How deep is your love for your spouse? Your family? What about your religion? Of course, responses to such questions are not meant to be simple. A person’s connections with a spouse, with family members, or with a religion are each different kinds of relationships in and of themselves, however, they are all grounded in loyalty that develops over time. The holidays present sets of traditions in which all of these relationships are brought to light and religious differences can spark opportunities for new traditions while also revealing conflicts in beliefs.
Speaking from my own experiences, religion can be a challenging factor to come to terms with in a relationship. I am a child of an interfaith relationship- one that, as I get older, seems to be more perplexing to comprehend. My mother is one of the most reform Jews that I know. Her belief in God is almost non-existent and she has not attended a religious service in years. Yet, her preparation for Jewish holiday meals, respect for Jewish history, and soft spot for Jewish humor serve as indicators that she will always identify as being Jewish. It is something that she will never dismiss as being significant to how she grew up and understood the world.
My father, on the other hand, is someone that I describe as becoming more religious with each new day. He is Catholic and never misses the opportunity to mention his love for God. As a boy, he was sent to parochial school and, to this day, speaks of the nuns who taught his classes as being some of the most incredible female figures in his life. I cannot recall a Sunday or Christmas when he has missed a church mass. Ever since he retired several years ago, he has used a majority of his free time to go to church and to indulge in religious literature and television.
Growing up, I always celebrated both Hanukkah and Christmas. The holiday season meant lighting menorah candles, putting ornaments on a tree, and getting gifts for both holidays. For as long as I can remember, my parents have hosted a Christmas Eve party for their friends, which has always felt like a balance between the two holidays since many of the people who attend the party are actually Jewish.
Yet even with established traditions, there is an undeniable tension that arises in our household during the holiday season that I have come to anticipate. Celebrating Hanukkah has always been very much between my mother and I, emphasized by the two of us lighting menorah candles while my father is out or even in another part of the house going about his business as if nothing were going on. In preparation for our Christmas Eve party, there comes a time to decorate the Christmas tree. My mother takes pleasure in sorting through all the ornaments that we have because for her the tree is just a spectacle. My father joins in the decorating as well and without doubt always finds any religious ornaments that we have, making sure that they are fully displayed.
For my father, Christmas truly signifies a holy and joyous time of the year- the birth of Christ. Any mention of “Christ,” however, sends my mother over the roof. She thinks that my father’s strong faith consumes him in a way that is unhealthy. She would rather approach holidays as events to simply get together with friends and family. My father takes offense to any suggestion that Christmas, like any other religiously affiliated holiday, should be perceived as anything less than an occasion to embrace his beliefs. When the subject of religious significance with either holiday comes into conversation, my parents’ true colors are unveiled. Religion is something they have an incredibly hard time discussing, and when not expressed in bursts of frustration or resentment towards the other person, it seems as if the solution to their differences is not to say anything at all.
At the end of the day, I am left in a bit of an awkward position. As an active observer of my parents, I have ultimately come to understand differences of religion as something that can be quite toxic to a relationship. My parents’ interfaith relationship has actually made me very cautious to follow any kind of religion and I do not like identifying as either Catholic or Jewish because doing so comes with the idea of choosing one parent over the other.
While my parents have tried sharing their vastly different religious perspectives with me, what I have truly learned from their relationship is the value of communication. When two people have such different belief systems, a dialogue about such opinions can seem unappealing, daunting, or just uncomfortable. But learning how to express conflicting views and attempting to gain insight on them is the only way to prevent them from becoming permanently turmoil.
Danielle Adam, Blog Editor