Even though celebrating Thanksgiving in the office isn’t as straightforward as it once was, the American culture is becoming more educated and aware of different ways to view traditional holidays.
Here's what you need to know about how to (appropriately) celebrate Thanksgiving at work:
- Consider leading by example. Spend the days and weeks leading up to Thanksgiving showing appreciation for your employees.
- Thanksgiving celebrations are a great way to spark connections between people through stories and family histories.
- Consider making recipes from indigenous chefs, then share the story behind those recipes.
Fall is here, and that means the holiday season is right around the corner. From Columbus Day to Thanksgiving, holidays have taken on (sometimes contentious) new meanings in recent years. Instead of blindly celebrating federal holidays, large groups within our culture and society are taking different views.
There are many who have begun to question whether it makes sense to credit Columbus or the pilgrims with discovering or starting the United States. In tandem, they’re encouraging society to increasingly hold space to overtly recognize the indigenous communities who first populated and cultivated these lands.
That means celebrating Thanksgiving in the office isn’t as straightforward as it once was. As with most things, there are multiple perspectives about Thanksgiving; if not approached from an inclusive perspective, the holiday can be contentious. The American culture is becoming more educated and aware of different ways to view traditional holidays, including Thanksgiving.
Lean into Native American History Month
One of the concerns surrounding Thanksgiving is that some feel it is conceived of, retold, and has been shaped around the colonizers’ experience. When making an endeavor to appropriately celebrate Thanksgiving in the workplace, one of the best things you can do is be historically accurate. That means including, if not focusing on, the indigenous history and experience of the holiday.
When making an endeavor to appropriately celebrate Thanksgiving in the workplace, one of the best things you can do is be historically accurate.
November happens to be Native American History Month, which means there are plenty of events and resources to draw from. Also known as American Indian and Alaska Native Heritage Month, November is officially a time to celebrate the culture, diversity, and history of Native Americans.
The National Congress of American Indians notes that the month “is also an opportune time to educate the general public about tribes.” The group adds that it’s also a good time “to raise a general awareness about the unique challenges Native people have faced both historically and in the present, and the ways in which tribal citizens have worked to conquer these challenges.”
While it’s likely beyond your company’s scope to educate the general public, you can work to inform your employees. Consider some of the following:
- Host a lunch and learn about the topic.
- Invite indigenous guest speakers.
- Curate a list of local events.
Most importantly, be sure to be clear that the struggles that Native Americans have faced are far from over.
Start integrating land acknowledgments
One way to start honoring Native American history beyond Thanksgiving and Native American History Month is with land acknowledgments. Land acknowledgments are formal and informal recognition statements that show respect to Native Americans as the true stewards of the land currently known as the United States.
Land acknowledgments can take the form of a statement given at the beginning of a meeting or conference. More formally, your company can craft a formal land acknowledgment and integrate it into your website and other company communications.
While it’s technically accurate to say that your company is on native land, it’s best to be as specific as possible about the particular tribe whose land your company resides on. This is because Native Americans are not a monolith.
Beyond simply acknowledging whose land we’re on, land acknowledgments can be an opportunity to express gratitude for the skilled stewardship with which indigenous people treated the land for centuries.
Lead by example by showing gratitude
Compelling your employees to participate in gratitude exercises can be cringe-worthy. It’s not very genuine when participants are compelled to express gratitude.
Instead, consider leading by example. Spend the days and weeks leading up to Thanksgiving showing appreciation for your employees. It’s their labor that makes your company and its profit possible.
This can take the form of whatever makes sense for you and your company. You can:
- Spotlight the contributions of specific employees
- Send out handwritten notes and gifts to everyone
- Buy the company lunch
- Offer extra PTO
There’s no shortage of ways to show your team that you appreciate them around Thanksgiving, which, after all, is supposed to be about gratitude and thankfulness.
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Focus on giving back
There are all kinds of ways that your company can give back around Thanksgiving. Turkey Trots are popular. These are short “races” that often support good causes. Why not give your employees the day off to participate in one?
Your company can donate to or volunteer with initiatives like:
- Operation Turkey, which works to ensure that everyone has a warm meal on Thanksgiving Day
- Shopping Angels a volunteer effort that offers free grocery delivery services to seniors
Maybe participation will inspire more continued contributions throughout the rest of the year.
There are even less intensive ways to give back, like hosting a can drive at your business. Launch it on the first of the month, and then drop off all the canned and dry goods you’ve raised at a local food bank, homeless shelter, or other places in need.
Do a recipe swap …
The historical part of Thanksgiving is a critical piece that can’t be overlooked. But the food-focused joy of the holiday remains, so lean into that element. A recipe swap is a great way to not only lean into delicious eating but also provide a way for your employees to get to know each other better.
A recipe swap works like this: Each person selects a favorite recipe. Maybe it’s one handed down in your family for generations, or perhaps it’s something your family made last year, and it was a smash hit. Then, you can get creative about how the swap works.
The food-focused joy of the holiday remains, so lean into that element.
You could make copies of all the recipes and compile them into a shareable doc that everyone can access. Alternatively, you could publish a full-blown cookbook if you want to go all out.
… And follow it up with a potluck
Another great addition to a recipe swap is a potluck. If you’re going to go this route, everyone makes a dish but also brings the recipe for that dish. This way, everyone gets to try one anothers’ recipes and go home with the instructions to recreate the dish themselves.
The goal of recipe swaps and potlucks isn’t just to have a good time (although that’s certainly a big bonus). It’s also about sparking connections between people through stories and family histories. It’s easy to get conversations going when the food dishes are conversation starters themselves.
Opt for a company feast featuring indigenous food
Celebrating beloved family recipes is fun, but one way to use food to celebrate Thanksgiving appropriately in the workplace is to, as Cultural Survival explains it, decolonize your dinner. Consider making recipes from indigenous chefs. Then, for each recipe, share the story behind it:
- Why are the ingredients used?
- What’s their cultural significance?
- What about their nutritional value?
Not sure where to start? The Sioux Chef’s Indigenous Kitchen by Sean Sherman is a great place to start recipe hunting.
It all comes down to embracing differences
If this is a departure from how your company typically celebrates Thanksgiving, changing how things are usually done can be challenging. But it comes down to communication. Discuss why you’re making the changes you are and the intent behind them. Share the information you’ve read that’s helped you move toward these decisions.
And don’t feel like you have to make significant changes all at once. Start small and add more changes next year. Figure out what makes the most sense or what will be the most impactful at your company and start there. Plus, you can always source ideas from your employees themselves. People have plenty of great ideas, so you don’t have to carry the burden of celebrating Thanksgiving appropriately all by yourself.