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
Spring is just around the corner and while our next door neighbor's plastic nativity scene from the winter holidays is still buried in two feet of snow on their front lawn, in our household we have already begun planning our Passover seder. My husband's family has started booking their flights from San Diego to Denver to celebrate with us, and I'm already dreaming of the matzah ball soup, the savory brisket, and of course, the gefilte fish. At the same time, I'm also looking forward to toting my kids to various Easter egg hunts and to the grandparents showing up at our house with Easter baskets full of pastel-colored M&Ms and marshmallow-filled chocolate bunnies. And once again, as I find myself at the second intersection of major Jewish and Christian holidays, I can't help but think, "Didn't we just go through this?"
For lack of a better term, our family is interfaith. My husband is Jewish and I am not. I did not, however, grow up under the guidance of any organized religion. My father was baptized Methodist and attended the Methodist church as a child, but I have never known him to attend church on any regular basis in recent years. My mother's family is mostly Buddhist, but her involvement with the Buddhist temple has been similar to my father's involvement with the Methodist church.
Before my husband and I married, we decided that we would raise our children Jewish. Having very few ties to organized religion on my side, and given that religion was important to my husband, the choice seemed only natural. So far, things have gone fairly smoothly. We have two small children aged 3-and-a-half and 21 months. We attend various services as a family at our local synagogue, host the Passover seder at our house every year, and in a few years our children will attend religious school to further their Jewish education. Still, every time Christmas and Easter roll around, I can't help but feel like I've stepped in something sticky.
Although I am not Christian, I grew up celebrating Christmas and Easter. At Christmas, we always had a tree, and as a kid I left cookies for Santa and wrote him letters. Easter was usually spent with my father's side of the family and I always looked forward to the Easter baskets filled with jellybeans and those plastic eggs with the little surprises inside. I remember dyeing eggs with my mother and how my hands would be stained with blue and green ink and smell of vinegar when we finished. It wasn't until I had kids of my own that I realized that in spite of my nonreligious background, it's hard to let go of these childhood traditions.
When our son Jacob was a baby and a toddler, things seemed less complicated. We breezed through the holidays with barely a discussion of how we would approach Christmas and Easter in the coming years. I even thought it was cute when my mother gave Jacob an Easter Elmo one year, and for several weeks Jacob took that doll to bed and we could hear Elmo's falsetto voice on the baby monitor exclaiming, "You found Elmo's red egg! Happy Easter!"
But Jacob is now 3 and this past Christmas was the first Christmas that he truly understood the concept of Santa. Undoubtedly, this will be the first Easter where he will understand the concept of the Easter Bunny. I know both of my kids will enjoy dyeing eggs and hunting for them with their friends, as I did as a child. And I expect that my mother will bring our children Easter baskets as she has been doing since they were born. While all of these things are associated with Christian holidays, I think celebrating Christmas and Easter the way we do is what makes us an interfaith, as opposed to just a Jewish, family. My husband and I both recognize that our extended family's traditions add a special dimension to our lives, one that should be guided by our values, but also welcomed and embraced.
At the end of the day, dyeing Easter eggs and eating Easter candy holds no religious--just cultural--meaning for a toddler or preschooler. As our children get older, the childhood memories we will nurture in them will involve sitting around our dining room table and reading from the hagaddah. My son is already old enough to help with some of the Passover cooking and I know both kids will enjoy helping their daddy make matzah balls, and will especially enjoy searching for the afikomen, the middle matzah that is hidden during the seder for the children to find.
While these intersections of Jewish and Christian holidays may feel a little sticky, it's the sweetness of family and togetherness that makes it so--and in my book, that's quite all right.