Cultural intelligence of Christmas holidays around the world

Christmas is almost here and in Christian countries across the globe, work is winding down as the party season is in full swing.

Nobody would consider a business trip to the UK or continental Europe, or most of North or South America at this time.  But Christmas spans many cultures, traditions and time spans. Business can’t really stop for the whole of December, so it pays to understand cultural intelligence of Christmas holidays around the world if you’re travelling in the festive season, or working remotely and setting deadlines for a team or a supplier.

In Colombia, for example, the celebrations go on from December 16 to Christmas Eve, while in Argentina, the Christmas tree goes up on December 8, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, and the country is in firm festive mood from then on wards. In the UK, offices slow right down for the week before Christmas, although offices remain open on December 24 if it falls on a weekday. Many businesses maintain a skeleton staff between Christmas and New Year’s Eve.

Catholic countries often have their main Christmas meal on the evening of December 24, so although this is not an official holiday in most places, there is very little appetite for work on this day and a lot of businesses will close early. In Australia, Christmas Day and Boxing Day are official holidays but as the festive season coincides with the main annual school holidays, you may find your contact has taken off for a couple of weeks or more.

In Italy, January 6, Epiphany, is also a holiday so it’s not uncommon for Italians to stop work on December 23 (as the main celebrations are on December 24) and not return to the office until what in 2017 will be Monday, January 9. But nowhere beats the Philippines for the length of Christmas. Although the official holidays are December 24 and 25, Christmas carols are heard from September right up to the third Sunday of January, the Feast of the Santo Niño.

Conversely, in the United States, December 26 is a federal holiday but not a legal holiday, in other words, one observed by the government but not necessarily one to which employees in the private sector are entitled. But while the USA doesn’t celebrate Christmas for as long as some other cultures, the various public holidays throughout the year are taken very seriously and usually turned into extended weekends.  Independence Day, for example, falls on a Tuesday in 2017 but scheduling a business visit for July 3, or even trying to get a meeting on the afternoon of Friday, June 30, would be pointless and fairly insensitive, as a lot of people will want to spend time with family.

Of course, some countries don’t mark Christmas at all and work straight through. In the United Arab Emirates, fireworks will light the sky for January 1, New Year’s Day, but December 25 is a normal working day. The same applies to most Muslim countries, although confusingly, some embrace multiple holidays. Plan a business trip to Malaysia, for example, and not only will you need to avoid Christmas, but also all the Muslim holidays and Chinese New Year – and on top of this, holidays vary from state to state. Hong Kong, too, observes Christian holidays like Christmas and Easter – but shuts down completely for the massive Chinese New Year celebration, which in 2017 is January 28-31.

One event common to all Muslim countries is Ramadan, which in 2017 begins on the evening of Friday, May 26 and extends for a month. Ramadan is not a reason to avoid travelling to a Muslim country and business does continue as normal, but sensitivity is required if you are holding meetings, or entertaining, or setting deadlines, as observant Muslims will fast from sunrise to sunset.

In short, do your cultural homework when scheduling projects and arranging business trips, and your colleagues around the world will thank you for it.

About the Author

Sue Bryant

Sue Bryant is an award-winning writer and editor specialising in global business culture and travel.

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