Holiday Guidelines for Interfaith Parents

Interfaith families struggle to be true to the religions of both parents during the winter holiday season.

Print this page Print this page

Guidelines for Making the Holidays Family Celebrations, Not Battlegrounds

Interfaith parents can lessen tensions and enjoy the December holiday season by making a commitment that Christmas and Hanukkah will not become a battleground. The following guidelines can help parents negotiate the December dilemma.

Share childhood holiday memories. When partners understand the significance of various activities and symbolic objects, greater openness and creative ideas for incorporating the meaning in holiday observances may emerge.

Respect each other's heritage. More than tolerance is needed to communicate acceptance of each parent's tradition. Sincere appreciation for the meaning and richness of both Christmas and Hanukkah will help parents to teach children effectively and to choose activities as partners rather than as adversaries.

Communicate the real spirit of the holidays. For example, families can select charities or organizations and make a donation rather than buy extra gifts. Volunteering to help others in need teaches children about the value of social action rather than materialism.

Recognize each partner's needs and work out ways to meet them. For example, one parent may wish to honor his or her heritage by having a holiday symbol at home or by visiting extended family. Denying this need will breed resentment, whereas, negotiating an acceptable plan recognizes the partner's need.

Keep the focus on the children's needs. Although parents' needs are important, they should not overshadow those of the children.

Try using the analogy of a birthday party when both holidays are observed and children are being raised in one religion. Children can understand that everyone wants other people to share a birthday celebration. Parents can use this common experience to explain that the family is helping Mom or Dad to celebrate her or his holiday so it will be fun and not lonely, just like going to someone else's birthday party. It can be fun to share even if it's not your birthday party!

When possible, celebrate holidays with extended family. Grandparents in particular wish to share holiday traditions with their grandchildren. Even when children are not being raised in the grandparents' religion,  family celebrations can be avenues for relating, creating valued memories, and passing on traditions.  Regardless of the specific holiday plans, "family togetherness" can result when the themes of inclusiveness and sharing overshadow those of competition and control.

Work as partners to develop new family traditions. Although it is easier to let others make the plans and do the work, creating ways to celebrate aspects of the holidays unites the family and avoids observing holidays vicariously through the grandparents.

Did you like this article?  MyJewishLearning is a not-for-profit organization.

Please consider making a donation today.

Dr. June A Horowitz

Dr. June Andrews Horowitz is an Associate Professor in the Psychiatric-Mental Health Department, School of Nursing, Boston College, Chestnut Hill, Mass.