When “Jingle Bell Rock” greets you the minute you step into a supermarket on December 1, it can seem that this entire season has been reduced to one big shopping opportunity. But there are millions of people who take their religious and cultural observances seriously. For so many families, this is an important, joyful, and occasionally complicated time of year, especially when family members practice different faiths. How best to honor everyone’s traditions while adhering to your own? And most important, how to keep things clear for your kids?
I’m a big believer in family conversations, so I’d suggest that you start talking early on about how your family will be observing the holidays, especially if family members of different faiths will be celebrating together. Of course there’s no one right way; every family is different. But kids can handle anything—they just need information. Here are six principles I believe in when it comes to talking with children about holiday observances among interfaith families.
Honor all the family traditions. If a new member of the family, such as an in-law or step-parent, celebrates a different holiday, explain to the kids what that holiday is about, what it celebrates, and what traditions and rituals are associated with it. It’s fantastic for children to be exposed to a variety of cultures and beliefs, and this experience expands their horizons in positive ways.
Remain clear about your own beliefs. Exposure to new beliefs doesn’t mean that your family or your children need to minimize your own. Faith and rituals can play an important role in a child’s upbringing, and they should know that those values remain important to you as a family.
Talk to your children about which traditions are particularly important to them. Kids are rooted in whatever traditions they celebrate when they’re young, and those traditions provide continuity and security. As children grow, their needs and traditions will evolve and change, and that’s okay, too. Just find the time and space to honor what’s important to them.
Celebrate commonalities. Virtually every faith and observance encourages its practitioners to share generously with others who may have less or who are struggling amid hard times. Make helping others—whether through volunteerism, donations, or welcoming others into your home—a seasonal tradition in your interfaith family.
Make sure everyone’s included. Start planning the family activities early, so that everyone’s voice can be heard, everyone’s traditions can be honored, and everyone knows what’s happening. If presents are to be exchanged, use wrapping paper appropriate to the holiday celebrated by the recipient. Make sure the pre-meal blessing includes everyone at the table—or go around the table and give everyone the chance to share their thoughts or hopes or expressions of gratitude in the manner of their choice (kids, too!).
Keep the spirit all year round. Don’t limit this interfaith understanding to the big holidays like Christmas, Hanukkah, and Kwanzaa. Demonstrate a spirit of kindness, tolerance, charity, and generosity all year round. That’s a tradition that will stay with your children for a lifetime.
Denise Daniels is a Peabody award-winning broadcast journalist, parenting and child development expert and author who specializes in the social and emotional development of children.