How To Be Mindful And Inclusive Of Cultural Traditions

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For the majority of nonprofits the last quarter of the year makes the majority of the year’s revenue.

Why is this?

Outside of tax incentive deadlines, it’s fair to conclude that the fourth quarter is the season most of us choose to give. It’s a time when we’re encouraged to think of others and those enduring the hardships of life in a world which gets physically and mentally more testing.

By better understanding the wide cultural roots of this season of generosity we can fine-tune the means to communicate with all who make up our communities. If we post on Facebook to remind our supporters it’s National Pancake Day, then it seems insensitive (for example) to not remember Hanukkah.

This isn’t to underplay Christmas’s role but to include the other moments of the fall and winter calendar which are culturally significant to minorities within our potential donor pool.

By expanding out from the homogeneous group we also demonstrate acts of leadership within that more numerous portion of the local and national population.

We all know that in Western Culture, Christmas typically dominates the holiday season. That said, the holidays, and even Christmas itself, means many different things to different populations. Becoming aware of other holiday traditions, lessens the likelihood of alienating supporters by being unintentionally culturally insensitive.

In parts of Europe Christmas falls on different days. This expands from the beginning of December to the second week of January.

Understanding the broadest possible definition of the giving season is a great way to grow as a nonprofit leader. It’s a signal of growth to your donor base for them to see your mission is inclusive at the moment you need their support most.

Even if only a small proportion of your supporter base is from an ethnic, cultural, or social minority, it’s worth the effort for your nonprofit to be at the forefront of efforts to recognize the tapestry of traditions or nondenominational definitions of the holiday season.

Personally, I love Christmas, but even my definition of this important time is different to others around me. I didn’t realize as a child how traditions vary across the Christian world. Things which seemed universal to me as a boy were in fact very culturally specific to my childhood in southern England and wouldn’t have had any resonance even twenty miles across the English channel in France where their Noël celebrations differ widely. For example, there is no Christmas cake but instead a Christmas chocolate log, and no roast turkey but instead a Christmas fish dish.

These small cultural variations may seem of little importance, but if our English and French communities lived in the same city, how your organization recognized Christmas traditions through communications may work with one minority but not with the other.

The same example applies across so many cultures and communities, all of which can be important components in your nonprofit’s success. A little learning may be the difference between getting it right or missing a golden opportunity to connect with new sources of support. 

So, here’s a run down of many of the important festivities and traditions to note when planning your own dialogue with your supporter base. Those who go under-recognized at these times will feel a sense of connection to your mission should you take the time to care about their cultural or ethnic traditions.

Hanukkah

If you ask the population at large to name one non-Christian festival which falls around Christmas, Hanukkah would likely come out at the top of that poll.

It’s a beautiful sight to see the candles at the window of Jewish households and has been a very important factor in broadening the definition of the holiday season.

It marks the rededication of Solomon’s temple in Jerusalem during a famous but ultimately doomed Jewish revolt of the Maccabees against their Roman oppressors nearly two thousand years ago.

It is also marked on the 25th but of Kislev not December. Kislev is a month in the Hebrew calendar and usually falls in November or December.

This festival lasts eight days and nights. It includes the giving of gifts, playing games, family meals, and the famous lighting of the menorah candlesticks.

There are 7.5 million members of the Jewish community in the US with millions more connected back to Israel and other parts of the world.

It’s a wonderful festival to include in your year-end calendar and one to help cement your nonprofit’s relationship with your local Jewish community.

Campaign Idea: Consider how you can run an eight day campaign during Hanukkah as a nod to these traditions. One suggestion is to run an in-kind campaign where on each day for eight days you can request a different item from your supporters. For example, first day is paper towers, second day is canned goods, and the third day is notebooks and pencils. etc. Be sure to adapt the ask to what your organization needs to function. 

Diwali

The festival of lights or Diwali is a highlight of the Hindu communities annual celebrations. There are around three million Hindus in the USA and another 1.5 billion world wide. The festival lands in October or November depending when the fifteenth day of the month of Kartik occurs.

