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A multi-cultural holiday display

December 8, 2010
by H. Steven Moffic, MD
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At first, I was tempted to just comment on the provocative blog, “Can Christmas Decorations Be Psychologically Harmful?”, posted by Terry Stawar here on November 30. I would have commented that yes, they can be psychologically harmful, both to an individual, but also to a group of people. And, unlike Ben Stein (who was referenced in that blog and who I generally admire), I as a Jew would be one of those offended if that was done in my work setting. Indeed, it is our work settings that I especially want to address.

To address this kind of question and challenge to the multicultural nature of our country, our staff, and our patients, the clinics I have led over the years have long held a multicultural holiday display during a good part of December. This tradition was started when I co-led a large community mental health center with an African-American woman. This has always – and still does – include the Muslim perspective, along with Christian, Jewish, Hindu, and any other religious or cultural perspective we can reflect, such as Kwanzaa and the Hmong New Year. Traditional cultural dress is encouraged.

The display not only includes holiday symbols like a small Christmas tree and Hanukah menorah, but also food for the patients. This is food that the staff brings in, such as the usual Christmas cookies. I usually bring in Hanukah donuts, called Sufganiyot in Israel. These are usually raspberry filled donuts fried in oil to represent the oil that miraculously burned for 8 days in the ancient temple of Jerusalem, after the Maccabean revolt restored our freedom of religion. In the USA, reasonable representatives can be bought at Dunkin Donuts. All this is supplemented by simple educational handouts about the holidays and cultures.

Why might this be important, even beyond the holiday time? Any system or clinic that purports to have cultural competence needs, at the very least – to be culturally sensitive and respectful – of all the cultures served. This should also be displayed in the treatment plans tailored to the patient’s cultural beliefs. Holiday displays are one way to show that to everyone.

What does your organization display, or not display, during this season? And why?

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H. Steven Moffic

H. Steven Moffic

H. Steven Moffic, M.D. retired from the clinical practice of psychiatry and his tenured...