It’s surprisingly easy to stay inside our own cultural bubble, even in a world that’s more integrated than ever before, in large part thanks to technology. The workplace is no exception to this phenomenon; we might hear about what our colleagues across the globe are up to in passing, but we rarely know the full details of how different cultures and countries celebrate the festive season – especially when it comes to how that celebration is undertaken in the office!
So, how does each country manage its office culture during the festive season?
A fairly accurate representation of the UK’s Christmas office party can be seen in the BBC classic mockumentary, The Office. Think big parties, lots of decorations, jokes about photocopying body parts, gift exchanges, and most likely… a lot of alcohol. The UK generally embraces the festive season and business leaders are happy for employees to celebrate. It’s typical for most industries to recognise December 25th and 26th (otherwise known as Boxing Day) as standard national holidays.
The US version of The Office also gives us the perfect insight into the typical American workplace’s Christmas celebrations: Secret Santa is extremely popular, as is the game Yankee Swap (or White Elephant), where participants can choose gifts, in the hope of getting a better one. Even though the US may have more stringent procedure when it comes to annual leave, both the 25th and 26th of December are national holidays, the latter at least in many states. Of course, the weather over the Christmas period varies wildly from state to state – a Floridian Christmas is quite a different experience from a Pennsylvanian one.
Germans actually celebrate Christmas on Christmas Eve (dubbed Heiliger Abend in German), when families and friends exchange presents and sit down to a large celebratory meal. You may think that this would mean December 24 is a public holiday, but it isn’t – most workplaces close a little earlier, and celebrations happen in the evening. The office Christmas party is a quieter, more practical affair for our German friends. Gatherings are often smaller in nature, and don’t feature as much alcohol as one might expect of the beer-loving country. They’re often held on weekdays, and employees are expected to manage business as usual the next morning.
Our Singaporean pals probably aren’t going to be building snowmen on their lunchbreaks, given the tropical nature of the weather. However, many other aspects of Christmas in Singapore are no different to what we are accustomed to. Celebrations are important, with plenty of food, and religion is also a focal point for many. Singapore offices shut down for Christmas Day, and the day is marked by many with religious festivity, large feasts and general merriment.
Compared to other locations, an Indian Christmas is a much smaller shindig. In a country with a population of over 1 billion, only 2.3% of people are practising Christians, so the holiday is not a priority for many. Despite this fact, some Western Christmas traditions are observed, such as decorating a tree (mango or banana, not a Christmas tree!), carol singing and midnight mass. Some workplaces in India are connected to their US or European counterparts, so often take the same days off. However, overall, Christmas is generally not observed as a national holiday.
Considering they’re on the other side of the world to some of us, Australia’s Christmas traditions are almost unthinkable; December is the peak of summertime there, so BBQs on the beach are a big part of Christmas Day! Australians often decorate the office with a native tree dubbed ‘Christmas Bush’, and although they also enjoy an office Christmas party, with the weather conditions, it probably looks very different from an European one.