Just as Easter is a spring festival for the Christian communities and yet changes dates throughout that season, so the five day celebration of Diwali happens on different days. It’s always a fall to winter festival.

As the name suggests the ceremonial rituals are centered around light and clay lamps. It’s a cleansing of negativity to bring good fortune and financial success.

It is a time of families gathering together, meals and music, and a moment to remember those less fortunate.

Though the Hindu community in America is relatively small they are very known for their hard work and industriousness. They form tight bonds with their extended families around the world and are likely connected to grow your networks.

Campaign Idea: Can your communications vocabulary include the theme of “light’ or a special mention of this tradition? Even a little can go a long way when recognizing another’s cultural importance. 

Chinese New Year

The Chinese New Year lands just after the holiday season and can mark the final layer of the end of year giving campaign.

It’s easy to forget in the West that for one quarter of the world’s population, the new year isn’t January first.

The festivities include gift giving, food and fireworks, and community celebrations. It’s colorful and loud with homes and stores decorated with lanterns and other traditional items just as the Western cultures do for Christmas.

In every major city there will be a thriving Chinese community which will often be as old as the city itself. Each year the festival changes slightly based on which of the twelve animals it represents.

It’s a wonderful slice of the American story which up until recently has been largely overlooked. Trying to include the Chinese New Year celebrations extends out your giving season and starts the new year off with an enthusiastic bang.

Campaign Idea: Perhaps include a small paper lantern in the envelope of your year-end mailer as a gift of good fortune for the year ahead. This would be an inexpensive but impactful memento and making mention of this tradition would mean a lot to those who celebrate it.

Kwanzaa and Nguzo Saba

This festival starts on the December 26 running through to New Year’s day and is built around a celebration of African heritage.

Nguzo Saba translates as the seven principles which are broadly defined as:

Community cohesiveness, purposeful endeavor, gathering of skills, cultural vitality, dance or musical performance, communal meals, and being inspired to create art of any kind.

This celebration is growing in importance within the African American community. Although Christianity and Christmas is a native religion to some of the most ancient African societies like the Ethiopian community, it’s likely that for many, African Americans ancestors were disinherited from their old customs through the upheaval of slavery.

As time goes by this festival may grow in popularity and ultimately become as associated with the season of goodwill as mulled wine and mistletoe.

Tip: Consider how your organization can include some of the seven principles within or without your office walls to honor those in our community who celebrate this tradition?

Día de los Muertos

Día de los Muertos is a big celebration amid the Hispanic community on the first and second days of November. Translating as ‘the day of the dead,’ it’s a Mexican holiday similar to Halloween. This holiday is increasingly important north of the border as the American Mexican communities become more culturally visible. Día de los Muertos has powerful imagery. Día de los Muertos is rooted in the Catholic All Saints Day, which takes place on November 1st, but has taken on an afterlife of its own.

With parades and colorful costumes it’s main divergence from the cultural juggernaut Halloween is that it commemorates the ancestors rather than all things spooky. It’s a time for families to remember loved ones who are sorely missed. With an emphasis on the cycle of life, if you’re looking for an alternative to add into the run up to the holidays, Día de los Muertos is a great celebration to build rapport around.

Campaign Idea: Consider running a campaign in which people can give a gift in memorial of a loved one during Día de los Muertos. Gifts in remembrance or in honor of family or friends are always meaningful to the donor. 

Las Posadas

Las Posadas is a celebration from Mexico. With an estimated 36 million Americans with roots south of the border, it’s a festival to bear in mind. Throughout larger cities and many Southern states, it’s an important cultural milestone in the calendar.

This festival is a little like a Christmas version of trick or treating. Children go door to door dressed as an angel reciting verses from the bible story and opening piñatas filled with presents and candies.

It takes place in the ten days before Santa, or Papa Noel, arrives and commemorates the journey Mary and Joseph make to arrive in Bethlehem in the nativity story.

St. Nicholas Day

For many European cultures, St. Nicholas Day on December 6 is as big a celebration as Christmas.

