2019 Religious & Cultural Scheduling Considerations
There are many, many religious and cultural holidays celebrated in our community. It’s impossible to avoid scheduling events on all of them. How do you know what to consider when scheduling events? Which holidays are the most widely practiced? Which ones prohibit work? Which ones have dietary restrictions? This list will give you a head start on planning events that are as inclusive as possible, and additional tips at the end will help you accommodate religious observances that aren’t on this list.
Orthodox Christmas: Monday, January 7
Many Orthodox Christians attend special church services.
Lunar New Year: February 5
This is the biggest celebration of the year for the Chinese, as well as for many other Asians, such as Koreans, Vietnamese, and Singaporeans. Many will host parties or take vacations to visit relatives. Lunar New Year celebrations can take place over several days, so scheduling is often flexible. In case you’re curious, this will be the year of the dog.
Ash Wednesday: Wednesday, March 6
Many Christians will attend evening services, where they will be marked with a cross of oil and ashes on their foreheads. Observant Catholics do not eat meat on this day.
Lent: Wednesday, March 6 - April 18
This 40-day season leading up to Easter is traditionally a time of fasting and self-denial in the Christian calendar. Observant Catholics avoid red meat and poultry on Fridays during Lent. Observant Orthodox Christians abstain from all animal products (except for shellfish) during the entire Lenten period and from olive oil and alcohol on weekdays. Many others—both Christian and secular—choose to cut something from their diet for 40 days, with sugar being a common choice. If you provide a meal during Lent, offer a vegetarian option. If you provide refreshments for an event, offer at least one healthy choice, not just donuts or cookies.
Buddhist New Year: April 13
This is an important family celebration for Southeast Asians (Thai, Cambodian, Laotian, Burmese). Many host family gatherings or take vacation time to visit relatives. Since the holiday is celebrated over a period of several days, parties may not take place on the actual date, making scheduling more flexible.
Jewish holidays begin at sunset on the evening prior to their calendar dates and end when three stars are visible in the sky. Traditional Judaism forbids working and driving on important holidays—and there are a lot of these! However, these regulations are generally only followed by Orthodox, ultra-Orthodox, and some Conservative Jews, who make up a very small minority in the U.S., so it is not generally necessary to avoid scheduling events on these days. The most important scheduling considerations are noted in the event descriptions, and other dates are less important to avoid unless an individual in your workplace practices traditional Judaism. Regular synagogue services for all Jewish traditions are held on Friday evenings and Saturday mornings.
Muslim holidays, like Jewish ones, begin at sunset prior to the date listed on the calendar. For most Sunni Muslims, the beginning of the holiday depends on the sighting of the crescent moon, so the dates when they are celebrated occasionally differ from what is scheduled in advance. Regular Muslim prayer services are held every Friday, just after noon.
Good Friday: Friday, April 19
This is a solemn holiday in the Christian calendar; try to avoid scheduling celebratory events. Many Christians attend church services in the evening.
Passover: Sunset, April 19 – sunset, April 27
This is one of the most important holidays of the year in Judaism. The traditional Seder meal, held on the first night of Passover, is celebrated even by many secular Jews. Traditional Jews will not work on the first and last day of. Grain-based foods (such as bread, pastries, pasta, beer), with the exception of matzo, are off-limits for the full eight days.
Easter: April 21
In addition to traditional church services, many people, whether Christian or not, host family celebrations on this day.
Ramadan: May 5 – June 4
Observant Muslims do not eat or drink between sunrise and sunset during the month of Ramadan. The daily fast is broken with a large meal after sunset, which will be quite late during this year’s Ramadan. Try to avoid scheduling lunch meetings. Individuals who are fasting may also find it difficult to focus during late afternoon or evening meetings. During the final ten days of Ramadan, Muslims are required to stand in prayer for two hours each night, which will make work even more difficult during this period.
Eid-ul-Fitr: June 4
The month of Ramadan closes with a big feast after sunset on this day. This is one of the two most important events of the year for Muslims.
Shavuot: Sunset, June 8 – sunset, June 10
This is the Jewish Feast of Weeks. Special synagogue services are held, and traditional Jews do not work on this holiday.
Tisha B’Av: Sunset, August 10 – Sunset, August 11
This Jewish day of mourning commemorates the destruction of the first and second temples. Traditional Jews fast on this date, and some also do not work.
Eid-ul-Adha: Sunset, August 11 – sunset, August 12
The Festival of Sacrifice, commemorating Abraham’s willingness to give up his son to God, is the most important holy day in the Muslim calendar. Families will attend mosque services together in the morning and gather with relatives for a celebratory meal and children’s activities.
Rosh Hashanah: Sunset, September 29 – sunset, October 1
This is the Jewish New Year. Special synagogue services are held, and traditional Jews do not work on these two days.
Yom Kippur: Sunset, October 7 – sunset, Wednesday, October 8
The Day of Atonement is the holiest and most solemn day of the year in the Jewish calendar. Even non-Orthodox Jews will often fast or avoid working on this day.
Sukkot: Sunset, Sunday, October 13 – sunset, October 20
This is the Jewish Feast of Tabernacles. Special synagogue services are held, and traditional Jews do not work on the first two days of the festival.
Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah: Sunset, October 20 – sunset, October 22
These two holy days close the Jewish Feast of Tabernacles. Special synagogue services are held, and traditional Jews do not work on these days.
Christmas: December 25
Many Christians will attend special church services on Christmas Eve.
Accommodating Other Religions
Only the most widely recognized and practiced religious and cultural holidays have been included on this list. Obviously, there are many, many other religions, which are no less important; they simply affect fewer people. Because of the great diversity in our community, it is nearly impossible to find a day that is not significant to anyone. So how do you accommodate everyone? A few tips:
If you are scheduling meetings or events in your workplace, ask for feedback on your schedule before it is finalized. Give people an opportunity to say, oh, that is a holy day for me. I can’t make it.
If you are scheduling an event for a larger audience, consider providing options, such as make-up dates for examinations.
Consider offering floating holidays for employees instead of dictating which holidays your office will be closed. Or choose a hybrid model, with major holidays such as Thanksgiving and Christmas fixed and lesser holidays such as Labor Day or Memorial Day flexible so that employees can work those days and take off on their own holy days.