Dear Renita,
I’m going home to celebrate Christmas with my family, and bringing my Jewish boyfriend. He’ll be meeting them for the first time—what’s the best way to introduce him to the family and our celebration of the season without making him uncomfortable?

Dear Nervous,
As much we look forward to the holidays as a time of peace, love, joy, and family gathering, we all know that the holidays can create a lot of stress and tension in relationships. Couples who share the same faith tradition can disagree over where to spend the holidays, and even fight about whose family traditions are more worthy of their time and energy.

But being part of a relationship where there are different religious beliefs can make the holidays even tougher. My hunch is that explaining to your Jewish boyfriend the virgin birth will be easier than explaining to him why a senile great-aunt (like the one in my family) insists upon coming down to family dinner dressed like Mrs. Santa Claus.

The best way to prepare a stranger to meet your family during the holidays is to sit down and share with him some stories about your family, explaining some of your religious beliefs and traditions, and giving him an idea what he can expect when he meets your folks. Getting him to share a few tales of his own family’s traditions might help give you an idea what a “normal” holiday gathering looks like in his family.

Don’t hesitate to let folks in your family know beforehand about your boyfriend’s religious background. Although you can’t always be sure that family members will be on their best behavior when company is around, you can hope that by sharing his religious identity, you’ve nudged them enough to think twice before making any off-color remarks about people (or traditions) different from their own. As an added step, you may try including one of your boyfriend’s favorite holiday dishes in the meal with your family. That way, you introduce your family to his tradition, signaling both to them and to him your effort to make him feel comfortable and welcome in your family setting.

Regardless, however, don’t feel pressured into thinking that it’s your task to iron out all the differences between Judaism and Christianity this holiday season. You can’t. Take it from me, the holidays are not the time to try to convert folks to other beliefs. Just be happy if you can accomplish the simple task of introducing all these people that you love to one another. You will soon learn that love does not conquer all when it comes to meeting families, blending cultures and religions, and trying to get through the holiday season with family members. Communication between the two of you, and a sense of humor, will go a long way in helping everyone get through the holidays with a minimum amount of insult, offense, and bruised feelings.

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