There’s no question that the holiday season is stressful. Even for families who share the same faith and holiday traditions, tension and stress tend to reach their peak during the holiday season.
For families who don’t share the same faith and celebrate different holidays, this tension and stress can be magnified. Deciding what’s okay and what’s not when it comes to taking part in different holiday traditions can seem like an exercise in rocket science. Fortunately, keeping a few things in mind may help to put things in perspective and help you successfully navigate this sensitive terrain.
Remember Your Daily Faith
How you celebrate the holidays tends to reflect the faith that your family lives out throughout the year. If your family has a strong faith, the holiday season provides an opportunity to reinforce that faith. If your family lives a religious way throughout the year, consider if or how celebrating with your in-laws will impact your family’s daily faith walk. Will taking part in the lighting of the menorah with loved ones really negate what your child’s knows and understands about his faith and holiday celebrations? If your holiday traditions don’t center on faith at all, consider if or how taking part in a celebration may impact you and your family.
In the Name of Respect
It’s always a good idea to do what you can in the name of respect. If you are raising Christian children and celebrate Christmas, but your in-laws are Jewish and celebrate Chanukah, consider taking part in their holiday celebrations as a way of respecting your spouse and his family’s heritage. If you are nervous that your children may become confused by celebrating different holidays, let them know that just as grandma and grandpa help you celebrate Christmas by coming to dinner and bringing gifts (or whatever they do) that you’re helping them to celebrate their holiday by taking part in their celebrations.
An Opportunity for Education
When your child has family that celebrates different holidays, it provides a unique, hands-on opportunity for her to learn about how people of different faith (or no faith) celebrate. While the holidays can most certainly be used to reinforce your faith, they can also be used to introduce your child to how others celebrate. Allowing your child to experience how her parents celebrated growing up can be a real bonding experience and help her to understand her family history and identity in terms of older generations.
Put the Kids First
For children, being around family is an important part of the holidays. Allowing children to take part in different holiday traditions without feeling like they are betraying their faith may help everyone keep the focus on family togetherness and unity.
Communicate Your Boundaries
If you feel strongly that you don’t want your Christian in-laws to give your Jewish children Christmas presents, for example, speak up before the holiday season. If there are specific things you know you just can’t deal with, bring them up well before the holiday season. Doing so can help to prevent a major blow dry or hurt feelings during a holiday gathering.
Develop New Traditions
Consider starting some new traditions that are rooted in family togetherness rather than religious tradition. Going on a sleigh ride, sipping hot cocoa and roasting marshmallows over the fire, or reading non-religious holiday books together are activities that center on family unity.
When you and your in-laws celebrate different holidays, keeping the focus on what unites you, rather than divides you is the most important thing you can do to reduce stress and tension this holiday season.