St. Nicholas Day is thought to be the reason Santa Claus is so prevalent. However, the importance of his day has been lost in American history. Other parts of the world believe St. Nick arrives on the eve of December 5, with children waking up with presents the next morning. I’ll talk more about eastern Orthodox traditions later in the article, but in the Eastern Christian Church this day falls on December 19.

In Germany, they have feasts with German pancakes called Pfannkuchen. Meanwhile in France, they cook pork with mustard and apples to celebrate.

St. Nicholas Day really is a second Christmas day, but at the start of December.

It wasn’t long ago that Giving Tuesday had no culture resonance.

Who knows, perhaps with a bit of encouragement, the nonprofit sector could reinvigorate St. Nicholas day as their own Christmas tradition. After all, it’s a story that centers around a wealthy man called Nicholas of Bari, who began donating gold coins to families in need. Fifteen centuries later and we’ve got our own version of this early philanthropist in every mall and movie theater across the US.

Bonfire Night

As a Brit, I have to mention our own quirky tradition which runs up to Christmas.

It’s called Bonfire night or Guy Fawkes Day.

The celebration is huge in the British portion of the English speaking world. Bonfire Night can be found from Australia and New Zealand to north of the border in parts of Canada.

Its roots are four centuries old. The tradition began with the foiling of a plot to blow up the English parliament and the king of the time. The plan included barrels of gunpowder, which were discovered hours before they were due to be lit.

It’s a night of huge bonfires, musical parades, and fireworks, which match the fourth of July in intensity.

Tip: From the nonprofit perspective, it’s unlikely you’ll have a large ‘English’ community in your midst but if you’re looking to add some spice to the year-end fundraising calendar, it’s a fun idea to add a bonfire night into the window between Halloween and Thanksgiving. 

The Orthodox traditions

The Orthodox traditions are often overlooked even though the holiday season is built around Christmas. It’s often forgotten how widely these celebrations differ between cultures and communities.

In the half of the Christian world rooted in the Eastern Orthodox church, the big days on the holiday calendar are at different key points.

In some Eastern traditions there is an emphasis on fasting, and there is an absence of the tradition of giving presents. There is, however, a tradition of goodwill and generosity to the needy. Orthodox congregations hold a unique liturgy, with palms and burning of frankincense in honor of the three kings, or wise men, who offered gifts to the infant Jesus at the heart of the nativity story.

In the Orthodox Church, Christmas is a time to find peace, unity and ‘heal the soul.’ Ukraine, Georgia, Serbia, Greece, Cyprus, Montenegro, Russia, Moldova, The Republic of North Macedonia, Bulgaria, and Belarus are all Orthodox countries and all of them have healthy communities in the US.

Some Midwest states were largely built by immigration from those countries and still have an estimated six million still practicing their faith in communities across America. That’s one in fifty of your donors that are likely seeing the holiday season through the lens of eastern traditions. Therefore, it’s worth learning what it means to this small but present proportion of the supporter base.

In conclusion, its an emphasis on culture not religion

Even though the holiday season is a very religious finale to the year, it’s important to make sure to keep the holiday season nondenominational to be more inclusive for everyone, unless of course, you are a religion-based organization/mission. By being mindful of inclusivity, you can avoid offending or excluding your staff and supporters’ belief systems.

Inclusivity is a delicate path to tread but learning about what wider interpretations of the holidays mean to a variety of populations is so important.

It’s not only about opportunities to connect on a deeper level with individual donors from various backgrounds, but also a way to avoid damaging the relations you already have by making cultural blunders.

Ultimately this extra learning brings new opportunities to fundraise on various new levels while also giving yourself a broad perspective of what your nonprofit can do to keep the end of year fundraising drives fresh in look and content. Education around other traditions allows us to work outside of the familiar key points which we’re all versed in. It’s a way to nurture genuine relationships with individuals of small communities and minorities which are present but hard to reach with the uniform interpretations of the holiday season.

Whatever the year-end fundraising strategies look like to your nonprofit, I hope this article helps illuminate how the season of giving looks to different groups in our culturally rich communities — wherever we are. At the core, humanity is about celebration and generosity, and few organizations do that better than nonprofits!