"The challenge for interfaith families is to create holiday celebrations that respect and honor all their religious values and traditions," says family therapist Carleton Kendrick Ed.M., L.C.S.W. "It's not an easy task, and there's no absolutely 'right' way to do it. But there should be no anticipatory anxieties, worries, or confusion about how you will celebrate your holidays."
One thing that can make the process easier is discussing with your spouse what each of you would like to do to celebrate your respective religion during the holidays. Whether it's decorating the house or attending services, work out all the details well before the season begins.
When you make your decision, chances are some family members (namely, the baby's grandparents) might not be completely on board with what you have planned. "The arrival of the next generation stirs up an awareness of and a desire for cultural continuity," says Wendy Williams, author of The Globalisation of Love. "Grandparents, in particular, find new hope in carrying on their values and traditions within the family. The baby gives them a second chance to fulfill their religious duties."
Although you might not like disappointing your mom and dad, it's crucial that you and your spouse stick to your guns. Not doing so will only cause friction between both families, which is the last thing you want during the holiday season. So when anyone questions what you have planned, make it clear that while they might not like it, you want them to respect your wishes.
Both parents' holiday traditions should be honored, says Kendrick. "Even if your kids are being raised in one religious and/or cultural tradition, they should learn about the religious and cultural holiday traditions of both parents. Give your children the gifts of your holiday rituals and traditions. Let them at least hear about, if not experience, your childhood holiday customs."
Candi Wingate, president of Nannies4Hire (www.nannies4hire.com), agrees. "The holiday season is a special opportunity to expose children to different religions and help them learn about those various faiths. Both parents can tell the seasonal stories associated with their faith. A Christmas tree and a menorah can be colocated. Songs of both faiths can be sung, and rich traditions can be shared."
"There's simply no right or wrong way to celebrate the holidays, so why not have a little fun with it? Your holiday celebrations will be unique to your family as you both include your favorite childhood holiday traditions in your celebrations," says Kendrick.
Hope Katz Gibbs, a mom from Arlington, VA, makes sure her house is decorated for both Hanukkah and Christmas, and isn't afraid to combine the two. "Our tree is decorated with popsicle-stick ornaments in the shape of Jewish stars," she reveals. Raphael Vernassal of Los Angeles, came up with a creative solution to honor his family's Jewish and Catholic heritage: He designed a special Star of David topper for their Christmas tree. It was such a big hit with family and friends, he's now selling them at yourtreedition.com.
For Amanda Griffith's family, traditions are less about religion and more about making memories with the kids. "Mostly it comes down to reading, baking, or doing something as a family," says the mom from Norton, MA.
Don't combine and homogenize both holidays into one celebration. Commemorate and celebrate each holiday separately, explaining the variations of your traditions, says Kendrick.
Katz Gibbs makes sure that both holidays are special for her family. "On Hanukkah, we light candles, say prayers in Hebrew and enjoy a dinner that includes matzo ball soup made from my grandmother's recipe. And on Christmas, we do the tree, the lights, and the whole Santa routine." And both sets of grandparents often join them for both holidays. This is important, says Fran Walfish, Psy.D., a psychotherapist and author of The Self Aware Parent. "Children will enjoy and revel in this joyous time if everyone supports the festivities, parties, and celebrations of each family."
Consider celebrating the holidays with other interfaith families. "This may help your children to feel less isolated in their experience," says Kendrick. Shannon Cherry of Albany, NY, exposes her children to multiple religions during the holidays. "We attend a Hanukkah celebration with Jewish neighbors, and we also go to a Kwanzaa party. The families who share these celebrations with us are thrilled to teach and educate our children (and us). And I believe it teaches our children about understanding and tolerance, and that no matter what the holiday, they are all about families."
Wingate thinks that's a great idea: "By teaching children to understand a variety of faiths and accept the faiths of others without judgment, parents are giving their children an advantage in this increasing diverse society in which we live."
Celebrating two gift-giving holidays can cause some major stress on you and your wallet. The average American already spends more than $500 each year on holiday gifts -- that's when you're spending for just one holiday.
Because Hanukkah lasts for eight nights, Katz Gibbs usually gave small presents to her kids, but her husband likes to have "a Christmas bonanza, and for a little while, I felt competitive. I didn't want the kids to think that Hanukkah was a lesser holiday because they got a DVD instead of a bike." But the couple has recently cut back on gifts, and is now focusing on what they can do for others during the holiday season. "We've been volunteering to serve a meal at a soup kitchen or make sandwiches for the homeless. It's important to remember what the holidays are really about."
After all, they get to celebrate two holidays -- what child wouldn't love that? "I recall my daughter coming home from school and telling my wife that she felt bad for all of those kids who could only celebrate one holiday!" says Rob Eiseman, of Evanston, IL. "Although I'm sometimes saddened by the fact that my children are not receiving the in-depth religious upbringing that both my wife and I had, I am also heartened by the fact that they have the opportunity to enjoy and respect the best of both."
The most important thing, says Kendrick, is to remember that the holidays are a time for parents to show their kids the importance of family. "Parents who choose to share their respective religious and cultural holiday traditions with their children do indeed give them a solid identity, one based in the cherished values and traditions of their parents."
Copyright © 2011 Meredith Corporation.