Interfaith families find ways to juggle holidays
‘‘You have two people who fell in love and wanted to make a life together, and they have worked out a way for their children to respect both beliefs,” said Susan Ryder, a leader of the Interfaith Families Project of Greater Washington, based in Kensington.
The number of interfaith families in downcounty areas is steadily rising, according to the group. The IFFP began in 1995 with four ‘‘founding moms” and has grown to about 110 families. The group’s Sunday morning ‘‘gatherings” are led jointly by a rabbi and a minister.
Ryder said interfaith couples ‘‘delve deeper, are more open and honest with the children” about religion. But around the holidays, deeply ingrained feelings can rise to the surface.
‘‘Some of the Jewish spouses would say, ‘We’ve been married this many years, but when my husband put the lights out on our front porch, I felt like I was a traitor to my religion,’” Ryder said.
The national organization InterfaithFamily.com this year surveyed 546 people in relationships with one Jewish partner. The survey found 76 percent of interfaith parents raising their kids exclusively Jewish. But 86 percent of them still planned to celebrate Christmas.
Whether raising children in one faith or both, parents can be apprehensive about embracing the festivities of another faith.
‘‘We got our Christmas tree yesterday,” said Jodi Kanter of Takoma Park, the Jewish half of an interfaith marriage. They ‘‘put it in the house and went to see ‘Fiddler on the Roof,’” she laughed.
Some interfaith parents craft new traditions in their households, like a special activity for each night of Hanukkah: a scavenger hunt, donating to charity, eating latkes, doing community service, playing a Hanukkah music CD, reading a Hanukkah book or buying a gift for a poor family.
Using a nativity scene or creche as an educational tool helped some Jewish parents get past their discomfort about the trappings of Christmas.
Others opted to buy a Christmas tree from a Jewish organic tree farmer, Mike Tabor from Takoma Park.
‘‘A very large number of mixed marriages purchase our trees. Most of them have children, and they have found comfort levels within their own families to make room for both traditions,” said Esther Siegel, Tabor’s wife.
Siegel estimates the majority, up to 85 percent, of Tabor’s organic tree business comes from interfaith families.
Mary Melrod of Bethesda is Lutheran. Her husband, Richard Melrod, is Jewish.
The couple compromises by splitting the house into a ‘‘Hannukah room” with two menorahs and a ‘‘Christmas room” with a Christmas tree. Their son and daughter, who are being raised in both faiths, help light the menorah candles. ‘‘You realize the similarities of both religions,” Richard Melrod said.
Deborah Schaumberg of Potomac is taking the same approach with her two daughters of elementary school age. The family celebrates Hanukkah and Christmas with extended family.
‘‘I feel very lucky,” said Skylar Schaumberg, 9. ‘‘I get to say I’m both religions.”