At this time of year, companies often wonder what the “right” thing to do is. Should we put up a Christmas tree or would that offend the non-Christians? Should we have a “Christmas Party” or a “Holiday Party”?
Often it feels like a no-win situation: The avid Christians are offended by the lack of Christmas celebrations yet most companies, unless you are Hobby Lobby or the like, want to respect their diverse employee backgrounds. There’s complaining going on about Obama Administration’s use of the term “Holiday Trees”. It’s hard to tell what to do nowadays.
I liked the way we handled it at our start-up, Azerity.
There were three co-founders: A Catholic, a Mormon and a Jew. We used to laugh about it and wonder how that happened – how the three of us ended up starting a company.
In December the first year we were in business, Steve, one of the co-founders and CEO, came to me and said “Let’s go get a tree!” I was chosen because I was the one with the biggest car – a Volvo wagon we could load a tree in. (He and John both had BMers). It was a bit surprising since our CEO was the Jewish member of the triad. But off we went. He loved to grab the saw, find the right tree and saw it down.
Julie had a good idea – she asked Steve if he would like to also put a Hanukkah candle in the entry. We all liked the idea of having both.
As we grew in size, next to the tree in the lobby we added giving barrels (one for toys, one for food). The employees enjoyed going to the salvation army one evening and volunteering to pack gift packages for needy families.
On our reception desk, besides the Hanukkah, Ashraf brought in a Muslim shrine. Behind the desk were hung red envelops representing Chinese New Year and colored strings of paper celebrating Pancha Ganapati, the Hindu alternative to Christmas. The invitation was open to all employees to display items showing how they celebrated this time of year.
We’d top it off with a party at our CEO Steve’s home. We’d do a white elephant gift exchange, eat a lot and have fun. The first year of the company it was hard to get many of the Indian engineers out to any parties or after work events. Not all came to the first holiday party. But through the years we worked to let all employees and contractors know we really wanted everyone to feel a part of the company. My favorite memory was the year when all the Indian engineers showed up to Steve’s house in traditional dress outfits – the women in beautiful bright-colored silk saris, the men in long jackets with Nehru colors, silky pants and dressy sandals. We co-founders were very pleased that they all attended and even more so that they felt comfortable enough to come in their traditional fancy wear. We were one big family.
We didn’t care if someone said “Merry Christmas”, “Happy Hanukkah” or “Happy Holidays”. Everyone felt included and enjoyed a season of camaraderie and giving.