Are Your Christian Holidays Excluding Your Staff? DEI Expert Reveals How We Can Equitably Handle Time Off For The Company. Before you hit "deny" on that PTO request, make sure you aren't saying no to someone's religious holiday needs. There are three religious and cultural holidays in December that may have slipped your mind.

By Nika White

Key Takeaways

  • Ask what employees need
  • Create staggered time off schedules around religious holidays
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It's that time of the year again when "Let's circle back in the new year" is the recurring mantra around the office while employees schedule their much-needed time off. If you're responsible for approving requests for paid time off, you may have seen some interesting dates — some that don't seem to align with Christmas and other Christian holidays. You may have encountered requests around the three other December holidays that aren't Christian-centric and that HR and hiring managers often overlook.

Before you hit "deny" on that PTO request, make sure you aren't saying no to someone's religious holiday needs. There are three religious and cultural holidays in December that may have slipped your mind. Here's how to stay on top of your employees' requests for holiday time off and keep your business afloat at the same time.

Brush up on Hanukkah, Kwanzaa and Bodhi Day

Although 63% of Americans identify as Christian, that leaves 37% who don't — many of these people celebrate religious holidays and periods that aren't Christianity-centric and here are three that you should be aware of.


This Jewish holiday period begins this year on Thursday, December 7, 2023, and runs through Friday, December 15, 2023. For several days, different themes are celebrated, candles are lit on the menorah, there's daily reading of Scripture, recitation of some of the Psalms, and singing of special hymns. All of which take time off and dedication to fully enjoy. If you have Jewish employees at your company, be sure to respect their needs for family and tradition during this period.


Kwanzaa is a pan-African holiday that started in the United States in the 1960s. This holiday period begins this year on Tuesday, December 26, and ends on Monday, January 1, 2024. It includes celebrating a different value every day during that period, wearing symbolic colors, reciting sayings from great black thinkers, African drumming and sharing a meal from the African diaspora. Be sure to honor the paid time off requests of those who celebrate Kwanzaa.

Bodhi Day

Bodhi Day is a Buddhist holiday that occurs this year on Friday, December 8, 2023. Bodhi Day commemorates the day of Buddha's enlightenment. It involves lots of prayer and meditation, reading scriptures, decorating trees with colorful lights, and having meals with family. Be sure to respect those who ask for this day off in 2024 and beyond.

Ask what employees need

Sometimes, employees submit PTO requests and don't give context or explanations of their religious or cultural holiday needs. If you, an HR professional, or a manager have a good relationship with someone who is a religious minority, be sure to start a conversation about what that person needs this holiday season.

Some employees want time off to pray; others want time off to travel to faraway places to celebrate with loved ones, while others would appreciate an office party to commemorate the period. However, employees choose to celebrate and practice compassion, understanding, and strategic planning to honor their religious needs while keeping business running as usual.

Create staggered time off schedules around religious holidays

If you have Buddhist employees who want Bodhi Day off or employees who celebrate Kwanzaa towards the end of December, you can artfully create staggered schedules that honor cultural holidays while keeping the company employee roster organized.

Ask employees to submit their PTO requests at least one month in advance to give managers and directors time to strategize. That way, employees have time to hear back about their requests, and managers can ensure no balls are dropped while coordinating coverage. This is good practice in general but especially important during the holiday season.

Final thoughts

For those of us in the United States, living in a Christian-centric society means that many of us might forget that not everyone celebrates Christmas. The holiday season is full of festivities that span beyond Christianity and should be respected and honored in a similar fashion.

For those in charge of managing paid time off, be sure to be mindful of what non-Christian holidays are occurring, which employees celebrate certain holidays, and how to keep business going through the holiday season. Your workforce and their families will thank you.

Nika White

Entrepreneur Leadership Network® Contributor

President & CEO

Dr. Nika White is a national authority and fearless advocate for diversity, equity and inclusion. As an award-winning management and leadership consultant, keynote speaker, published author and executive practitioner for DEI efforts across business, government, non-profit and education.

Want to be an Entrepreneur Leadership Network contributor? Apply now to join.

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