Martin Luther King, Jr. Day

I'm ready for us to get Martin Luther King day off at work. I'm not going to go into a long explanation as to why other than to say that the Reverend is very symbolic of what makes America great to all of us regardless of our individual backgrounds and I can't think of a good reason why we don't get this day off but get others off. There are more reasons. I know that I, for one, could benefit from learning a little bit more about MLK Jr. and experiencing some holidays outside of those I grew up observing. I'm sure that some other people might prefer to simply observe the holidays that they knew as a child; the ones that they feel comfortable with, the ones that don't require learning.

I know that some companies give employees a set number of holidays and allow them to be taken whenever. I like that idea. I also like the fact that companies (like Microsoft) are working to expose employees to the diversity of their fellow employees. We have a number of cultural events on campus. I'm all about experiencing new things.

When I lived in California, I had a co-worker and close friend from India who celebrated a religion I was not familiar with (he knows who he is...he doesn't have to reveal his identity : )). I don't think I ever told him how much I appreciated the time he spent with me educating me on his religion and culture. We went to Indian restaurants, Indian stores, we talked about his lifestyle in Mumbai and his family. It was incredibly eye-opening for me at a time when I think I may have lacked the maturity and curiosity to care as much about the world around me as I do today. He did me a great favor and I still consider him a good friend today (though we mostly just do catch-up e-mails). And I will never forget the vegetarian enchiladas we had for Christmas and the tree with chili pepper lights. His family did a good job of blending holiday traditions. It was really fun.

One challenge I think that many people have in the workplace is that they are afraid to ask people about their traditions. They feel that it might be an "HR violation" because it's too personal. I have to admit that I often have questions come to mind that go unanswered because I am afraid of offending someone with my nosiness. I think that many people have some discomfort talking about religions, ethnic traditions, culture and customs. I'm not sure I have an answer as to whether this is something that should or should not be discussed in the workplace other than to say that my general approach is to let the person I am curious about take the lead. If they want to share with me, I'm ready to soak it up. I think that being open is the first step.

It's kind of late to put this into effect today (though I do plan on watching a web cast of Jesse Jackson who is in our Chicago office today, when I get back to the office), but it occurred to me that I had some control over how I celebrate holidays .We get 2 floating holidays and 1 personal day each year in addition to the company set holidays and our vacation time. I think I have already blogged about how I always end up with leftover vacation time at the end of the year. What I would like to do is use those three days to celebrate holidays that I did not grow up with. I might need some help with this. I'm open to which holidays these are (but I should mention that I grew up in a family that celebrates Christian holidays so I already know all about those), but I want to see if I can find people that are willing to introduce me to their holiday/cultural traditions. I'm sure not everybody wants to invite me to their home (hee!) and that is not what I am going for, but I am open to cooking classes, cultural events, shopping trips (especially shopping trips), restaurants; whatever will help me experience the tradition. Not just celebrating *on* a specific holiday day.

Does this sound crazy? I'm actually excited about it now that I have chosen to do it. Hopefully someone is willing to be the teacher if I am willing to be the student.

Happy Martin Luther King, Junior Day!


Comments (15)

  1. Jessica says:

    You have about 4 options for being Australian for a day, taking out the christian based holidays (christmas & easter both come with national public holidays here). The two I recommend are:

    Australia Day on Jan 26. Generally celebrated with bbqs, lamingtons, pavlova (I don’t think anyone knows why that’s Australian), going to the beach for any type of beach activity you can think of and having a bunch of ceremonies to "naturalise" those who have immigrated here and wish to be official Australian citizens , and recognising people who contribute to communities etc (Australian of the Year, Young Australian of the Year etc etc). Might be a little cold over there though. Wear thongs (on your feet) and practise a really bad accent.

    Next is ANZAC day on April 25th, a rememberence day for those who served in WW I and II. History has never been my strong point and I should really brush up on the details for that day but it’s basically acknowledging and remembering all those who served for our country. I’m sure you have something similar over there to but that’s the Australian one. There are a bunch of memorial services (a little hard for you to get to) but you could celebrate by baking ANZAC biscuits (not cookies, biscuits). I can certainly share a recipe for that one.

    We have the Queen’s Birthday sometime in June, and Labour Day sometime in October. Both are always on a Monday so we get a long weekend.  Nothing particularly special for either but I suppose we’ll take any oppotunity to really act on our "laid back" lifestyle.

    They may not be the exotic reasons you’re after but those are some of our special holidays. You should try ANZAC biscuits regardless, they’re sooo yummy.

