This time of year, many interfaith families begin the dance of Hanukkah and Christmas. This year, the eight nights of Hanukkah start on the night of Sunday, December 22nd, and then, of course, overlap with Christmas.
Whether you celebrate one of those holidays, or both, or neither, all of us need to cultivate empathy for our partners and family members in December, while honoring our own needs and being mindful of how this season can trigger both joy and sadness.
As we head into 2020, we are also becoming more aware that “interfaith family” doesn’t always mean Jewish and Christian. The fastest-growing “interfaith” demographic, according to Pew Research, is Christian and “religious none” (a catch-all for atheists, secular humanists, agnostics, the spiritual-but-not-religious, and others who couldn’t find a better box to check).
And an increasing number of interfaith families include members who are Hindu, Muslim, Buddhist, Pagan, celebrate indigenous religions, or reclaim African diasporic traditions including vodun, Santeria, or candomblé. Our families are becoming more richly complex.
This year, I have created a new resource, The Interfaith Family Journal, to help any and every family figure out how to honor diverse religious or spiritual or cultural roots, and formative childhood experiences, while claiming and creating a December plan that works for your family.
The Journal traces a five-week process of writing prompts, discussion topics, and creative activities. The result is a unique resource for therapists, clergy, and couples.
Here, I’m distilling from the Journal eight ways to plan for a deeper, more mindful, and peaceful season:
8 Ways to a Peaceful December for Interfaith Families
Ask yourself about how you experienced December as a child. What did you celebrate? How did you feel about Christmas music, decorations, movies? Were you aware of being part of the religious majority or minority?
Ask yourself whether each of the winter holiday rituals you want to continue in adulthood or take on in the future, have religious meaning, spiritual meaning, and/or cultural meaning for you.
Ask your partner or other intimate family members how they felt during December as a child. Do you understand how your experiences overlap, or diverge?
Ask your partner which public expressions of the season–in the mall, on the radio, on TV–might make them feel joyful, nostalgic, sad, or alienated. Do you understand why? Note that secular or cultural does not necessarily mean less important than religious or spiritual!
Make a plan for which holidays this month you will spend with which family members, or friends. Make sure that your partner feels comfortable with the plan.
No matter what religious practice or identity you have chosen for your family or children, are there December multisensory experiences that you would like to retrieve or pass down? Music? Recipes? Crafts? Is your partner okay with tasting, smelling, hearing these with you?
Whether or not you celebrate Christmas or Hanukkah as a family, December can be an inspiring time to think about helping your community and to prepare for New Year’s resolutions. Community service can help to keep the midwinter blues at bay. Talk to your partner about starting a tradition of December giving, or December action, to help to heal your community or the world.
No matter which traditions you celebrate, the scientific reality is that this is the darkest and coldest time of year in the northern hemisphere. It is probably not a coincidence that near the midwinter solstice, we try to brighten our world with the Yule hearth, Christmas lights, Hanukkah and Kwanzaa candles, or firecrackers for the Chinese Lunar New Year. So be gentle with yourself, and with your partner, as we move through the darkest days until we tilt again towards the sun.