Holiday party or Christmas party?

  • Published
  • By Capt. Tony Wickman
  • Public Affairs
While working to accomplish the mission of preparing tomorrow's joint warriors to fly, fight and win, it is important to know that not all Team Vance members share the same religious faith or ideology, especially concerning religious observances or holidays.

The Air Force, and the United States as a whole, is unique in that it is a diverse, yet unified, community.

It is its diversity that makes the Air Force and the nation so unique, said Master Sgt. Spencer Parker, 71st Flying Training Wing Military Equal Opportunity office superintendent.

"The Department of Defense places high value on the right of members of the Armed Forces to observe the tenets of their respective religions," he said.

According to DoD Directive 1300.17, Accommodation of Religious Practices Within the Military Service, a basic principle of the nation is the freedom to practice and exercise religion.

"Ultimately, commanders have the final approval in regards to religious accommodation and should approve religious accommodation except when precluded by military necessity," Sergeant Parker said. "When a request for accommodation is precluded by military necessity, commanders should seek reasonable alternatives."

A commander's overall decision to grant religious accommodations should be driven by the impact the accommodation will have on mission readiness, unit cohesion, and standards or discipline.

Team Vance members must accept its diversity and embrace it since it is an integral part of America's culture.

So how diversely do Americans really celebrate the holiday season? During the end of year, U.S. citizens celebrate a variety of special events and holidays. These include, but are not limited to, Christmas, Kwanzaa, Hanukah and Ramadan.

According to polling data, approximately nine to 10 million Americans do not celebrate Christmas. Most of those not celebrating Christmas are members of a non-Christian faiths--Buddhists, Muslim, Hindus, Jewish and others--or simply do not have a religious affiliation.

Based on this data, during the holiday season Team Vance can do one of two things: include everyone in its celebrations or exclude some or all from its celebrations, Sergeant Parker said.

Exclusion can do damage to unit morale. Attaining a high level of esprit de corps can be essential to maintaining morale.

If a member of an organization feels excluded from an event, perhaps a Christmas party since that person may not celebrate Christmas, then the intent of the party--camaraderie, boosting of morale, etc.--has been missed and more harm than good has been done, Sergeant Parker said.

"On the other hand, inclusion does great things to boost morale, esprit de corps and camaraderie," the sergeant said. "By calling a seasonal party a holiday party instead of a Christmas party, those who do not celebrate Christmas may feel more welcomed to attend the gathering since the focus was shifted to celebrating the multitude of holidays in that short period of time instead of just one."

Unbeknown to some Team Vance members, many of these culturally or religiously diverse individuals may be their friends, peers, subordinates or co-workers.

Bottom line is that people prepping invites for a Christmas party with the best intentions in the world may instead negatively impact individuals by making them feel excluded from the event based on how they celebrate the holiday or their religious affiliation, Sergeant Parker said.

So, what is the answer? The 71st FTW/MEO office recommends calling unit celebrations a holiday party.

If the end result is to have fun and celebrate, the semantics of what to call it should not be as important, the sergeant said.

"By doing something as simple as calling the annual Christmas party a holiday party, it could send a clear message that an organization embraces diversity, is inclusive and considers all personnel as valued members regardless of what they celebrate during the holiday season," he said.

Diversity is a powerful tool that has made the U.S. a strong nation, Sergeant Parker said.
"Diversity should not only be embraced during the holidays, but throughout the entire year," he said.

Leadership's support of religious accommodation and practices does not reflect agreement or belief in such practices by a commander, chaplain, unit or the Air Force, but symbolizes the acceptance and importance of diversity and religious accommodation.

If additional guidance or assistance is needed regarding religious accommodation, contact the Wing Chaplain staff at 213- 7211 or Military Equal Opportunity staff at 213-7328.