Downton Abbey Portrays Reality of Interfaith RelationshipsBy Gerri Miller
Go inside Season 5 Episode 9 where the story line of Atticus and Rose's interfaith relationship comes to a head.Go To Pop Culture
I’ve had some really great questions about my “A little more about Julie” post that I thought I’d take some time to answer now. I was asked 1)how both families felt; 2)which family was more concerned about the differences in faith; and 3)how do Bryan and I plan on raising children?
Both families were thrilled for us when we announced our news. They knew it had been coming. Both our families have said that they’ve never seen us as happy as we have been together, and that our happiness is, of course, of utmost importance to them, over anything else.
My family has appeared more concerned about our differences in faith. This is to be expected, however. Our relationship is not the first interfaith marriage in Bryan’s family; whereas, the closest my family has come to an interfaith marriage is my dad not going to church or being baptised until I was in college. Add to this the fact that this is Bryan’s second marriage, and his second interfaith marriage. His children from his first marriage are being exposed to both Judaism and Christianity–we do Shabbat dinners with them, celebrate Hanukkah and Passover with them, and on the years when we have them for Christmas (like this year), we do Christmas with them, also.
So, as for the question of how we’re going to raise children…this is always a tough one to answer, because inevitably, we’re going to disappoint someone. We are still discussing this. Since we haven’t discussed this in detail with either family, I am hesitant to go into much detail here, out of respect for them. Regardless of what we decide, our home will always be an interfaith home: Bryan’s boys will decide for themselves which religion they are called to; his father’s side of the family is Jewish; his Mother’s side of the family is Christian; and my family is Christian.
I was also asked if we plan to have a Christmas tree…until further notice, the answer is yes. I grew up with Christmas being my favorite time of year. We always did Christmas “BIG” and it was a magical time, when some of my best childhood memories were created. Bryan is a wonderful man and respects that about me and my life.
I hope that helps answer some questions. Keep them coming!
Wedding planning is in full swing. When we started planning, Bryan and I had so many decisions to make about the kind of ceremony we wanted – could we do a fully interfaith ceremony without one family or another feeling slighted or favored, who would officiate, where would we have the ceremony (and if it wasn’t in a church, how would my family react?)…
Once we decided to have an interfaith ceremony, I worried that we wouldn’t find vendors who had any clue what we were talking about (not to mention, where would we find a chuppah if we wanted one?). We talked with four different photographers, and this week have finally settled on one with whom Bryan and I are both thrilled.
Our photographer, Howard Pearlman (Plano, TX), is fabulous. He shot Bryan’s Dad and Stepmother’s wedding (Jewish), as well as his Mom and Stepdad’s wedding (Christian). Our first meeting with Howard demonstrated that he was in his element and knew exactly what we’d need. He was the first photographer we talked to who knew what the yichud is, and understood how we’d want to work photos around/with it. He made sure to ask if we were doing the veiling ceremony or a ketubah signing, so that he knew exactly what to include in his bid. He even offered his services in procuring a chuppah, should we want one.
Since the photographer was the first vendor we started interviewing, Howard really has set the standard for every other vendor we’ll talk to. This, of course, is not to say that the other photographers we spoke with were unhelpful or unwilling to work with some of the aspects of our wedding. On the contrary, actually. But, a vendor who knows about different faith traditions for such an important day as a wedding will have an edge from the beginning of our discussions. And, to be honest, it was a relief (especially after our search for co-officiants, which Bryan will get into later) to know that even in “Bible-belt-y Fort Worth, TX” there are professionals who have experience with wedding traditions other than conventional Christianity.
As a child, my father’s family gathered at my grandparent’s house to celebrate Hanukkah. The celebration began at sundown with my sister and me helping light the menorah. We’d then keep ourselves occupied until dinner was ready by playing dreidel or trying to figure out what wonderful gifts we were getting. Mmm…Hanukkah dinner… my grandmother’s delicious brisket and my mom’s latkes – something I always looked forward to! But as good as dinner was, I was there for one thing – presents! After dinner, we’d make our way to the living room, where one by one, presents would be passed out and opened. I am not sure what the adults did after this, but for the rest of the evening I was immersed in my toys.