  2. HeatherLeigh says:

    Jessica – what is really funny is that at some friends’ house recently, we actually discussed the origin of pavlova, which I had never heard of until I saw itmade on Take Home Chef (is that the name of the show?). My friend was explaining that it was something that was made in her family and were trying to determine whether it came from the English side or the Eastern European side (based onthe name, my guess was the latter), but that didn’t explain the Take Home Chef. I believe it’s still a mystery to me.

    Perhaps an indoor Australia day cenebration is in order. It would be mighty cold here but it’s warm enough inside for shorts! I’m not sure what lamingtons are though.

    Re: ANZAC day, we have memorial day (to remember deceased veterans) and Veterans day (to honor our living vets). Definitely a worthy celebration in either country for sure. The biscuits sound good…any biscuits sound good!

    So I was reading Bon Appetit magazine yesterday (I think that is where I saw it) and someone was saying that in all their world travels, the best food they had was in Australia. It was an English man who was traveling with his wife and daughter and went into some of the neighborhoods outside of Sydney. He went to pastry shops and sausage shops and had some Asian food as well (it may have been Pho). It was pretty interesting. I had no idea that the food there was so amazing! Well…I guess that’s why there’s the Take Home Chef! Now we know!

  3. Tim says:

    Great idea. Happy MLK Day to you, too, my friend…

    Every year I send out the link to MLK’s <a href="">Letter from Birmingham Jail</a>, which is very different from the transcripts from his speeches. Take five minutes to give it a start, I guarantee you won’t be able to put it down. Magnificent indeed.

  4. Tim says:

    Darned if I can get those hyperlinks right. Duh.


    Thankfully I was not Dr. King’s Executive Assistant…

  5. Christine says:

    You could celebrate Patriots’ Day, the third Monday in April.  It was originally put in place to celebrate the first battles of the Revolutionary War but has since morphed into a Yay Boston day.  We have the Boston Marathon, a Sox game at Fenway, and in recent years our Superbowl-winning Patriots parade through the city as well.  

    As regards religious holidays, I celebrate Christian ones as well.  We’re having a bit of confusion this year because our mandatory national meeting/partying day for the end of the year is on Good Friday, meaning everyone will be traveling to and from Boston during Passion Week.  We can’t seem to decide if this infringes on people’s religious identities or not, as it involves catered food, morning to night activities for a few days, and lots of alcohol.  People would not be able to get away to go to church without missing an evening meeting, and non-drinkers would be noticed.  It’ll be interesting to see what our very non-religious management decides.

  6. tom says:

    Tim, That is a very powerful letter! Could not get the url to work try this one  

  7. RachaelSS says:

    I stumbled across your blog while applying to the Microsoft website and I just have to say that this is so refreshing to see a huge company (like Microsoft) utilizing technology as a resource to generate buzz and camaraderie both internally and externally among colleagues. I once created a blog for an engineering company I and found that the response rate for that specific market was very low. I’m so happy to see there is an industry that makes the most this sort of communication.

    To join this specific discussion, I would agree that more companies (especially as more and more markets become global) should honor different cultures through employee events and experiences. It is a great way to unify the company across many different cultural barriers.

  8. HeatherLeigh says:

    Rachael – thanks for the nice words!

  9. You can try to be a Chinese for a day during Spring Festival (Lunar Chinese New Year). This year, it falls on 02/18. You probably know it already, it is THE biggest holiday in China.

    Go get some pork, celery, and ginger, ground them together, mix with soy source, and make yourself some good dumplings. That’s what I am going to do for my son. First time that I am going to make it myself, I might add, since my culinary skill is very limited, to say the least.

    Oh, don’t forget to get some firecrackers to welcome the new year with a bang at midnight…

  10. Native Wisdom says:

    Good read on MLK Jr.  One can only think what this world would be like today if Dr. King were still alive and active.

  11. HeatherLeigh says:

    Ji Village News – Chinese New Year sounds fun!

  12. --Lisa says:


    What a great idea!  Here are my favorite holidays that aren’t my holidays – I just like the idea of them:

    Purim – a very "joyous" Jewish holiday

    Diwali – the Hindu festival of lights

    Eid ul-Fitr – The breaking of the Islamic fast of Eid



  13. SV says:

    If you are offered a job and you find out that the company don’t observe Martin Luther King Jr. Day, then you can be sure that they have some "diversity" issues.

    And don’t be fooled by the ‘floating holiday’ foolishness either.

    I have overlooked that twice and the finding is the same – both times.

    When companies close for ‘Thanksgiving’ – the holiday which celebrates the begining of a monumental betrayal of Native Americans, and reject ‘MLK Jr. Day’ – the holiday which celebrates the begining of reconciliation, there is a problem.

    And if you think not, just ask the "minority"workers – if they have any.


  15. One Louder says:

    So, I wrote about Martin Luther King, Junior day 2 years ago . Someone just sent me an email making reference

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