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We’re a Mixed-Faith Family — Here Are Our Secrets for Harmonious Holidays

I have a confession to make: I just booked an appointment for our family to meet Santa Claus, much to my partner Adam’s dismay.  

Personally, I’d be happy for the Christmas season to start right after Halloween, preferably before the trick-or-treaters have gone home for the evening. It’s been my favorite time of year since I was a child growing up in Trinidad and Tobago and I commit fully to the plethora of activities. Adam, on the other hand, dreads Christmas with a passion. Growing up Jewish in Minnesota, Christmas reminds him of not fitting in, of being surrounded by festivities that feel othering.

It’s a dilemma for many multi-faith families as they explore what it means to celebrate the holidays. For us, the season signals joy and excitement coupled with some annoyance and a fair share of healthy conflict. Over time though, we’ve learned how to cope and not rob each other of what we each need to be present for each other. Here are five ways we find peace as a multi-faith family during the holiday season.  

“Each person comes to the relationship with decades of joy and baggage related to religion.”

We Don’t Try to Change Each Other

Adam dislikes Christmas (although he does love Trinbagonian Christmas — more on that later) and that’s just a fact. So invalidating his feelings can actually invisibilize his childhood trauma. Being a Jewish kid surrounded by all things Christmas can be really tough and no amount of tinsel and caroling can change that. The key to making everyone feel comfortable is resisting the idea that we should try to change each other. We all have the space to own our feelings and wallow in them if we so choose. So I refrain from talking Adam into loving Christmas and he doesn’t stop me from stringing lights on every surface in the house. Part of being in a multi-faith family is understanding that each person comes to the relationship with decades of joy and baggage related to religion. And deciding what to hold onto or discard is a deeply personal experience. 

We Set Clear Boundaries

A big part of respecting each other’s feelings is establishing and respecting clear boundaries. Adam’s boundary is around Christmas celebrations that go beyond our family. He loves when we establish our own family traditions but he sometimes gets overwhelmed with outside trappings like shopping at the mall. He will, however, reluctantly drive half an hour to see Santa Claus in the flesh. He’ll even take a picture with the guy.

This is fine with me because I micromanage every aspect of the holiday down to what we wear in photos (matching outfits are a must). I get to be the expert on Christian celebrations because that’s my culture and he does the same for the Jewish holidays and traditions because they hold deep meaning for him. Our joint understanding around religious holidays includes giving and taking the physical space we need to reflect and align with our values. Sometimes that means taking a walk or just stepping outside for fresh air but we both encourage each other to take what we need. Adam also clearly articulates his needs when it comes to Chanukkah so that we give the holiday as much space and effort as he would like. By establishing clear roles and boundaries, each person knows what is expected of them. And we don’t consider conflict a bad thing, rather it’s how you engage in it that matters. 

“Prioritizing our children’s happiness is a reminder that holidays are meant to be fun.”

We Center Our Children’s Joy

Prioritizing our children’s happiness is a reminder that holidays are meant to be fun. Our two kids are Jewish but they love Christmas too. Celebrating both holidays teaches giving, kindness, love, and happiness, through watching movies, drinking hot chocolate, and learning about the symbolism behind these observances. And after two years of the pandemic, it’s even more important to infuse joy into the lives of kids (and us adults, too!). 

We Don’t Compare Holidays

In the early days, I tried to make Chanukkah a big deal by decorating our home and buying the kids lots of presents. But I realized that by trying to make Chanukkah comparable to Christmas, I was filtering it through a Christian lens, as opposed to letting it be the Jewish holiday it’s meant to be. Chanukkah is actually not one of the big holidays for Adam so it’s OK for us to scale it down. It’s not a competition just because both holidays occur around the same time of year. So while we give our kids small gifts for all eight nights, light the menorah, and read the Chanukkah story aloud, we don’t overcompensate. Some Jews do make a big deal out of this holiday and we love celebrating with some of our friends who do but for our family, it’s slightly different. Instead, we put more effort into Passover, Rosh Hashanah, and Sukkot, other Jewish holidays that hold more significance for Adam. 

We Find a Middle Ground

Ah, compromise! It’s the most significant part of marriage and a habit that lives up to its hype. Teasing out a middle ground helps each person feel seen and heard while prioritizing what matters most. It also means discovering parts of the holidays that can be shared with equal enthusiasm. Growing up in Trinidad, I celebrated all the holidays, from Eid and Divali to Christmas. Adam loves that aspect of Trinbagonian culture so we bring that approach to our family. We’re especially excited about food and music, so we usually cook a big Trinbagonian meal on Christmas Day which includes preparing sorrel and pasteles. Adam is particularly good at cooking buttery soft roti and spicy curry channa and I am particularly good at eating it. We also make stew chicken, pelau, and potato salad, among other delicacies. However, since we keep a kosher home, we don’t mix meat and dairy. We also both love Christmas music, especially the Trinbagonian Christmas, which is called parang, so our home is typically filled with joyous tunes.

Blended holidays can be great opportunities for multi-faith families to honor the richness, depth, and nuance that makes our love special and teach children to appreciate their beautifully diverse world.

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