrictions in a respectful way. Here are common types of dietary restrictions to keep in mind when you host a holiday party:
- Meat: Some religions and cultures will not eat any type of meat, while others will avoid specific types because they consider these animals to be holy. If you’re unsure, offer some vegetarian and vegan food options.
- Dairy: Sometimes dairy can be eaten if it’s prepared in a specific way, sometimes there are restrictions related to milk or cheese specifically. Prepare dairy-free meals and/or acceptable dairy alternatives in your dishes.
- Alcohol: Several religions do not drink alcohol or refrain from alcohol during specific holidays. Offer a nice selection of juices, waters, sodas, and mocktails for guests.
- Fish/crustaceans: Some cultures avoid seafood altogether, some can eat fish with scales, and others don’t eat crustaceans (animals with a hard shell and no backbone, like a crab and shrimp). It’s important to understand the difference between these restrictions and prepare foods accordingly.
If you know you will have guests with different dietary needs, it’s important to carefully label dishes with ingredients so no one has to worry about accidentally consuming something they shouldn’t. In terms of serving the food, this would best be done in a buffet style so that guests can easily choose foods they're able to eat.
Lastly, take care with how food is prepared and served. Certain cultures require that cooking utensils not come in contact with meat, fish, or eggs, and others require that certain foods can’t be eaten together (for example, meat and dairy should not be paired together in some religions).
In addition to dietary restrictions, some guests might need a quiet place to pray during your party or have other religious obligations that they need to attend to. The best and easiest way to understand what your guests need and respectfully meet these needs is to offer an anonymous survey about accommodations before an event. It’s important to keep the survey anonymous so that people don’t feel as if they are putting the host out with any requests.The goal is to make your guests feel comfortable and respected.
Share Traditions if Possible
Sharing your traditions, and learning about other families’ traditions, can be a great way to start new traditions in your own family. Invite others to participate in your holiday traditions, if you can do so politely. And in turn, try to participate in theirs where possible. Here are some ways to share traditions during the holidays:
- Start with something simple, like sending a Christmas ecard or other holiday cards.
- Invite guests to wear traditional holiday garb or share a favorite dish or holiday song from their culture.
- Let guests participate in decorating. Have guests bring their own holiday decorations or symbolic item that best represents their holiday.
Lastly, it’s important to stress that sharing holiday customs is not a requirement of the party. Some guests will be excited to tell others about their culture, while others may not. Your top priority as a host is to make sure guests feel comfortable and enjoy themselves.
Do Not Stereotype, Exoticize, or Appropriate
Even the well-intentioned can explore other traditions in a way that is actually harmful. In order to avoid crossing this line, leave any cultural preconceived notions at the door, be present in the moment, and try to approach the learning experience with a blank slate and an open mind.
Be mindful that you don’t intentionally or unintentionally label unfamiliar cultures as unusual or “other.” The goal of learning about different traditions and customs is to better understand them and bring them closer, not keep them at a distance.
At the same time, while it’s important to get closer to and appreciate a different culture, adapting or borrowing certain elements of that culture is a big no-no. Examples of appropriation include using cultural artifacts as accessories, borrowing a certain culture’s hairstyle, or wearing garb (rightly or wrongly) associated with a culture. Oftentimes, these adaptations are not even culturally accurate and lead to disrespectful stereotyping.
Make New Friends
Always be on the lookout for the opportunity to network with others, as this may offer opportunities for building cross-cultural relationships. It’s important to get out of your comfort zone and leave your bubble in order to gain a deeper understanding and appreciation for different cultures. Search for groups in your community that promote and support cultural diversity and inclusivity. Once you branch out and establish new relationships, invite your new friends over and consider sending out digital invitations to easily keep track of RSVPs.
The holiday season is a perfect time to celebrate and appreciate diversity. Start small by using some of these inclusivity tips with your own family, or go big and invite others to participate! Happy Holidays!
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