Straddling The Holidays

Combining religious traditions has been challenging, but we found the solution.

Visitors to our house are often confused this time of year.  Our lawn displays Christmas decorations, a Christmas tree adorns one corner of the living room, and Elf On The Shelf sits patiently atop the mantel waiting to fly to Santa to tell him what’s been going on in our house.  On the coffee table are dreidels while a menorah sits in the corner ready to be lit.

“Wait,” says a small visitor who is trying to make sense of it all.  “Are you Jewish or Christian?”  “Both, the kids reply.  “We’re Unitarian.”

Like many families these days, ours consists of parents of different religious traditions.  My husband was raised, and is, Jewish.  I am a former Catholic.  We’ve always had mutual respect for our backgrounds and one of our earliest conversations included a comparison of the two.  When we got married, we found a cantor willing to officiate at the ceremony, but I didn’t want to convert.  My Christian beliefs were firm, but Catholicism just didn’t feel right anymore.

After some searching, I found the Unitarian Universalist Congregation at Montclair whose primary edict is that the individual chooses what to believe.  The minister there partnered with the cantor and the marriage ceremony ended with Native American and  Buddist prayers.  Hey, if we were going to mix it up, we wanted a little of everything!

The arrival of kids, of course, complicated the religious pudding.  After returning to UU Montclair for some guidance, my husband made his decision regarding the kids attending that house of worship.  “There’s absolutely nothing here I can object to,” he said. “Brotherhood, morals, civic responsibility – these are all good things.”  Indeed, UUs celebrate many traditions, including Judiasm.  Thus, in our house, our individual belief systems are acknowledged, respected, and co-exist.

My son reads prayers in Hebrew and both kids participate in Jewish holiday ceremonies.  They get one present the first night of Hanukkah after we light the Menorah and the rest on Christmas day.  We  attend Christmas Eve services at church.  The children read the Bible but are versed in other religious and non-religious books of wisdom as well.

This year, as part of my son’s Unitarian education, we’ve been visiting various houses of worship including a Catholic Church, Greek Orthodox Church, and Reconstructionist Synagogue.  We attended a Sukkoth service at a Reformed Jewish temple and listened to United Church of Christ teens tell us why their religion is important to them.     In the New Year, we’ll be visiting the Islamic Center of Passaic County, a Quaker Meeting House, a Baptist church, a Mormon church, and Hindu and Buddist temples.  

Junior is absorbing it all, picking out the pieces that fit, discarding what doesn’t make sense to him or asking questions to find out why others feel those beliefs are right.  And, as I found out when we had a death in the family a few years ago, his faith is strong.  It comforts him, providing a framework that helps him live every day.  As for my daughter, she, too, is soaking in what she sees, what she hears at each venue.  The exposure to diversity is mindboggling...and healthy.

The confusion of others who can’t fathom how we can celebrate Judiasm and Christianity doesn’t faze us.  We calmly explain what we’re about and how Unitarianism fits our family.

 So Happy Hanukkah!  Merry Christmas!  And a Happy Holiday Season to all!

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