Handling the Holidays in a Two-Faith Family

Though holiday time is a challenge, raising kids in one religion is possible in our interfaith household.

"We celebrate both sets of holidays in our home," says my Jewish friend who's married to a Lutheran. "In fact, in December, we celebrate longer than anyone I know. Our kids love all the festivities and say they have the best of both worlds."

In the world of interfaith marriages, her comment is familiar, and each time I hear it, I wonder: Festivities aside, do her children get any religion out of all this dual holiday hoopla?

As a 25-year veteran of a mixed marriage (I am Jewish, my husband, Tom, Episcopalian), I have been down this road and know how perilous it can be. But if Tom and I agreed on anything when we were newlyweds, it was that our children would be raised with one religion. Both of us believed (and still do) that part of a parent's duty is to provide a religious education -- an education that provides connection, identity and a guide for humane living. And we believed it was our job, because of our mixed heritages, to deal with the sticky issue of which religion to teach.

Not surprisingly, choosing which one was not easy. Though neither of us was particularly religious, we both suddenly became tremendously invested when the possibility of loss loomed ahead. We talked, I cried, Tom got defensive, I got frustrated.


But when the reality hit that I would be primarily in charge of our children's religious education and family holiday celebrations, Tom agreed we could raise them to be Jewish.

Still, he had one stipulation. "I can't support this if you just drop the kids off at religious school and never set foot in a synagogue yourself," he said.

As our children Max and Sarah moved through the school years, we enrolled them in Hebrew school, signed them up for Jewish summer camp, guided them through their bar and bat mitzvahs, and sent them to Israel on a study tour. I became more actively religious, and Tom, who never converted, has participated along with me. Without question, it has been a sacrifice for him, though he seems to accept it as part of the job description for being a loving husband and conscientious father.

As parents, we hope our decisions are in our children's best interest. But all we can do is wait for a sign. I got one a few years ago when I read a poignant article by a teen who was raised half-Jewish and half-Presbyterian (though, like many 50 percenters, that meant culturally rather than religiously).

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Sally Stich
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