Tips for Creating Your Own Holiday Traditions When You Come from Different Backgrounds
Dear April Masini,
My wife and I were recently married. I am Indian and she is Irish-Catholic. As such, we of course have very different holidays and observances. Because I grew up in the United States, I do celebrate the holiday season, more as a family-gathering, secular tradition than a religious one. Her family is much more traditional about Christmas. We are now working on how we're going to deal with the holidays to create family traditions of our own, especially once we have children."
April Masini's Advice :
Spirituality is on the rise, while traditional religion is on the downswing. This is a result of the all time high for inter-religious marriages and bi-racial marriages. Rather than lose religion all together, members of “mixed” couples look for religions institutions that welcome converts and those who are unaffiliated or shopping for a religion. In turn, religious institutions have opened their doors to less traditional families, and their congregations and memberships have grown. There are also institutions that are cropping up that are new blends or derivations of different religions. What this does is give you options – both short and long term.
Holiday Services and Meals
By all means, attend your honey’s family traditions with him or her and show respect for any and all religions. This doesn’t mean you have to or should participate in the religious aspects of the celebration. Showing respect means doing what is comfortable for you, and being quiet during what is not comfortable for you. In other words, if her family goes to church – or synagogue, then you should go, too, if only to see what it’s like.
You Don’t Have To:
- You do not have to kneel if you’re not comfortable.
- You do not have to recite or sing along with the other churchgoers if you’re not comfortable with the words.
- And you don’t have to participate in any part of the sermon that you’re not sure of. Just stay seated if in doubt.
You Do Have To:
- Show up to show respect.
- Dress up to show respect. No jeans. Wear something nice and conservative. Better to have over-dressed than under dressed.
- Ask questions if you want to know something, and find something about the service that you appreciate – whether it’s the sense of community, the nice music, the beautiful architecture of the church, or a part of the sermon that resonates for you.
At home events, the same rules apply. Show up for dinner – or lunch — wear something respectful (no bare skin or unshaven body parts), and bring the hostess a gift that can be candy, a plant, or a bottle of wine or candles. Don’t drink too much. Ask if there’s anything you can do to help, and find something about the event that you enjoy, and tell your honey and the host when you leave.
If You’re Planning a Long Term Relationship
The secret to harmony in couples has less to do with similarities, than it does with equality in open-mindedness.
If one member of a couple wants a Catholic lifestyle, and the other one doesn’t really care, there is a strong chance for harmony. If one member of the couple wants to attend Judaic religious services and the other member is fine with that, and will even come to services, but would like to go to church also, again, there is a strong chance of harmony.
When Children Are Involved
- Regardless of how open-minded singles or those who are married without children are, when the kids come, beliefs often change.
- The best situation for children is for both parents to choose a religion to raise the children. Allowing children to choose their own religion creates responsibility that a child should not have and is often expressed in the child’s anxiety. Allowing children to have no religion until they are eighteen is equally stressful for the children.
- The purpose of religion for children is to give them an identity.
Regardless of what it is, it is a grounding force in their upbringing.
If a child can say who or what he or she is, there is usually a positive outcome in self-esteem. “I’m American. I’m Christian. My parents are divorced, and I have a sister.” While it seems like a simple statement of identification, the truth is this allows a child the ability to relax. He knows who he is. Anxiety comes from uncertainty.
When one parent decides to take on a religion that is new to him, in order to accommodate a new spouse and/or child, it is important that parent feel that the religion belongs to him. It is also important that the spouse who is not new to the religion is kind and understanding of the partner’s new journey.
Ultimately, respect is the basis for harmony in religion and spirituality among couples, families, communities and global peoples.
Ways to Start Your Own Traditions and Rituals
- Think outside the box. If you want to celebrate your family being together at a particular time of year, then pick a date, a time and an event. This can be as simple as everyone making pizza together, or as complex as making up a “service” that your family enacts together on a particular hillside followed by a particular meal.
- Incorporate traditions from all sides of the family and make them work in one day or one weekend or one week.
- Look outside your family. As a ritual or tradition give back to the community by spending the holiday volunteering and giving to charity — not just with money, but with time and experience.