Shopping, cleaning, cooking, and plenty of shoveling—the holidays are hard enough without the stress of family conflict. Most families have at least minor disagreements over the holidays, but for some the conflict resides in the religious basis of the holiday itself.
For all the challenges families with religious differences may face during the holiday season, it can still be an opportunity to foster understanding and respect, said Barbara Rudnick, program manager of Family Life Education at Jewish Children and Family Services of Minneapolis.
Rudnick counsels interfaith families – families that blend different religious backgrounds.
Some interfaith families choose to identify themselves as one religion, but have extended family members that are of another religion, Rudnick said. These families can run into complications when celebrating with grandparents or extended family that observe different holidays.
The key to a happy holiday is talking about specific preferences and expectations before the pressure of the holidays takes over, Rudnick said. Discussing dietary restrictions, appropriate presents and even details such as whether gifts are wrapped in Hanukah or Christmas paper ahead of time can avoid hurt feelings.
“If you have the conversation ahead of time people aren’t so emotionally wound up and stressed out,” she said.
Rudnick said the holidays also offer an opportunity to teach children valuable lessons about tolerance and the importance of family tradition.
“What you say to them is, ‘it’s not our holiday but we celebrate grandma and grandpa’s holiday with them because we love them and respect them,’ and children get that,” she said.
Bjorn Watland, an atheist and director of Minnesota Atheists, said he generally has no problem celebrating Christmas with his Christian family. He has even attended Christmas church services with his parents.
August Berkshire, president of Minnesota Atheists said this practice is common among his members.
“When the religious parents are hosting the event, the child is not going to raise any fuss out of respect for the parents,” he said. “The point of view of the of the atheist child is just to tag along and make the parents happy.”
But Watland, whose father is studying to become a Lutheran pastor, admitted it can be hard to have an open conversation with his parents about his beliefs and it doesn’t get any easier at Christmastime.
“Ever since I came out as an atheist there’s been sort of a tension there and it doesn’t necessarily go away when the holidays happen – it just kind of gets ignored,” he said.
Jamie Thomas (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a freelance journalist living in South Minneapolis.