There’s a conversation taking place on the Web forum DC Urban Moms and Dads over an interfaith family’s decision to raise their child Jewish and also baptize their baby in the Christian tradition. The father asked other parents if they knew of a priest who might perform the baptism.
The number of harsh responses, too, are an example of the reactions that interfaith families can encounter when they try to establish new personal traditions that go against cultural expectations and others’ ideas of how to practice religion.
It’s a timely back-and-forth. The choices interfaith families make are now on display, literally. (I know this from experience, as our mantel will soon be decorated with both a small Christmas tree and a menorah.) The opinions of others — whether friends or extended family — can range from supportive to hostile.
This is particularly true this year since Christmas and Chanukah overlap. The convergence brings up new questions for parents of different traditions. Questions that Jennifer Kogan, a D.C.-based clinical social worker and occasional contributor to On Parenting who has worked with families on this issue, says are best worked out between parents privately before they’re opened up to other family and friends (or Web forums).
Her suggestions for establishing inclusive traditions are below. Please add your ideas as well.
Here are Kogan’s suggestions:
• Make a date ahead of time to talk with your partner about your vision for the holidays. Starting early reduces tension and sets the stage for approaching the season as a team.
• Be open to learning about each other’s religious backgrounds. Read or talk about the meaning and the history of your partner’s holiday along with the symbols and rituals that accompany it. If you have a visceral reaction such as a strong aversion to Christmas trees, try to examine this yourself before you talk it over with your partner. Exploring your own feelings first will make your conversation less reactive.
• Call up and examine the childhood memories that you cherish the most. Is it the different kinds of cookies your mom baked well in advance of Christmas? Playing the dreidel game? Share these with your partner so he or she knows that they are important to you.
• Think about and discuss the traditions that you already share as a family. Together, you can find ways to establish new family traditions that encompass what means the most to each of you.
• Break down how you will celebrate together. For example, will you give presents each night of Chanukah? What will happen when Chanukah and Christmas are on the same night? Will you go to church or stay home? Will your extended family be involved? If yes, what will that look like?
• Finally, let other family members know that you have made decisions that are best for you and your family. Explain to them how and where you plan to celebrate the holidays so they are not surprised. Should they have a problem with what you have determined, stand firm and let them know that you love them but this is what is right for your family.
• For more hands on help incorporating both faiths, check out The Interfaith Family Project Of Greater Washington.