The busy holiday season brings with it numerous challenges for interfaith families. Christmas or Hanukkah -- which should take precedence in the household? How can parents teach kids about the rich spirituality within each of these traditions? How can they honor the religious beliefs -- or unbelief -- of all members of their families?
Stacie Garnett-Cook, National Director of the InterfaithFamily/Your Community Initiative, which supports interfaith families in eight communities around the country, said that her biggest advice for families during this time is to "communicate, communicate, communicate."
"Share with your partner what parts of the holidays are important to you and why. Also, what parts of the holidays 'push your buttons.' Then communicate this with extended family ahead of time so expectations are clear and there are no surprises," Garnett-Cook told The Huffington Post.
We asked members of our HuffPost's Voices community to tell us what it's like to celebrate the season in an interfaith family. Some families use the holidays as an opportunity for theological discussions around the dinner table. Others just focus on bringing people together over good food -- and lots of it.
Check out the responses to our callout below, and add some of your own experiences in the comments. Some responses have been edited for clarity and length.
1. A Theme For Every Night
I was raised Catholic, my husband is Jewish. We are raising our children in the Jewish tradition. Our two boys identify as being Jewish, but we celebrate my customs from a secular perspective.
In an effort to make all parties feel comfortable and included, we have developed many of our own traditions for each holiday. Hanukkah is divided into theme nights to avoid the deluge gift giving during the Christmas/Hanukkah season. For example, after lighting the menorah, my husband and I gave our sons’ their sibling gift, a Lego Advent calendar. We also put up our Christmas tree. Other themes include, but are not limited to, family night (we plan to see It’s a Wonderful Life this year at a local theater), charity night, project night (i.e. making a gingerbread house), donut night, and book night (where we spend the evening reading as a family). On the final night of Hanukkah, we will host a party which will be attended by Christian, Jewish and Muslim family and friends. -- Jennifer Reinharz, via email
2. Food Ties Us Together
Not unique maybe, but growing up in a mixed Muslim and Christian family, we would just celebrate by cooking a lot of food, invite everyone over on Christmas Day and just use it as an excuse to be together, celebrate and be happy. The religious aspects would be kept out of the whole ordeal, and my parents, brother and I would swap presents Christmas Eve over a more intimate dinner. We would just make sure one quiet room was available for those who need their 5 prayers a day. -- Mark Ivan Mukiibi Serunjogi, via Facebook
3. A Christmas Without Prayer
My sister is Becky Bartlett, she is Buddhist. My brother is agnostic. My mom is Christian. I am a pagan witch. We all get along great. Our spiritual beliefs don't cause arguments, but we often have discussions because we find it to be an interesting topic. -- Crystal Dewey, via Facebook message
Really, the only difference between our holiday celebrations and the typical Christian family is we don't pray before we eat all the food. Christmas has turned into a pretty secular holiday anyway, so it isn't hard for us to celebrate it with family members of different faiths. -- Becky Bartlett, via Facebook
3. A ChrisMus Celebration
My Liberian-born parents have been married for almost 36 years and we are an interfaith family. My mother is a Lutheran and my father is a Muslim, so they raised my younger brother and me as ChrisMus. When I was 11, my brother and I were baptized as Lutherans. We still, sometimes, fast with our dad during Ramadan and celebrate Eid, and he celebrates Christmas and Easter with us. We have Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, Jewish, and Hindu friends. We are blessed because we come from a home that encouraged us to embrace and love all! -- Sang Kromah, via email
4. A Secular Holiday
My wife is Baptist and I'm agnostic. We celebrate Christmas like any other family. I don't view the holiday as actually being overtly Christian and history proves its Pagan roots. -- Jesse Craighead
5. A Celebration For Everyone
Some of us are Christian, some of us are pagan and some of us are atheist. We just get together and celebrate three different ways, three different times. -- Trace Mc G
6. A Children's Book That Adults Will Love
Our newest family tradition is to read Lemony Snicket's wonderful "The Latke Who Couldn't Stop Screaming: A Christmas Story." AAAAAAAAAH!!!! -- Jessie Kerr-Whitt, via Facebook
The book tells the story of a latke (potato pancake) that begins to scream when it’s dropped into a pan of hot oil. It runs down the street, encountering along the way several different kinds of Christmas decorations, each of which can talk (just as the latke can). The latke explains part of the Hanukkah story and traditions to each of the decorations, and then each decoration mistakes the latke for something to do with Christmas, which prompts the latke to scream again... It’s a great book for teaching kids about the differences between Christmas and Hanukkah, what the story and traditions of Hanukkah are, and that tolerance of other religions is important.
7. Hanukkah With My Catholic Family
Because my family doesn’t live near us, I throw a Hanukkah party each year and the participants are my Roman Catholic husband's family. The kids all get Hanukkah presents, we light candles, sing Hanukkah songs, eat latkes and sufganiot (jelly donuts), play dreidel and watch the football game if it's on that Sunday! -- Heather Smith Martin, via email
8. Christmas Latkes
So the story began several years ago when Hanukkah and Christmas overlapped. We have a Jewish home, but we go to my mother-in-law’s house for Christmas (I grew up Jewish and my husband grew up Christian) and I wanted to make latkes for everyone. I even brought the special wire grater that had been passed down to me from my parents (the texture of the potatoes is a big part of making latkes.) They already have traditional foods that they serve on Christmas eve and for Christmas dinner, so I ended up making latkes on Christmas morning. Everyone loved them, and so we’ve done it basically every year since! My sister-in-law is also in a long-term relationship with a Jewish man, and he brings knishes from New York City to add to the feast. -- Stacie Garnett-Cook, via email
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