Holidays can be complicated and stressful, even in the simplest and most joyous of situations. But when you are dealing with a multi-religious family and a gathering of people from various belief systems, it can be complicated.
Luckily, there are easy ways to merge family members from different backgrounds into one happy, loving, joy-filled celebration this holiday season.
Holiday gatherings should not have everyone walking on eggshells trying not to talk about what makes us all different. Instead, it should be about embracing what makes everyone unique, celebrating what brings us all together, and blending all interfaith traditions into a new family routine that will be celebrated for generations to come.
Once upon a time, interfaith couples were somewhat rare, but they are more common today than ever. According to a 2015 Pew Research Center study, nearly four in 10 Americans who have been married since 2010 are married to someone of a different faith. The Religious Landscape Study also found that the number is higher among unmarried people living with a romantic partner. Nearly half of them live with a partner from a different religious group. Compare this to couples married before 1960, where only 19 percent of those couples report being in a religious intermarriage.
Bottom line: interfaith couples are more common than ever, and therefore interfaith holidays will become the norm for more and more couples each year. So, if you want your holiday season to be filled with joy and not stress, you need to learn how to merge a multi-religious family peacefully. Here are some tips.
Make It About Gratitude
Don’t focus on what causes you stress or what you disagree on; instead, focus on what brings you all collective joy. What are you thankful for? What did you miss out on last year that you are so grateful to be able to celebrate this holiday season? What makes you smile each day? What fills your cup and brings you a sense of purpose? When you look around the table, don’t think about what you might not see eye-to-eye on, but think about what you do share in common – good company, love, laughter, and health.
Food, Food, Food
You know what they say: the key to a person’s heart is often through their stomach. This is especially true during the holidays. Gather around the table and enjoy a fulfilling, indulgent, meaningful meal with the people you care about. Make it about the food, not the religious beliefs that differ from person to person. Food has a unique ability to evoke specific memories and feelings of joy and warmth. Prepare dishes that are special and remind you all of childhood happiness. Ask each family member or friend to share a favorite recipe or bring a dish that they grew up enjoying during the holidays. Share why it is important and maybe even swap recipes. By breaking bread as a family, interfaith or otherwise, you’ll be starting new shared traditions that will stick with you for generations to come.
Involve Everyone and Welcome All Points of View
Yes, you may all come from different schools of thought, different backgrounds, differing religious upbringings and opposing histories, but one thing you can all share is your ability to respect other points of view. If you choose to talk about religion or practice religious traditions, do it with respect and an open mind. Let everyone share how their values are influenced by their religious traditions and emphasize the importance of celebrating all family histories and traditions as a way to keep past generations’ memories alive.
Blend Traditions and Talk About What Makes Them Special
It can be tempting to avoid controversial topics or ignore what makes everyone’s holiday practices different. Still, experts urge interfaith families not to ignore tough topics and to especially talk about them with your kids. According to Wendy Thomas Russell, a secular-parenting blogger who authored the book, Relax, It’s Just God: How and Why to Talk to Your Kids About Religion When You’re Not Religious, our kids can handle complicated conversations, it’s often the older generations who shy away from them. “Children can handle the fact that people believe different things,” she told PBS. “The thing that confuses them is when their parents don’t say anything.”
Families should take advantage of the holidays as a prime opportunity to talk about different religious beliefs and rituals and incorporate all of those ideals into interfaith celebrations. Talk about the blended traditions with the adults in your family and teach your children to explore the different parts of their identity and family histories. “You have the celebration, the decorations, all of the stuff. It burns itself into children’s memories,” Russell explains. “It’s so impossible to forget when you have actual items that are in front of you. It’s not just a concept. It’s a menorah. It’s a nativity set…The single most important piece of advice I would give interfaith families is to let their children decide what they want to believe.”
Enjoy Time Together
Above all, use the holidays as a chance to reconnect and celebrate together. When you strip away the religious beliefs or the practices you grew up with, the holiday season is really about family, love, and togetherness. For many people, the winter holidays and the time between Christmas and New Year are the only days of the year when businesses shut down, and everyone gets a break from work and school at the same time. So, embrace that time off and truly make the most of the time together.