As I’ve grown older, Hanukkah has become less a holiday for getting presents and more a holiday for getting together with family, sharing in their warmth, and sharing the story of Hanukkah with the next generation. Last year, Julie and I, along with my children, Jacob and Caleb, spent our first Hanukkah together. I reveled in my children’s delight at playing dreidel and opening presents, and through Julie, I saw Hanukkah again for the first time. It was then that I realized Hanukkah has always been about sharing a special time with family and friends…
I consider myself lucky. Not many people remember their first holidays. Of course, I don’t remember my first Christmas – I was 6 months old. But I will always remember my first Hanukkah. I remember feeling nervous on the drive to Bryan’s Uncle Mike and Aunt Susan’s house, but I wasn’t sure why. Perhaps it was because I know how important it is that holiday gatherings go well; perhaps it was because I’d never been to a Hanukkah celebration before. To be honest, I’d never been to any non-Christian holiday celebration before. I had no idea what to expect, though Bryan did his best to assure me it would be much like the other family gatherings I’d been to.
The first things I noticed as we pulled up to the house were the window clings of Stars of David and menorahs where Christian families would have trees and Santa Claus. There were no lights outside, but the whole house was lit up from the inside, emanating a warmth that spilled into the yard. Even before we were up the steps, the front door opened to Susan greeting us with “Welcome! Happy Hanukkah!” We all gathered before the meal to light the menorah; Bryan’s cousins Ben and Rachel sang the blessing in Hebrew. After a scrumptious meal, the present sorting began – it was loud and boisterous and so much fun. We spent the evening talking and laughing and watching the kiddos play with their gifts. It was a great night – relaxed, warm, welcoming, and I’m eagerly awaiting my second Hanukkah…
Yes, yes, yes, we know Hanukkah was a month ago. However, when we got all set up to blog, it was an absolutely crazy time for us, so we have some catching up to do. Now, about this Hanukkah story. It’s not directly wedding-related, but it does show a little about how we’re working to incorporate both families’ traditions into our life together. With that in mind, hopefully you’ll forgive us for this post not being exactly wedding-related…it is life-related.
So how did we get started writing it? My department at work (which Bryan’s work group supports, ergo, they are included in all of our festivities) goes a little crazy around the holidays (in fact, thanks to a less-than-PC department manager, it’s all CHRISTMAS stuff, not holiday stuff). Our department newsletter was doing a special “holiday theme” in December, so they asked for stories from anyone who celebrates a winter holiday other than Christmas. Bryan is opposed to pretty much any kind of religion in the workplace (unless you work for a religious-based organization), including his own, but after some cajoling and coercing, he agreed to co-write this story. It’s just a little glimpse of how the same holiday can be seen from different viewpoints. So, the first part is his, the second part is mine. We hope you enjoy it.
Since our initial post was so brief, I thought I’d take a minute to post a little more detail about how my faith played a role in my life to this point. Growing up, my Mom, older sister, and I went to church somewhat regularly. Mom sang in the choir (so she went more regularly), and I when I went, I typically sat in “big church” with my older sister. Daddy didn’t start going to church until I was in college, but that’s another story all together.
Religion didn’t play too much of a role in my life until about 6th grade. That’s when confirmation classes started for me. We were living in Oklahoma City and going to a church that Mom really liked (me, not so much). None of my friends from school went there, and I often felt like an outsider in Sunday school. Most of the other kids went to school together and were already friends. And we all know how kind the junior high years are to us…Still, I was an acolyte at the church and I finished confirmation class.
When we moved from Oklahoma City to Friendswood, TX, things were different. Friendswood UMC was smaller and several of my friends from school went there. I became more involved in the youth group and even volunteered in the nursery. However, I always enjoyed the fellowship and spending time with my friends more than I paid attention to the relgious aspects of it all.
After high school, I went to Texas Christian University, but ironically, that’s really where my church affiliation fell off. I went to church not much more than once or twice a semester, with occasional “spurts” of rekindling – particularly around finals time. I’d go pretty regularly with Mom any time I was home for a weekend or semester breaks, but religion pretty much took a back burner.
And that’s where I was when Bryan and I started dating. It was our second date when he told me he’s Jewish, and my response was, “Okay, is that an issue?” When he said no, the date went on as usual. However, knowing that difference in our background really opened up the door for us to have some GREAT discussions – we talked about our religious/spiritual feelings and really took the opportunity to learn more about the similarities and differences in our faiths. It’s made a world of difference, I think, in how relatively smooth it’s been for the two of us to plan for a life together, and to face the questions that come from well-meaning friends and family.
That’s probably more than you wanted or cared to know about me, but hopefully it will help give some good background for future posts we might have.