That’s what Christmas means to me… thoughts from around the world

by Alissa Burn |

I’m a ‘Christmas person’ and I really enjoy this time of year. Working in Internal Communications, I’ve planned many a work Christmas do, using the opportunity to add some fun to the company culture. It’s been great to find like-minded colleagues here at spottydog, who are happy to bring the festive spirit into the office!

It’s got me thinking about how to effectively approach employee engagement at this time of year. From recent conversations we’ve been having with our clients, we’ve found that internal communications and HR teams are increasingly looking at ways to be considerate of culturally diverse workforces. Recent years have seen a move towards using end of year communications as an opportunity to engage employees with diversity, inclusion and equality initiatives in the workplace. Some people have even reported trying to tone down their references to the Christmas holiday itself.

To explore how employees feel about celebrations in the office, we’ve reached out to our international network. Starting in Birmingham, we’ve gathered people’s thoughts on how Christmas at work is viewed across cultures, religions and nationalities.

Assets Manager in Birmingham, UK

“I personally think people can become too focussed on being PC. We do, after all, live in a Christian country – why shouldn’t Christmas be called Christmas?! I would counter calling it the ‘festive season’ though, because this time of year is not festive for everyone, especially not for Sikhs. December is a very sombre time for Sikhs; in our history, we suffered a lot of persecution this time of the year and although we use the Christmas holidays to get together as a family and enjoy each other’s company, we still remember the sacrifices made so that we could carry on practising our faith.

If our company wants to use this time of year as an opportunity to encourage sharing between cultures and discussions around diversity, I definitely support that! How else will people understand that I’m not putting a dampener on spirits by not attending, for example, ‘Xmas drinks’?

Although I don’t celebrate the birth of Christ, I do respect other people will want to, and if it makes people happy and little more relaxed, then that can’t be a bad thing. I don’t have any issues with colleagues in the office celebrating Christmas by putting up trees, doing secret Santa, giving out cards, etc. I believe there’s more value and respect in celebrating individuality and trying to understand each other’s cultures (whether it’s the reason for celebrating Christmas or why December is a sad time for Sikhs), than trying to please everyone with a ‘politically correct’ term. The latter just masks things and stops people from expressing their individual cultures and identities.” 

Finance Director in Bangkok, Thailand

“Generally in Bangkok, I feel like the whole month of December becomes very festive. Although we’re a Buddhist country, they start playing Christmas music in malls, and decorations and festivities are all over the city (I suppose this is due to marketing because that also means Christmas sales!)

Businesses vary with what they do. At my previous company Christmas was very big – we had decorations, holiday time for the day itself, secret Santa etc. We don’t do as much where I work now, but socially my friend group and I do have Christmas parties and exchange gifts. I know that many people do the same.” 

Birmingham Christmas market

The spottydog Birmingham team always visits the German Christmas market when it comes to town!

Retail Manager in Blantyre, Malawi

“Some years at my company we’ll go for a meal after work and they give gifts or vouchers to everyone including our support staff, like the cleaners, gardeners and guards. Last year we had different scenario. They took us all out and we had a brai (a BBQ), some of the team played football and the rest of us were time keepers and cheerleaders – I think that was more fun compared to previous years.

Colleagues don’t usually exchange gifts, but in Malawi we’re a Christian country and most companies close before Christmas. The actual Christmas period will be quite religious for many of us – we go to church in the morning and people have lunch with their families, or take part in charitable activities with the church like visiting orphanages. For Malawians, New Year’s Eve is the bigger celebration!”

Account Manager in Melbourne, Australia

“I have to say there isn’t as much festive spirit here in the lead up to Christmas as there is in the UK. I think it’s to do with the weather, it’s our summer here and it’s so hot you have BBQs and there’s no mulled wine or anything that is normally associated with Christmas!

Most people do celebrate it though. Work parties here are pretty big, it usually includes the company paying for all food and drink. The last two years at my company we had it at bars with catering and drinks paid for all night.”

Healthcare Assistant in Hertfordshire, UK

“My company still runs as normal for the most part in December – working in health care, our priority is always the health of our patients and their needs. However, we celebrate by playing music around the care home, wearing festive clothes and decorating the entire building with festive sparkle. We also organise a delicious traditional Christmas meal for everyone to enjoy. If I’m working on Christmas day it means that I’m spending time with those who are without families and have no one to celebrate and dance with.

Though I am a Jewish person, I have absolutely no negative feelings towards the Christmas decorations, food and music displayed throughout my workplace. Secret Santa is great fun!

I’m lucky enough to work in a place that celebrates other faiths and faith’s festivals. It stimulates the patients’ brains and keeps them entertained and excited. I feel as though there is a special, warm feeling about the Christmas season and love to see everyone smiling at the decorations displayed around the care home. The patients are in the last few years of their lives and I have the most fantastic time celebrating the festive season with them.”