Love knows no boundaries, but couples from different religious backgrounds face unique challenges, perhaps none more pronounced than a holiday season with kids.
The desire to impart the richness of both parents’ religious worlds is a heartfelt endeavor. Every tree ornament and lit candle can become a symbol not just of festivity but of a shared commitment to understanding and embracing varied beliefs within the family. Awkwardness can become shared laughter and the recognition that love harmonizes even the most diverse melodies.
"We have found a comfortable middle ground. I love Christmas, the festive season is our favorite moment of the year,” says Catholic Shanice, whose husband is Jewish. “My husband enjoys it. We are lucky to celebrate so many holidays."
“It's not just about the flames or the gifts; it's about instilling a sense of connection to heritage and family.”
For their two children the challenge is even more profound and exciting. Hanukkah and Christmas are both celebrated in their household. Decorating the Christmas tree is a family activity. Stockings dangle by the fireplace, and a menorah takes its place on the nearby table—a symbol of tradition and continuity. Each night becomes a ceremony, a shared moment where the youngest family members participate in the kindling of the lights. The menorah, aglow with multiple candles, mirrors the joy radiating from the children and their parents.
“It's not just about the flames or the gifts; it's about instilling a sense of connection to heritage and family,” says Shanice. “The stockings hanging by the fireplace hold not just gifts but the aspirations of imparting the richness of both our worlds.”
Seasonal consumerism makes it easy to get lost in a splurge of gifts without thought or meaning, but things can be different when your partner has alternative beliefs. The heart of an interfaith relationship lies in shared experiences, so family members must dedicate real thought to offerings and ensure the recipient can relate to them.
Some interfaith families enjoy a more muted season, and it works for them.
“My wife Abigail and I celebrate Hanukkah in our household—simple, just the prayers and lighting of the menorah,” said James, who is Christian. “I have become more agnostic over the years, and I don't like the commercialization of Christmas. We don't light the house or put up a Christmas tree. We have a Christmas meal though.”
He said he also insists upon hanging stockings because of the joy the tradition brought him as a child.
The dappled adherence to assorted traditions simplifies some traditions while stripping baggage from others. Gifts in a multi-faith family are given and received without conditions or assumptions. James’ wife shops thoughtful gifts for their parents, but the couple does not consider it mandatory to return the favor. If they visit a relative over an overlapping Christmas and Hanukkah, they do both prayers and menorah, and they find the double celebration deeply fulfilling.
Acceptance plays a massive role in successful interfaith relationships, of course. Communication is crucial as family members navigate differences, but sharing traditions and celebrating each other's religious and culture variances deepens the connection and forges a more reliable relationship. Activities that minimize differences and highlight similarities of beliefs also help create a loving environment for young ones to grow and flourish in.
I was brought up in a (Catholic and Protestant) interfaith household and to this day, I only have positive things to say about holidays in our home. The presents were cool, and the food was great. My home was a sanctuary where the true essence of the holidays was observed in ritual. My home embodied a language that transcended words. It spoke of love that knew no boundaries set by faith.
As heart-wrenching images of the Israel-Palestinian conflict rattle the world it is striking to witness the convergence of diverse faiths around shared themes of love, gratitude, and hope. The holidays can be a crossroad for different religions, allowing couples and families to appreciate the unique colors of individual faiths. Whether commemorating Hanukkah, Christmas, Diwali, or other sacred occasions, the underlying messages of love, compassion, and goodwill resonate universally.
“The festive season is […] an opportunity to cross into each other's world, gaining insight into the beliefs that shape our perspectives,” says James. “It has been a way of saying ‘I see you. I understand you and I cherish every facet of who you are.’ That is why my partner and I will always be down for a celebration. There are no rules to love.”
Jael Bore is a journalist who explores topics ranging from current affairs to human interest. Find her on Instagram at @jaelbore.