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Celebrating Inclusive Holidays

As you plan your seasonal gatherings, how will you ensure that all feel welcome and represented?

People celebrating inclusive holidays together

The past year and a half has been full of ups, downs, twists and turns for people around the world. As the holiday season gets underway, finding opportunities to celebrate together may feel more important than ever. People are hungry for connection, and the holidays are a great time for fit pros to reach out to members and find inclusive ways to build community and have fun. A vital priority is ensuring that your celebrations honor everyone in your fitness community through inclusive holidays.

Practicing inclusivity in this way means intentionally engaging with diversity and making sure no members are overlooked or excluded from your group festivities. No one wants to be left out or feel uncomfortable when invited to a celebration. By diversifying your gatherings with a mission of welcoming and being sensitive to the beliefs and traditions of different people—while still promoting your organization’s mission and values—you can boost the overall success and well-being of the community you serve. And you can up the fun factor, as well!

What’s to Celebrate?

Holidays happen throughout the year, but the typical “holiday season,” from November through January, offers many occasions to celebrate. The more diverse your community is, the more inclusive holidays will be meaningful to your class participants, training clients and staff. While plenty of holidays have no religious foundation, many others do—and referencing an interfaith holiday calendar (diversityresources.com/interfaith-calendar-2021/) during planning can make you more aware of occasions that may really matter to people in your community.

Which Holidays Should You Recognize?

A great way to learn which holidays your community members value is simply to invite them to tell you which practices and traditions are significant to them. Consider asking them in a one-on-one setting or through an anonymous survey. Posing intentional questions when you first welcome members into your space can help you get to know them and allow you to learn which holidays, if any, have value for them.

Diversity intake forms can provide valuable insights into your members’ lives. Explain that celebrating members is important to the company’s mission and that you appreciate having opportunities to recognize and include all members. Ask members to specify which holidays are special to them and why. Also ask when and how you could recognize those holidays in ways that would be respectful, tasteful and inviting to the community. Be clear that it’s optional to fill out a form.

Implementing a sincere outreach program and asking genuine questions that show you care can allow the conversation to flourish, fostering deeper connection and understanding. This will help members feel more at home in your community. But your members are not responsible for educating others and coordinating inclusion efforts; that’s the task of managers and organizers. Consider creating a diversity council committee to work on ways to be more inclusive in your celebrations (and in your practices in general).

There are lots of holidays, and if celebrating all that apply to your community is not feasible or sustainable, then perhaps the ideal solution is to hold one big celebration. Just keep in mind that others may not share your vision of what that gathering should look like. Rather than focusing on one type of cultural celebration, consider hosting a New Year–themed gathering that focuses on achievements from the past year and goals for the new year. In this type of celebration, members could also share personal experiences centered around holidays they recognize and celebrate.

See also: Creating Inclusivity in Fitness Spaces

How to Celebrate Inclusive Holidays?

People celebrating inclusive holidays with food

Holiday celebrations are educational opportunities for community members to engage with one another.

Sprinkling Some Seasonal Spice

Any festive holiday has a “feel-good” factor; it’s a time for gratitude and well-being.Universally, celebrations are opportunities for reflection, gathering and community. And often, major elements include food, music, movement, gifts and family. Taking a creative approach when considering these elements will encourage more inclusiveness and diversity in practice. Here are some ways to generate a festive atmosphere, beginning early in the season:

  • Invite community members to share their favorite traditional holiday music, and incorporate those tunes in-to class or facility playlists. This will add texture and variety to your services.
  • Support a community exchange of healthy holiday food recipes. Ask participants to share their favorites in writing.
  • Invite members to teach instructors and fitness employees traditional holiday dances, and find ways to integrate these respectfully into the fitness class experience.

These are educational opportunities for community members to engage with one another, to learn something new, and to feel more seen and welcomed.

Celebrating Inclusive Holidays in Universal Ways 

As you contemplate how your all-inclusive celebration will look and feel, consider the sig-nificance of various images, decorations, symbols and types of music. Broaden your horizons and look beyond your own experience. Inclusive marketing of your holiday celebration will be key. Exercise creativity and sensitivity, remembering that people have different faiths and may celebrate the holidays in a variety of ways. Consider these suggestions for your planning stages:

  • Send a communitywide email asking employees and members if they’d like to share the traditions they celebrate during the holidays.
  • Rather than trying to include decorations from every religion and culture, keep the party decor general and secular. Use seasonal elements like snowflakes, candles and lights.
  • Be intentional when choosing holiday syntax: A phrase like “Secret Santa” is not as inclusive as “Community Gift Giving.” Aim for inclusive terminology.

Adopting inclusive holiday syntax, language, communication and ways of celebrating does not equate to infringing on or not recognizing a specific holiday. Instead, it means you’re making an effort to bring everyone into the spirit of celebrating in a meaningful way. Participating in holiday celebrations should be voluntary for staff and members and free of ostracization or scrutiny of any kind. People should feel safe and respected and have the freedom to choose whether or not they take part.

In recent decades, fitness professionals have progressed in making fitness engagement more accessible, adaptable, diverse and inclusive. This process has been beneficial and evolutionary. Fitness is worthy of celebrating, and fitness professionals find creative ways of doing so. As you consider how to integrate holiday fun and festivities into your fitness calendar, be mindful that inclusion enhances engagement, retention and value among the community. Inclusive practices allow people to feel valued, respected and recognized. Being inclusive is not just right; it’s necessary.

See also: Get Your Fitness Business Ready for the Holidays

The Gift of Belonging

The holiday season would not exist without people and traditions to celebrate. This is a time to put people first—and to make sure everyone enjoys a warm sense of belonging.

How will you welcome and include all your community members in your holiday festi-vities? How will you celebrate both diversity and inclusion, ensuring that everyone—as Vernā Myers says in her now-famous quote—is not just “invited to the party” but also “asked to dance”?

Your community members probably come from different backgrounds, traditions and faiths—and each individual has a unique, multifaceted makeup. Your challenge is to highlight universal values that bring people together while still honoring diversity and uniqueness. Be careful not to assume what people want, value and believe. The holiday season is an opportunity to include everyone’s voices, stories and experiences, but be sure to invite participation, rather than infringing on others’ traditions without asking.

  • Find commonalities in traditions and in values like generosity, gratitude, kindness, compassion and empathy, as opposed to finding differences.
  • Exercise curiosity about learning how community members can join in one another’s ways of celebrating—but be respectful. Don’t appropriate others’ holidays. Ask, don’t assume.
  • Invite credible diverse professionals into your community to share their experiences in dance, song, dress and food. Rather than mimicking or adopting cultural traditions as your own, ask how you and your community can show appreciation and support for diversity during the holidays and beyond.
Kia Williams, MS

Kia Williams, MS, 200hr RYT is a global presenter, host of Fit and Fierce on the Mic podcast and freelance Group Fitness Content Creator. She currently serves as the Wellness Chair for the NAACP Tarrant County Branch and Executive Board Member of Jeremiah 33:6, a not-for-profit holistic health education and preventative medicine corporation. Kia is a master educator for Barre above®, Balletone™, and Fluid Strength™, and has managed several fitness and wellness programs and facilities.

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