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Observing the observances

Colleagues and cultures:
Mark your calendar

Ann Humphries

(CNN) -- Remember putting your foot into your mouth that time you asked why you couldn't get through to a Jewish colleague's office? Yom Kippur, wasn't it?

And how about the first time somebody had to tell you that Eastern Orthodox Christians don't always observe Easter and Christmas on the same days?

In business, multicultural sensitivity can be as important as gender-distinctive issues. A lot of folks are good at keeping their politics out of the office, along with their college allegiances during football season and even their preferences for Coke or Pepsi.

But too often we show our uneasy relationship with what some sociologists call "the other," when it comes to cultural observances, especially those based in faiths with which we're not familiar.

graphic Do you have a wide range of cultural -- religious or otherwise -- representation where you work?

Yes, we have quite a diverse group.
So-so. Sometimes I wish we had a few more "layers" or textures in our group.
No, we're really a pretty homogeneous staff where I work.
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CNN: As ever, business etiquette specialist Ann Humphries was ready for us when we asked her about the possibility of a rundown of dates. She puts together a sort of sensible careerist's calendar each year for clients of her company, ETICON.

To put her selective listing of this year's dates together, Humphries has consulted religious and cultural leaders, who always stress that names of various observances sometimes are spelled different ways in English -- particularly when translated not only from other languages but also from other alphabets.

One of the main uses of this list of dates is to foresee some moments that employees may ask for time off. Humphries emphasizes that her list isn't meant to include everything or recognize every faith.

You know, we do usually get asked by some people, "Well, why do we have to worry about this in America?" I just respond by asking, "This country was founded why?"

But this is a great place to start if you'd like to be sure your career doesn't run roughshod over some sensitivities that may not be your own.

Ann Humphries: So many blunders could be avoided with just a few notes on your calendar. It's just not the kind of PR you want, one of those mistakes that makes you look uninformed or, worse, like you don't care.

You know, we do usually get asked by some people, "Well, why do we have to worry about this in America?" I just respond by asking, "This country was founded why?"

graphic We like to know what's on your mind for possible topics here in for Corporate Class. Have a workplace issue you'd like to see addressed? Not sure what to do about a situation you see coming in your career? Let us know and we'll consider taking it on here in the column. Just use our handy submission form to talk to us. And thanks.

If your company tends to schedule events on a regular basis for something like "the fourth Friday of each month," it's always a good idea to attach a statement of understanding that the date can be changed if it falls on a holy day.

We're seeing some fast growth in Islam these days in the United States, and Baha'i, too. Even Wicca may be considered by some employees to have important observances attached to it.

The main thing you want to avoid is comments like, "If we put all these dates on our calendar, we'll never get any work done." And never equate one faith's observance to another, they're rarely equal. Hanukkah, for example, isn't the same as Christmas. And Kwanzaa isn't a religious event, but it's a celebration that honors unity, self-determination and other principles of African-American life.

The main thing you want to avoid is comments like, "If we put all these dates on our calendar, we'll never get any work done." And never equate one faith's observance to another, they're rarely equal.

So here's the list, something to keep handy. Note that in the case of Islamic dates, they're approximate because actual observances depend on sightings of the moon. And this year, holy days in the Eastern Orthodoxy coincide with western Christian calendars. On Jewish holy days -- observances begin at sunset prior to the dates listed.

February 21 Hinduism: Mahashivaratri
February 28 Western Christianity: Ash Wednesday
March 5 Islam: Eid-ul-Adha
March 8 Hinduism: Holi
March 21 Baha'i: Naw Ruz
March 25 Hinduism: Ugadi
April 2 Hinduism: Ramanavami
April 6 Hinduism: Mahavir Jayanti
April 8-15 Judaism: Pesah or Passover (especially April 8, 9, 14,15)
April 8-15 Christianity: Holy Week
April 8 Christianity: Palm Sunday
April 12 Christianity: Holy Thursday
April 13 Christianity: Holy or "Good" Friday
April 13 Sikhism/Hinduism: Baisakh or Vaisakhi
April 15 Christianity: Pascha/Easter
April 20 Judaism: Yom Hashoah/Holocaust
April 21 Baha'i: Ridvan
April 29 Baha'i: Ridvan, ninth day
May 2 Bahai: Ridvan,Baha'i day
May 7 Buddhism: Wesak
May 7 Buddhism: Buddha Purnima
May 23 Baha'i: Declaration of Bab
May 28, 29 Judaism: Shavuot
May 29 Baha'i: Ascension of Baha'u'llah
July 9 Baha'i: Martyrdom of the Bab
August 12 Hinduism: Janmasthami/Sri Krishma Jayanti
September 18, 19 Judaism: Rosh Hashanah
September 20 Hinduism: Ganesh Chaturdhi
September 27 Judaism: Yom Kippur
October 2, 3 Judaism: Sukkot
October 2 Hinduism: Mahatma Gandhi's birthday
October 9 Judaism: Shimini Atzeret
October 10 Judaism: Simchat Torah
October 17-26 Hinduism: Devi Navartri
October 20 Baha'i: Birth of Bab
October 20 Sikhism: Installation of Holy Scriptures (Guru Granth Ji)
October 26 Hinduism: Vijaya Dashami
November 12 Baha'i: Birth of Baha'u'llah
November 14 Hinduism/Buddhism/Sikhism: Diwali
November 16 Islam: First Day of Ramadan
November 30 Sikhism: Birthday of Guru Nanak Dev Ji
December 9-16 Judaism: Hanukkah
December 16 Islam: Eid-ul-Fitr
December 24 Christianity: Christmas eve
December 25 Christianity: Christmas Day
December 26-January 1 2002 Kwanzaa (cultural observation)

Ann Humphries, founder and president of ETICON, Inc. and a Certified Professional Consultant to Management, includes several Fortune 500 companies among her clients. She's been featured in the Wall Street Journal, Fortune and Money, and on CNN, CBS and Lifetime TV. You can contact her at

-- Interview, Porter Anderson


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4:30pm ET, 4/16

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