Our Cultural Knapsack

Hi–it’s Chris here. Following a Facebook link early last week, I reach this article¬†which discusses a “Jewish” style of conversation which the author of the study refers to as “cooperative overlapping,” and which I and many other people who are not Jewish–and, I’m sure, a lot of Jews who don’t practice this conversational style–would call interrupting. [Note: I used the quotations because, as the author notes, "Jewish conversational style" is not a very precise term, and it seems to refer more to Eastern European Jews from the general New York area. In fact, I might go as far as to call this harried conversational style more typical of New Yorkers in general than Jews specifically, but I digress.]

Reading this article got me to thinking about our often unthought-of cultural heritage, the unspoken set of assumptions and standard operating procedures that all of us walk around with. In my education classes this is referred to as your “cultural knapsack” to emphasize how pervasive it is; we carry it with us everywhere. I remember the first family Channukah party I attended, and while I would not accuse any member of Dana’s family of practicing the not-so-delicate art of cooperative overlapping, I do recall being overwhelmed by the constant conversation, trying very hard to keep pace–and I thought my large Irish-Italian family could talk!

Conversational style is just one of perhaps a million things that we are coming to learn about one another and our families. Little did I know, for example, that it was “a gentile thing” to eat dinner early! Or that Jews are the true masters of ordering Chinese, and that, at least in Dana’s family your Chinese food is always shared. These small things, whether they are cultural or merely family traditions, are part of what makes this union so exciting. Dana and I are constantly learning new things about one another and our culture and background, and have learned to be more sensitive about insisting that our way is the right way or the only way. In addition to just learning about how the other half lives, we’ve both expanded our horizons by attending multiple religious services of the other person’s faith. But I suppose that’s a blog entry for another time…

 

Thanksgivukkah

 

Dana here. Even though Thanksgivukkah has come and gone, I thought I would write about how we, as an interfaith couple, celebrated. Thanksgiving has been a tricky holiday for us. Chris’ family always does Thanksgiving at his parents’ home with a morning football game and other traditions while my family tends to switch it up each year, sometimes hosting or going to another relative’s home. Up until this year we had never spent Thanksgiving together but as it was our first Thanksgiving as an engaged couple we decided we would be with Chris’ family this year and with mine next year.

However, Hannukah threw a wrench into those plans and we were back to the drawing board. We knew we wanted to spend some time with my parents and celebrate Hannukah and we also wanted to be with Chris’ family for Thanksgiving. So, how did we make it work? We joined! Chris’ parents suggested that me and my parents come up and spend Thanksgiving with their family. Some couples may have been apprehensive about this arrangement but our parents get along great and have spent a lot of time (and consumed a few bottles of wine or scotch) together in the past few years.

Chris's turkey Menorah next to our family Menorah

From the very beginning Chris’ family asked how we could incorporate Hannukah into their Thanksgiving celebration. My parents brought up their Menorah and Chris, in fact, bought some clay and built a Menurky and a dreidal. When Chris and I arrived Wednesday evening the house was decorated in blue and white and geilt was scattered around the table. I was so touched! We gave a bit of background about the holiday, we sang a few songs, lit the candles and exchanged some gifts. We did the same, with much fuller bellies, on Thursday night after Thanksgiving. Chris’ family had lot of questions, which we answered as¬†best we could, and they participated in lighting the candles. It was a really special few days that both of our families shared.

Chris and I are very lucky. We have two wonderful and very accepting families and realize that not all interfaith couples are as fortunate as we are. But it was truly magical to have both families coming together to share in this year’s unique holiday celebration. We challenge any other couples in 78,000 years to celebrate Thanksgivukkah in such style!

 

 

And so it begins…

Chris and Dana here; the new couple for InterfaithFamily’s wedding blog. We’re so excited to share our experiences with you.

Let us begin by introducing ourselves. Dana is originally from central Massachusetts and Chris is from southern New Hampshire. We met in Boston after college while working as Americorps volunteers for a non-profit called Playworks and have been together for over five years. Dana was raised conservative Jewish and Chris was raised Catholic but currently neither of us attend service regularly. We still live in Boston in our newly purchased condo and are both still working in Education; Chris as a first grade teacher at a Boston Public School and Dana as a school administrator at a private school in Boston.

It has certainly taken us some time to get used to our different religions and traditions, but we have both been very open-minded throughout the learning process. We have each tried new things and gotten involved in one another’s faith. A key element of this is that we participate when we feel comfortable to do so and ‘sit it out’ when we don’t.

Now…about our wedding! We got engaged in November of 2012 and are getting married next June, 2014 at Dana’s parents’ home. The ceremony will take place in the front yard and the reception will be in backyard under a tent, in what Chris likes to call a “mullet wedding…business in the front, party in the back.” We will be married by a mutual friend and plan to incorporate aspects of both religions into the wedding ceremony. While we are not entirely sure what that will look like yet, we do know a few key details: there will be a chuppah, designed by Dana’s mother (more details about that later) and we will undoubtedly dance the hora, we will have a few Bible readings of Chris’ choosing and Chris is extremely excited to break a glass and give guests custom-made Boston Bruins kippot.

So how is our relationship different than a same-faith couple? Well, we don’t have to split holidays, which is pretty nice, and we get to celebrate both Christmas and Hannukah. In the beginning we often had to act as ambassadors for our respective faiths, explaining a lot and trying not to assume that the other knew things. We began the discussion of how to raise our children very early on and continue to give it a lot of thought. We both feel that religion is an important element of our lives both culturally and spiritually, and want to pass on the values we’ve received from our families and upbringing. However, we’ve also had to do a lot of self-reflection and think about how much of a role religion plays in each of our own lives at the moment.

It has certainly been a journey to get where we are now and we have learned a lot along the way. We are very excited to share our wedding experience with you readers and to see what our future brings!

Cheers,

Chris and Dana