By Brian Carwana
We are in the midst of a season of religious holidays. From November through early January, many religious traditions have celebrations marking key events in their stories, often holding up light amidst the darkness engulfing the northern hemisphere. This, my friends, is a great opportunity!
An opportunity for what, you might ask? An opportunity to connect.
Religious holidays are really a great occasion for reaching out to others at work, at school, or in your community to create connection. We all like to feel that we belong and to feel some link to others. To help you along, we have created a free resource on religious holidays during this season (you can access the 5 page document just by entering your email). It lists some of the key holidays and gives a short description. It’s a tool, essentially, to help you reach out.
Reaching out even in the simplest ways to recognize someone else’s religious holidays will do many things:
- It acknowledges and recognizes others. When you are a minority – a Hindu at school, a Christian in a secular workplace – it means a lot to feel seen. Target right now has a holiday ad and while part of me always cringes to see emotions employed to sell things, the ad allows people to see themselves represented on their screens. For the young, especially, it is important to see people like you are included. It takes very little time to wish someone well on their holiday but it reminds them and us that we are not just here to complete tasks, to get the work done. Life should be relational, not transactional. Recognition is the currency of feeling like you count. What a wonderful thing to do for another.
- It opens conversations. In Western societies, we have been taught to treat religion as quasi dangerous, a topic to avoid. For those holding a religious identity, what does this communicate? For many, it can imply that something about them is taboo, that it must be contained, asking them to hide who they are. This damages what researchers call “psychological safety,” the sense that you belong here and are welcome as you are. Psychological safety is critical for performing well in school and at work and for our health. You can do a lot by simply starting a conversation.
- Provides the opportunity to celebrate with others. Wishing someone well already helps celebrate simply by acknowledging the day’s meaning for them. Sometimes we can do more. An email at work, a story shared at school, a display where it is appropriate – give us an opportunity to share with others in their joy. Joy is not limited – it can be shared and after two years of COVID, we could all do with spreading some joy.
Language around religious “accommodation” sounds like a concession, a legalistic term about an employer’s obligations under human rights legislation. But acknowledging and celebrating each other’s holidays is about something different – it’s about being kind. About recognizing each other’s humanity, asking interested questions, and creating connections.
Finally, If you would like an additional resource for display in your office, classroom, congregation, or community group, you might also like our Golden Rule poster which highlights eighteen different spiritual traditions including atheism. It is sold for a modest amount and we would be happy to send it your way.
Tis the season folks. Let’s reach out, connect and celebrate with one another.
[Dr. Brian Carwana (firstname.lastname@example.org) is the Executive Director of Encounter World Religions. For twenty years, he has studied numerous traditions, fostered relationships with religious leaders and communities, and taken thousands of people annually to places of worship. In addition to this experiential education, Brian has a PhD in religion and politics from the University of Toronto].