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When Planning the Holiday Workplace Party, Provide Options

MU expert gives suggestions on cultural awareness during the holiday season

Nov. 10, 2008

Story Contact:  Jeffrey Beeson, (573) 882-9144,

COLUMBIA, Mo. – Just weeks from now radio stations will be playing 24-hour holiday music, winter-land decorating will appear and everyone’s favorite--the classic holiday work party will be fodder for office conversation. When planning this year’s holiday event, Robert Baum, a University of Missouri researcher says that it is important to be inclusive and sensitive of the diversity of religious beliefs, whether hosting holiday parties at work or school.

“By being aware and making a small effort to be inclusive of different religious beliefs, workplace holiday parties can be an enjoyable time for employees and also a learning experience about other traditions,” said Baum, associate professor and chair of religious studies in the MU College of Arts and Science. “People do not need to give up their own holiday traditions; providing options and alternatives creates a pleasurable environment for all guests.”

 When planning office events, Baum suggests checking to make sure the event does not conflict with other religious celebrations. When deciding on decoration and food, Baum encourages party planners to choose winter-themed items and provide choices for their guests.

“Office Christmas trees are fine if the decorations on the tree are celebratory neutral; use things like snowflakes and white or multiple color lights,” Baum said. “It is important to have choices when it comes to food, as many religions have dietary rules.”

Baum gives the following tips when planning holiday celebration activities:

• Have multiple food and drink options, including vegetarian dishes, non-pork and -seafood options and non-alcoholic drink choices.

• Acknowledge the diversity of religions celebrated when sending invitations and giving speeches.

• Avoid religious humor.

• Keep decorations neutral and more celebratory, stay away from just red and green and use multiple colors.

• Choose songs with a holiday or winter theme, or songs from different parts of the world.

• Be sensitive when playing office grab-bag games, avoid giving gifts like wine, food and clothing.