How to navigate interfaith families this holiday season

Metro Creative

The holiday season can bring both joy and stress to people. If families celebrate both Christmas and Hanukkah, this season may be slightly more stressful.

The third day of Hanukkah falls on Christmas day this year, which can cause the “December dilemma,” as Rabbi Mark Blazer from Temple Beth Ami puts it. The dilemma can cause interfaith families to struggle with sticking to holiday traditions and celebrating with family members.

“The great thing about Hanukkah is that it’s an eight-day celebration,” said Blazer. “No day is more holy than the other. You have the ability to spend the holiday with different families on different days.”

Because the Jewish calendar runs on a different cycle, Hanukkah is celebrated on different days of the Gregorian, or secular, calendar each year. The last time Hanukkah landed on Christmas was only three years ago, making it a common, but stressful, occurrence.

“Don’t necessarily be opposed to joining your spouse in some of their religious traditions, so long as they don’t violate your conscience or involve you in the worship of false gods,” said Pastor Billy Ford of Bouquet Canyon Church. “A man named Naaman in the Bible came to believe in God. He asked the prophet Elisha for permission to continue assisting his king when he went to worship in a pagan temple and Elisha gave permission. Naaman no longer believed in the pagan god, but he still wanted to show respect to his king and maintain a good relationship. Interfaith couples might benefit from following Naaman’s example.”

Four in 10 Americans who have married since 2010 have married outside of their religion, according to a recent study done by Pew Research, a significant jump from two in 10 since 1960, meaning more marriages result in interfaith families.

Although the two holidays are celebrated with different traditions, they share some similarities.

Both holidays celebrate a miracle in the religion. Hanukkah celebrates the miracle of the oil, which kept the menorah lit for eight days after the second temple in Jerusalem was desecrated. Christmas celebrates the miracle of the birth of Jesus Christ.

To commemorate both miracles, synagogues and churches host prayer sessions and holiday-related events, allowing people to reconnect with their faith.

Other tips given by religious experts online include having open communication with family members of different religions. Being honest and understanding of a family member’s wishes can help alleviate stress and pressure that comes with interfaith families.

“If this time is so stressful, there may be a bigger issue that needs to be addressed,” said Blazer. “The issue of where to spend the holidays shouldn’t define a home. It won’t be so stressful when underlying issues have been addressed.”

Families can also develop new traditions that include both religions. Recognizing both religions will validate each side and can further unify a family.

Lastly, experts say interfaith families should navigate how religious holidays are going to be spent year-round, not just within the month of December.

“Never leave your spouse because they don’t share your faith,” said Ford. “The Bible teaches, ‘…If any brother has a wife who is not a believer and she is willing to live with him, he must not divorce her. And if a woman has a husband who is not a believer and he is willing to live with her, she must not divorce him.’ The passage goes on to explain that a Christian can have a good spiritual influence on his or her spouse and lead them toward a relationship with Christ.”

Metro Creative contributed to this report.

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