I turned the calendar page. It’s December and that can only mean one thing. It’s holiday time. Personally, I love this time of year. Look around, people are smiling and making plans to spend time with their family and friends. I am no exception. That said, interfaith holiday celebrations, something many members of my community have, can be challenging.
Each year, around this time, some families are conflicted. When one adult was raised celebrating Hanukkah and the other celebrating Christmas, holiday time can often be stressful, even for those families who have discussed these issue and made religious commitments.
If you, as an interfaith family, have decided to raise your children Jewish, what DO you do at Christmas time? Your in-laws celebrate. Other family members celebrate. And honestly, Christmas is EVERYWHERE. It’s in your face, even before Halloween. It’s beautiful (all those lights) and it’s fun — who doesn’t want a visit from Santa? What should you do?
Or, if you are a Jewish parent who has committed to raising your child in the Christian faith, should you skip Hanukkah all together? What about the holiday traditions you loved growing up. There are dilemmas everywhere!
As a spiritual adviser for the unaffiliated and interfaith communities, this question is familiar to me. As a parent of a child who was raised in an interfaith family, this question is personal to me. And, as a grandparent of the most beautiful little boy who is being raised in an interfaith family, this question is current for me. However, my answer to the question is this: there is no right answer.
When this question is asked of me, I consistently deliver a single response. No matter what your decision, act with respect. While my beliefs and faith in Judaism run deep (I was raised in a conservative household and am a Cantor by trade), my respect for all religions and all people run equally as deep. We must, under all circumstances, understand that people have differing beliefs. Although they may not align with ours, it doesn’t mean that they are wrong.
That said, Understanding this may make the following statement easier to comprehend. “Although you have made a commitment to raising your child Jewish/Christian/Hindu/Muslim/Buddhist with your spouse; you must understand and accept that he/she has years of memories and experiences based in another religion. Those beliefs and his/her love of specific traditions don’t disappear, even if you make a specific commitment.” Honestly, I don’t really think they should. Our history (both religious and secular) shapes who we are; we should never turn our backs upon it.
So, what should you do? Well, that’s a tough question. It depends on your beliefs. There are so many options.
For example, there is the story of my friend’s roommate. She was raised Jewish; even had a Bat Mitzvah. She met her husband after college. He was Catholic. At their wedding they had both a Rabbi and a Priest; I heard the ceremony was lovely. Prior to the wedding, they made a commitment to raising their children Jewish. They would have a Bris/Naming Ceremony and Bar/Bat Mitzvahs. Honestly, there is no debate, their children are Jewish. However, every holiday season there is a Christmas tree in their house. “Why”, you may ask? “Aren’t they raising their children Jewish?” “Yes, they are.” Understand, her husband is NOT Jewish. He grew up celebrating Christmas and has a lifetime of memories and traditions. She believes that having that tree celebrates him and allows him to share some of his holiday traditions with their family. She respects his history and shares that respect with her family, such a special thing to do.
Additionally, there is another family where the husband is Jewish and the wife is Christian. Again, they decided to raise their children Jewish. They have no tree; her husband felt strongly about this and she agreed. However, they spend Christmas every year with her family. There is a tree, stockings, Santa, and most importantly, lots of love. The children understand that they are Jewish, but mommy is not. And, they look forward to celebrating with her each year.
This begs the question, “would I be so understanding if Judaism was not the religion chosen for the children? My answer is a resounding yes! Why, you may ask? Because of that one simple word, respect. I respect the choices my friends and my community make; I will always honor them. Understand, people make decisions for a variety of complex and personal reasons; it is not my job to question those. I always counsel my families to discuss these issues early and often; and to anticipate issues along the way. However, I would never question the carefully made decision once it is final. I would respect it.
Finally, one additional scenario, what about that couple that decides to not choose, to raise their children with aspect from both religions. Well, here are my thoughts: I’m afraid that doing “both” puts the burden of future choice on a child, which represents their choice of one parent over another. In my home, we raised our children to be educated in only one faith, but we honored the non Jewish parent (their father) by celebrating his holidays, but we communicated that we chose for them to be Jewish. Children appreciate having definition – and feel more confident to make future choices knowing they had parents in agreement.
Interfaith Holiday Celebrations
In the end, regardless of your choices, I encourage you to stand by them, honor them and continue to build memories and traditions for your family for years to come. Providing your children a safe and harmonious place to celebrate who they are is important; and creating an environment of love serves as a foundation for how they will raise their children and celebrate holidays in the future.
Finally, respect your choices and the choices of others. Don’t judge their decisions or actions. Be a part of a holiday season that truly brings joy to all.