In the race to secularize society—that is, strip it of religious and traditional underpinnings—blinders seem to be in fashion. The Christmas holiday is on the chopping block, and a double standard seems to be blinding the wise. Since the longstanding holiday of Christmas is this coming weekend, it seems fitting to address the issue in the context of the workplace.
Picture yourself on a visit to the Far East in the spring. Throughout Japan, India, Sri Lanka, Cambodia, and Thailand (to name a few) you find people celebrating Vesak, commemorating the birth, enlightenment, and death of Buddha. Bodhi Trees are decorated with garlands and colored flags, and rows of lamps are lined up around the tree. Every Buddhist takes the day off to attend special services in honor of Buddha and to rededicate themselves to his teachings.
This is a big event to employers who are Buddhist, and no one begrudges them the right to acknowledge their beliefs and conduct business how they want.
In Jamaica, you may find people celebrating the birthday of Haile Selassie, the founder of Rastafarianism. You certainly wouldn’t begrudge Rastafarian employers the right to celebrate in whatever manner they choose.
In the Arab world, late fall is the time for Ramadan, Islam’s holiest month of the year. Islamic employers make allowances to accommodate varying work schedules during Ramadan. One example is closing businesses at 3:00 PM so employees can attend their family’s evening “break of the fast” meal. (Note: Non-Islamic employers are encouraged to do this as well.)
It is also common practice for Muslim employees to give each other cards of encouragement, and employees are given time off to attend Eid prayers at the end of Ramadan. In the Arab world, where Islam is the dominant religion, no one would dare challenge these practices.
So what about western society, where Christianity has been the dominant religion for several millennia? Varying polls show that between 60 and 90% of the US population attends church, and some 90% believe in God. With these figures, how is it that so many workplaces are shying away from Christmas?
Traditionally, Christmas is celebrated by decorating trees (similar to Buddhists decorating trees for Vesak), giving Christmas cards (similar to Muslim practices during Ramadan), and the giving of gifts (what good business person doesn’t understand the economic impact of that?).
The person of Christ is also at the center of the holiday. Whereas Buddha, Haile Selassie, and Muhammad remain at the center of celebration in other cultures, the mere mention of Christ in western workplaces has been deemed offensive in recent years.
I’m scratching my head.
Picture yourself in the Far East, trying to squelch all mention of Buddha in the workplace and see how far you go.
Picture yourself in Jamaica trying to say Haile Selassie is for private discussion only and see what happens to you.
Picture yourself trying to quell all Ramadan practices in the Arab workplace and … well, you get the picture.
Facts are facts. No matter where I look in the laws of western culture, I can’t find anyplace where being offended is cause for someone else to stop what they’re doing.
If people wouldn’t demand that an Arab business owner in a predominantly Arab country stop all mention and practices of Ramadan, they certainly can’t demand that a Christian business owner in a predominately Christian country stop all mention and practices of Christmas. Or can they?
Can you say “double standard?”
Facts are facts, and let’s not confuse them: The majority of people in America go to Christian churches and 90% say they believe in God. And, the first amendment of the US Constitution says that congress shall make no laws prohibiting the free exercise of religion.
So go for it, business owners. If you feel like celebrating Christmas in your workplace, you have world-wide precedent for doing so. Don’t let the facts get confusing. Exercise your rights if you so choose. It is, as they say, the most wonderful time of the year!