As Americans gathered for the holidays this year, it wasn't
always clear which one they were celebrating.
Take the family in Dublin, Ohio, which hung holiday lights in
early November. Neighbors thought family members were eager for
yuletide cheer. In fact, they were marking the Nov. 11 birthday of
Siri Guru Nanak Sahib, the first teacher of the Sikh faith.
In Philadelphia this week, the day after most children had ripped
open their Christmas presents, two local museums began their
celebrations: the National Museum of American Jewish History in
recognition of Hanukkah and the African-American Museum in honor of
No doubt about it. From the Jewish high holy days in the fall to
the lighting up of the Empire State Building next month for Asian
Lunar New Year, America's holiday celebrations are multiplying
faster than college bowl games. It's a trend that reflects
America's increasing diversity, as well as the mounting cultural
confidence of its minorities.
In a country founded on religious tolerance, many see the
diversity of worship as a testament to America's ability to accept
and support widely differing faiths. Yet others see it as a
challenge, not only to the nation's Judeo-Christian heritage, but
to companies and colleges trying to keep up with the traditions of
dozens of different systems of worship.
"Companies need to adapt to a much more religiously and
ethnically diverse workforce," says John Challenger, chief
executive officer of Challenger, Gray & Christmas, Inc., an
outplacement firm based in Chicago. "The most competitive companies
need to attract talent wherever that may be. So putting together
programs that honor those people they have ... is common sense."
Change at warp speed
In demographic terms, the shift is taking place with stunning
speed. As late as 1970, the nation's foreign-born population stood
at a record low: 4.7 percent. By 1997, that percentage had risen to
9.7 percent - not equal to the levels of a century ago, when
immigrants flooded American shores - but a substantial rise, thanks
When the US Census Bureau releases its latest figures in the next
couple weeks, the percentage is likely to rise even higher.
Organizations are already feeling the forces of change,
especially around holidays. In 1997, more than two-thirds of firms
surveyed by the Society for Human Resource Management offered
flexible schedules for religious observances.
Some companies have gone even further, though. Computer-
chipmaker Intel Corp. holds multicultural celebrations once or
twice a year at each of its US sites. …