Thanksgiving: The Interfaith Family’s

By Jim Keen


For an interfaith family, most major holidays, and the seasons surrounding them, bring stress over the looming religious issues involved. We are all too familiar with the Christmas/Hanukkah season.   
Then, there is Thanksgiving–a secular holiday. It is the biggest holiday that our nation, as a whole, celebrates. It has been the biggest travel day of the year, followed by the biggest shopping day of the year. While these factors, alone, can cause stress, we finally get a hiatus from the religious issues and the feelings of anxiety that stem from them.

Thanksgiving is one day out of the year that we, as a family, thank God for all that he has given us. On this day we commemorate the huge feast that the Pilgrims had with their Indian friends. We might even see the hapless Detroit Lions actually win a football game. We do all of this together. It is not just “Daddy’s holiday,” or one that my wife and daughters have to teach me about while I’m wondering if I’m fitting in. We do not celebrate as a family of Jews and Christians. We celebrate as a family of Americans.

Thanksgiving is not without its drawbacks, though. For an interfaith family, it becomes the one holiday that both sets of grandparents also celebrate. This means having to decide where to spend the day. “Do we go to my parents or your parents this year? Weren’t we there last year?” You know the drill. My wife and I try to alternate years. This year it’s in Ann Arbor at my parents. Next year, we will travel to Boston to be with my wife’s parents.

One year, we really threw everyone off when my wife and I spent the holiday on a cruise with friends of ours. The following year both sets of parents asked if we were spending Thanksgiving with them. Actually, it was more of a statement than a question. One side assumed that since we skipped them the previous year, then naturally it was their turn. The other side felt sure that we would just pick up the schedule where we left off. Now I know what my friends who are in same-faith marriages go through on Christmas and Easter. It makes me glad that we only have to do this once a year.

Despite these minor scheduling snafus, all of our parents have been amenable to our decision on where we’ll spend the holiday. They expect to share us with the in-laws. After all, they, too, had to go through the same scheduling ritual with their parents. Also, all of their friends who have married children are going through the same thing. Our parents are familiar with it just by talking to their peers. On Thanksgivings when we’re away, my parents always have the company of some of their closest friends, who also have children away at their in-laws. This is not to say that they miss us any less, but together, they can form what I jokingly refer to as a “Turkey Day Support Group.”

On the other hand, interfaith marriages were not common when our parents got married, so they have no reference point. And it is with religious holidays that they sometimes struggle. Unlike Thanksgiving, where they know just what to expect, on religious holidays we have to make sure that in-laws of the other religion feel welcome and that we teach them the meaning behind an unfamiliar holiday. It is a step into the unknown for them.

The comfort and familiarity of Thankgiving celebrations for all of our family members is what I like so much about Turkey Day. All of our parents know how to give thanks, stuff themselves, and take a nap on the couch.

On Thanksgiving, my whole family has everything in common. Today, we’re all on the same page. We could be of any religion, race, or origin, but on Thanksgiving Day, we’re all citizens of the same great nation–hoping for a better tomorrow and giving thanks for all of our blessings.


About Jim Keen

Jim Keen is the author of the book Inside Intermarriage: A Christian Partner's Perspective on Raising a Jewish Family (URJ Press). He lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan with his wife and two daughters.