Asheville – We live in a multicultural and interfaith world. We are lucky to be able to celebrate and appreciate it all. We often see the pure joy of the season at shopping malls and other sites.
How do we bring this multicultural joy and understanding into our own homes when we have family members who have been raised in different faiths? And even more importantly, how do we raise our children to appreciate, understand and enjoy the backgrounds that both parents were raised in?
The winter holidays typically cause concern in multicultural households. From November through February, there are many, many different cultural celebrations. In December alone, in the United States, we celebrate Hanukkah, winter solstice, Christmas and Kwanzaa, and these are just some of the more popular traditions. From November through February, there are many more cultural and religious observances.
According to Barbara Orapello, who had the joy of growing up with an interfaith extended family and being in an interfaith marriage, “The most important thing is respect for different religions and cultures.” Every December, Barbara and her husband light multiple menorahs and decorate their home with Christmas decorations and a huge lit tree. She added, “Most importantly, the celebration is all about love.”
When Jessica and Alan moved into their new home from their small apartment just before last year’s holidays, they decided to decorate and celebrate big time. While the outside of the house was done up in holiday lights and dreidel cut-outs, a beautiful and colorful Christmas tree and an electric menorah shone brightly through their front window. They both lit the candle menorah each night and attended Christmas Mass together. Jessica, who is Jewish, and Alan, who is Christian, agreed that they enjoyed the togetherness of their celebrations the most.
Mandy and Richard chose to keep an interfaith home when they got married, however the one thing Mandy insisted on was keeping her kitchen kosher, the way she was raised. Richard found no problem with that decision and will only eat nonkosher when he is outside of the house. When they celebrated their first Hanukkah and Christmas together, which came together that year, they wanted to invite their parents on both sides. Dinner was a Christmas veal roast, instead of ham, with an abundant side of potato latkes. Years later, it’s become a family holiday tradition.
Many couples are hesitant to observe multiple faiths in their home when there are impressionable children, afraid that they might cause confusion and identity questions. The Interfaith Community (located in the New York City area) reports that “over a quarter of all American marriages are between people from different religious backgrounds” and that families are happiest when they can include the identities of both parents. Parents give their children the best of both their heritages; in doing so, the children don’t feel one parent is marginalized or that “something” in their own blood should be hidden.
When combining multiple faiths, it is helpful to find and appreciate the similarities of each. Most major religions have similar values and teachings. Many of our foundations are based on a belief in the existence of a divine place, a belief in a creator, ways to overcome suffering, generosity and giving, a belief in celestial beings and moral behavior. Most also have holy places of worship.
Parents may choose just one faith to raise their children in, but educating them in both parents’ cultures and making sure that they feel accepted in each help to give their offspring a sense of pride. Even though the parents may make the “decision” about religion for their children, when they grow to adulthood, the decision is ultimately theirs. When the parents work together, hopefully including the extended family and clergy as well, their offspring will develop with a feeling of belonging and inclusiveness in our very diverse world. Instead of watering down any one religion, there will be more acceptance and admiration for each household heritage.
As Barbara Orapello said, it “is all about love.” When a couple accepts each other for who they are and welcomes both sides of the extended family into their home, the holidays can be harmonious and joyful.