For the past week, Alvin and Ginger From and their daughters gathered around the menorah to celebrate Hanukah by lighting the candles and saying prayers. Afterwards they feasted on Hanukah cookies, and on three days they exchanged Hanukah gifts.
Then they reassembled around their Advent wreath, and prayed as they lit the multicolored candles. On Christmas Eve, they will attend services at Washington Cathedral and Tuesday they will again open gifts -- but this time for Christmas.
For Ginger, a devout Episcopalian, and Alvin, a devout Jew, the holiday season means a merging of traditions. Before they married, both agreed that they would continue practicing their religions -- and respect each other's holidays.
The Froms say they enjoy celebrating both religious holidays and that it keeps them together. "But I'm not saying this is the right way [to celebrate holidays in a two-religion home], but it's our way," said Ginger From.
Their school-age daughter, Ginny, attends religious services with both parents as well as Sunday school and Hebrew school on Saturdays. Last week Ginny was in a Hanukkah play and tomorrow she will play an angel in a Christmas pageant.
Alvin From, a deputy to presidential inflation adviser Alfred Kahn, helps bring the Christmas spirit to his home by helping his wife put up Christmas decorations. Ginger said she's learned to make potato latkes, a traditional Hanukah treat, and changed her usual Christmas Eve dinner of ham to corned beef in deference to her husband's beliefs.
Other interfaith couples interviewed, who declined to be quoted by name, said they solve the holiday problem by observing only one religion in the home, while the other partner continues to attend his or her services alone.
Although several Christian clergy said members of their congregations married to non-Christians rarely talk of holiday problems, several rabbis said the dilemma of "which holiday to celebrate" can be so painful to couples that they always advise against interfaith marriages.
The Rev. Tom Blackmon, assistant pastor at St Alban's Episcopal Church, said that the interfaith couples he knows generally celebrate both religions in the home. He said that if parents are respectful of each other's religious beliefs, children are not left confused, especially if parents focus on the common roots of Judaism and Christianity.
The Rev. Harry Green, assistant minister at All Souls Unitarian Church, said Unitarians would advise the parents to celebrate both religious traditions in the home, because "in the Unitarian Church, we emphasize all the churches from which we come, including holidays."
He said many Unitarian churches regularly recognize Jewish holidays by lighting menorahs and holding Passover meals. Some even celebrate Buddhist holidays.
"Having one religion is hard enough," said Rabbi Stephen Listfield, "I don't know how they [interfaith couples] can work it out." Listfield, who always advises against interfaith marriages, is a spiritual leader at Adas Israel.
Even if the couples can work out their religious differences between themselves, Rabbi Lewis Weintraub, of Temple Israel in Silver Spring, said problems often arise when in-laws refuse to accept the arrangement.
Rabbi Itzhaq Klirs, spiritual leader at Congregation Olam Tikvah inFairfax, said he has seen grandparents try to "bribe" youngsters over to their religion by lavishing on the children expensive Christmas or Hanukah presents.
Klirs agreed with several other rabbis that recognizing both religions in the home is too confusing to children. "For some parents maybe this is an occasion for soul-searching," said Klirs. "In our love the little ones, we must choose."
Klirs said he would rather see children raised in the Christian faith than divided between the two.
Reform Rabbi Joseph Weinberg said that when parents decide to raise the children in one religion and adhere to that tradition in their homes, there is usually no problem. But, said Weinberg, of the Washington Hebrew Congregation, when children are exposed to both parents' religions, they not only end up confused but find themselves in a "battleground, often choosing mother or father, not Christianity or Judaism."
Ginger From agrees that exposing her daughters to two religions may turn them against all religions, but so far, she doesn't feel that's been a problem.