This year marks the first time since 1888 that Thanksgiving and Chanukah overlap. The next occurrence of this confluence will be in the year 79,811! For the astronomically uninitiated, the reason for this is that Chanukah, being a Jewish holiday, is based on a lunar rather than the more commonly used “Gregorian” (solar) calendar. (It should also be noted that historically, Thanksgiving in the U.S. was not always marked on the same day either.) Since the year in the Hebrew calendar has fewer days and an “ibber-yuhr” every few years, Chanukah becomes a “floating holiday” on the solar calendar. Therefore, it’s not automatic that the occurrence of Chanukah will be on or close to Christmas, which is always on December 25.
This collision of these iconic observances in 2013 has given rise to the entrepreneurial American spirit. We have seen the invention of the “Menurkey,” fusion recipes and a few tacky T-shirts. A roasted turkey even makes a cameo in the new Maccabeats’ Chanukah video, entitled Burn. Beyond that, I think that there are five take-always that apply to the workplace and professional life.
Slam dunk: The first is an easy one. According to traditional Jewish sources, one of Chanukah’s themes is that of thanksgiving for a military victory and the ness of finding the tahor oil in the Beit Hamikdash. As we approach Thanksgiving, we therefore can, and should, thank those who have nurtured our professional lives. This would of course include your parents. But it also is an opportunity to say “thank you” to your teachers, college professors and professional mentors. I have previously written about the importance of having a mentor. So, if you don’t yet have a professional mentor to guide and inform your career, seek one out now so that you can thank him/her later.
Eight crazy nights: As noted theologian Adam Sandler tells us, Chanukah is celebrated over eight nights. As an additional candle is lit in the menorah on each successive night, the result is a full candelabra on the last night. The same applies to a career. Your work life is incremental, as there are milestones and experiences on which you should successively build. Recently, there has been an increased emphasis on the importance of transportable skills and lifelong learning. Understanding this is critical to keeping pace with a constantly changing normal. If you stay stagnant in your professional portfolios of knowledge, skills and abilities, you will be left out in the cold.
Diversity: The non-overlap of Chanukah and Christmas should convey message that the workplace is a blend of cultures and religions. The fact that Native Americans played a prominent role in the Thanksgiving story certainly bolsters the multi-cultural message. This calls for a sensitivity towards others’ religious observance, as well as reasonable accommodation by managers for the practice of religions other than their own. This also means not making generalized assumptions about others with regard to their religious observance or work performance. This sentiment should permeate all of workplace actions, including with customers and vendors with whom you deal. The freedom to practice religion is this country is to be appreciated and celebrated.
Checks and balances: Yes, diversity is part of the workplace landscape. But, if you have certain religious practices and observances, you must also understand that not everyone in the office shares in those sentiments. Unless you are in a totally homogenous environment (e.g., an all-Jewish or Orthodox office), the workplace should be religiously neutral. It is therefore inappropriate to prominently display any religious items in your work space. In addition, any requests for religious accommodation (e.g., leaving early on Friday for a Shabbat, or taking off for yom tov) should be made taking into account the business needs of the organization. So, diversity is a two-way street.
Symbols and recognition: The Pilgrims and a turkey dinner with all of the trimmings are prominent symbols of Thanksgiving. The menorah, which has its place in homes and most recently in public displays, is also symbolic. Holiday time is often an opportunity to formally recognize the accomplishments of others through formal commendations, gifts, gratuities or even bonuses. Whether symbolic or otherwise, these actions go a long way toward good will and retention of good people.
By Elly D. Lasson, Ph.D.