What Are Holidays for Spiritually Blended, Interfaith Families?
When she was growing up in Milwaukee, Yael Blatt’s family held fast to Orthodox Jewish traditions. They kept kosher in the home, followed the rules of the Sabbath, and observed Jewish holidays such as Rosh Hashanah, Passover, Yom Kippur, and Hanukkah.
But as an adult, she started dating a man whose family was nominally Christian. Today, during the holiday season, Blatt and her partner, Philip, have a Christmas tree that has a Star of David on it. For Hanukkah, they keep menorahs around the home, including one in their window. They also have Advent calendars. Like a growing number of families, they’ve combined their cultural and religious traditions this holiday season to reflect their interfaith relationship.
“I never thought I’d marry someone who wasn’t Jewish or be celebrating Christmas,” says Blatt, 30, who is engaged to Philip, with plans for a wedding next year.
It's the holiday season with Christmas, Hanukkah, Winter Solstice, Bodhi Day, and more religious and spiritual days on the horizon. For the growing number of people who are partnering, marrying, and/or having kids with people who don't share the same religious background, it's also a time of blended spiritual celebrations.
Marrying within your own faith is still common in the U.S. But, according to the Pew Research Center, close to 4 in 10 Americans who have gotten married since 2010 have spouses from a different religious background. In the same time period, around 1 in 5 marriages have been between Christians and someone who has no particular religious affiliation, according to Pew.
For Blatt and her partner, the meeting of faiths is largely a meeting of cultures. Blatt says she “still feels strongly Jewish in my identity, but it’s more about holidays, food, and family than dogma and religion.” She’s spent her adult life practicing culturally Jewish traditions, especially observations of the holidays, but no longer follows stricter Orthodox Jewish religious rules. Her partner, she says, is “agnostic in many ways but just loves to celebrate Christmas. For him, it’s all tied to his family, childhood, and growing up.”
The couple speaks to the uniqueness of the winter holiday season in the American landscape of faith. Christmas is the biggest commercial season of the year in the U.S. Yet, the most important holiday on the Christian calendar is Easter. Hanukkah — the songs, the dreidels, the menorah, and the latkes — is celebrated across the country by Jewish and non-Jewish people alike. However, its importance among Jewish religious holidays is minimal. Religion, while about faith in higher powers, is also at its core about community, family, and belonging.
“When I go to visit Philip’s family in Wisconsin for Christmas, it’s like every Christmas film you can imagine. They cut down a Christmas tree. They make cookies. They do decorations. And he loves it. So do I,” Blatt says.
“For me, I grew up with all these holidays revolving around food. I remember when I was 3 years old and making challah with my mom. It’s such a fundamental memory. I want to incorporate all these Christian and Jewish family traditions when we have children in the future,” she says.
It hasn’t always been easy.
“When Philip and I began dating, I would tell friends that ‘Oh, he’s very nice, but he’s not Jewish.’ But at some point, I just let things be and stopped worrying so much,” Blatt says. “He likes to joke that when we first started dating, I said I’d never have a Christmas tree in the house. I had to realize that it was only fair if I asked him to do Jewish holidays with me, that I needed to try celebrating Christmas. Now, I love decorating our home for the holidays, though I don’t do the typical red, green, and white.”
At times, there have been challenges.
“Seeing me do Christmas will always be a little hard for my mom,” Blatt says. “My family is supportive of my life as it is now where I'm not observant. But, it’s still different and can feel new, even after seven years of doing Christmas.”
Not everything in the coupling is strictly interfaith.
When they get married, the pair is planning a largely secular ceremony.
“We’re staying as nonreligious as can be for the most part,” Blatt says. She says there might be a chuppah — the traditional canopy a couple stands under during a Jewish ceremony — or the traditional stepping-on-glass, another Jewish tradition. But, there will be no priest, pastor, or rabbi officiating and no particular religious vows.
“We might have a family member officiate,” Blatt says. “To us, it represents how religion is our culture and, for us, about the holiday season and family more than specific beliefs in God.”