Photo: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images

PartnersDecember 20, 2019

Sharing the joy: What Christmas means for New Zealand’s multicultural workers

Photo: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images

With 12,000 employees from a diverse range of cultural backgrounds, The Warehouse works hard to make end-of-year celebrations as inclusive and warm as possible.

Dina Gharbo may not celebrate Christmas in the traditional sense, but says it’s hard for her not to get swept up by the good vibes of the New Zealand festive season. 

Gharbo, who is head of internal communications at The Warehouse, comes from an Egyptian Muslim family. “So while we don’t celebrate personally, we don’t take lightly the opportunity it presents to showcase graciousness, encourage inclusivity and belonging and really immerse yourself in the community around you.

“In New Zealand, it symbolises a time of joy, family, friendships and giving back. These all align with our values so closely, so we can’t help but celebrate these as well.”

The Warehouse Group has 12,000 staff across the country from myriad cultures and religions, a makeup that reflects the growing diversity of Aotearoa itself. This means end-of-year celebrations need to embrace everyone, says Kristin Weitz, who, as head of people experience, looks after the HR side of the business. 

We’re really conscious that a lot of our team come from different backgrounds and beliefs, so our focus is to make sure we’re inclusive as best as possible,” says Weitz. 

“That means we understand that people might recognise the religious celebration or they might not, but the intention is to make sure the focus is on bringing people together – it’s about the celebration of the summer months, acknowledging it’s a nice time to be together.”

For Dina Gharbo and Alexander Kuch, Christmas holds different meanings and memories (Photos: Supplied)

End-of-year celebrations are the order of the day, with different departments and teams across the country holding get-togethers. “We recognise that Christmas is not for everyone, but at the same time we want to recognise that we’ve had a big year and everything we’ve accomplished, so it’s about that acknowledgement and recognition,” says Weitz.

Even among those who do mark the religious holiday, celebrations are as varied as the cultures represented. Alexander Kuch, community initiatives coordinator in The Warehouse’s sustainability team, is German, and the main focus for his family is not Christmas Day but Christmas Eve. 

“We have a big family dinner on the 24th after we have gone to church,” says Kuch. “Back in Germany, we spent our Christmas Day – which was a white Christmas – visiting family and friends. Since moving to New Zealand, we have a big family barbecue.”

Barbecues also feature prominently for Nigel McCleery, trading manager at The Warehouse in South Dunedin, and his family. “We celebrate in quite a Kiwi way – barbecues with steak, salmon and crayfish, plus the traditional pavlova. It’s super relaxed, a shorts-and-jandals kind of day with some backyard cricket, a lot of laughs and some cold ones.”

Depending on the year, Natalia Waller and her Māori/Tongan family might have a barbecue with salads, or perhaps a hāngī with stuffing or a whole pig on a spit, followed by trifle, pavlova or steamed pudding with custard.

First up, though – as soon as the kids have opened their presents – Waller will whip up a Christmas morning buffet breakfast, featuring bacon and egg muffins, hash browns, sausages and creamed mushrooms. 

Natalia Waller’s Christmas traditions are all about family (Photo: Supplied)

Aside from feasting, the day will be spent visiting whānau, which includes loved ones who have passed and now rest at the Manukau Memorial Gardens. “It’s so peaceful,” says Waller, who is a department manager at The Warehouse’s North Island Distribution Centre in South Auckland.

For Weitz, it’s important to acknowledge important calendar dates throughout the year for all The Warehouse’s employees, whatever their background. “We try to recognise as many of the different cultural events across the year as we can,” says Weitz. “That includes Diwali and Chinese New Year, and we recognise that people may want to take time off at different times and we try to accommodate that as much as possible.” Matariki is also a big focus.

Different cultural and community groups within The Warehouse are encouraged to let their colleagues know what and when they’re celebrating, and management will chip in to help with the festivities where appropriate. 

As Dina Gharbo says, sharing the joy in each other’s celebrations is what a multicultural society is all about. “Our friends who do observe Christmas have been lovely enough to welcome us as part of their honorary families to celebrate alongside them,” she says.

“I’ve always grown up in communities across the world where we were taught to respect, acknowledge and even share in the joy of other’s holidays. It’s also something we’d love others to do for us and our celebrations.”

This content was made in paid partnership with The Warehouse Group. To learn more about their carbon neutrality and sustainability journey, visit their website.

Mad Chapman, Editor
The Spinoff has covered the news that matters in 2021, most recently the delta outbreak. Help us continue this coverage, and so much more, by supporting The Spinoff Members.Madeleine Chapman, EditorJoin Members

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