Holidays are stressful enough on their own. We have our own families to balance–their wants and needs and desires–as well as societal and patron pressures. Having worked in Texas for a number of years, I learned very quickly which patrons would take offense to not being greeted with anything other than a “Merry Christmas” and those who didn’t celebrate anything and would rather just be treated as if any holidays didn’t exist. If you’ve been anywhere near the librarian side of social media you’ve seen annual discussions of trees, Santa, and decorations. Yet there’s not a lot of discussion about the staff side of things. Where do you fall with your coworkers and staff with the holidays, office celebrations, and holiday decorations in relation to diversity and the winter season?
From an employee perspective: When you are the outlier on everything, it can be hard to push against the tide. Everything (especially in Texas) is geared toward the Christmas season. Christmas trees, lights, garlands, cards, canes, parties, voluntary gift exchanges within the office all fall under that banner, and no matter how loud you can shout there will be people who say, “BUT IT’S THE COMMERCIAL ASPECT.” Uh-huh. Nope. It’s not, and the well meaning articles that try and point out how Christianity took over this ritual from that religion and this aspect from some other religion so it’s not really Christian so it’s ok doesn’t work either.
The thing is, you have to do what you feel comfortable doing. If you don’t feel comfortable speaking up, then don’t. But don’t participate either. Don’t feel forced to participate in putting up the tree or decorations, or participate in the office potluck- just state that it goes against your faith or your beliefs. If someone starts asking, you can either go into it or state that it’s personal. If they start pressing, then tell them to back off. Normal people will, jerks will not. And we all know how to handle jerks, we have plenty of practice- treat them like jerky tweens and teens. No difference.
Feel comfortable speaking up? Go for it. Start with your coworkers and manager and then work your way up because often the only way change happens is from us. Bring in your traditions and culture through decorations and stories if you so chose, but don’t feel like you have to educate anyone- it’s not their business. The office party becoming more a “Christ for Christmas” than a general holiday party? Speak up and step in to make it seasonal and welcoming for everyone.
There’s no reason for you to compromise your beliefs for work. Can’t handle the office party? Volunteer to work the reference shift, schedule a program during that time, or OH NO! call in sick that day and treat yourself. If things are really getting out of hand and you are really feeling pressured? Start looking into the library and city policies to protect yourself.
From a management perspective: First off, work away from having anything overtly and subtly “Christmas” in the library at all. Please? I know that it seems that it’s a necessity, and the world will end if we don’t have it in the library but honestly, it won’t. Do snowflakes and winter and glitter and happy snowmen and glitter trolls and kindness or whatever else. People can have holidays in the mall, on the all holiday radio stations, and everywhere else. You might find that it’s a relief not having it in the library- you could even MARKET it- like a sanity free zone for those that are sick of carols and holiday music since Halloween.
Second, having been an assistant manager and a manager for almost eight years, I have three words. KNOW YOUR STAFF. If you know your staff as well as you should, you should know how comfortable everyone is with each other and you should get a good idea of what they want to do. I’ve been incredibly lucky in that almost all the years I’ve worked in public service all of the staff have gotten along. The camraderie led to wanting to celebrate occasions, from birthdays to holidays to people’s kids’ weddings and quinceañeras and graduations. If you know your staff and coworkers, you should know if people would be up to a holiday celebration. Have it on New Year’s, not Christmas. Or bring general food that everyone enjoys, not things specific to Christmas or any holiday. Have a favorite takeout place that everyone enjoys? The last day that everyone is actually scheduled to work, bring in food from there for everyone. Or have what I call a floating buffet- enough small snacks that last throughout the day that everyone can enjoy. You should know the food preferences of everyone on staff (including allergies and intolerances) to be able to make things work. If not, this is a good time to start. And if you can swing it on your own, even better. No one has to participate that doesn’t want to.
Third, encourage your staff to open up and share. Not in a “teach the ignorant about my culture” type of way, but work towards making your area/branch a place where people are respected for their diversity. If your workplace culture wasn’t before, this is the time to start respecting everyone and making sure that diversity and inclusiveness are protected rather than excluded. Libraries, for patrons and for staff, should be supportive. Encourage people to share their stories and heritage through dress, food, programs, and workspace decorations. Encourage it throughout the year, because it’s not just winter that holds ransom to stories.
Fourth, and finally, be mindful of the stress and the feelings that come during this time of year. It’s not enough that wintertime can overwhelm anyone but even if you do celebrate Christmas it can be too much. Being bombarded with carols and trees and not being a part of that particular religion is overwhelming day in and day out. The sense of otherness is a hurtful reminder, and coming on top of the election is a double stab right now.
For everyone: No matter who you are or where you work, this time of year is stressful on everyone. Doubly so since the election and the sense of unease and tension that it has caused. Remember to always stay true to yourself, and do what you are comfortable with. If you feel that you as an employee want to speak up for change in your workplace to an amiable area for yourself and others in the backrooms, go for it. If it’s too much right now, take a breath and do what is best for you. If you’re a manager, work to make it the best it can be for all your staff, and make changes for the future. We make the library a safe space for teens, we need to make sure it’s a safe space for ourselves and coworkers as well.