The holidays are tricky enough to navigate when you’re in a same-faith relationship. An interfaith relationship has a unique set of issues to work out when the holidays come around.
Here are some strategies for dealing with the holidays when you don’t have the same faith.
Don’t let your differing faiths be the elephant in the room. Talk early — and, if need be, often — about your expectations for the holiday season, and, more importantly, about how your faith plays out in your daily life. The more open you both are about your priorities and values, the more you’ll be able to see eye-to-eye and avoid hurt feelings.
For the newly dating couple, communication is especially key. The earlier you learn to share and respect each other’s faiths, the easier it will be as your relationship gets more serious. (Don’t put off the Christmas vs. Hanukkah conversation until you have children. Bring it up now and start planning ahead.)
Do your own thing — together.
Instead of getting caught up in “my family vs. your family” or “my faith vs. your faith,” find traditions you can start as a couple. Do something just for the two of you. Claim a day during the holidays you can look forward to equally. Maybe it’s something that incorporates both faiths, and maybe it’s something that simply reflects a shared value, like good food, good music or good will.
Learn, share, then participate.
It’s easy to feel defensive when someone else’s traditions don’t match our own, but try to trust that your partner wants to share what matters to them, just as you want to share what matters to you. Be open-minded and take an active interest in your significant other’s faith and traditions surrounding it, even participating when you can. Attend a candlelit service at your girlfriend’s church. Ask your boyfriend to translate the traditional Hanukkah blessings for you so you can follow along at his parents’ house. Consider it an honour to share in the things that mean so much to your partner. You might find that your values align more than you originally thought, even though your religions differ.
Educate your families, too. (And set boundaries.)
Let your parents know that your significant other doesn’t subscribe to your faith and ask them to be sensitive when talking about traditions during the holidays. Even supportive parents (or grandparents) can unintentionally use language that alienates or discriminates against other faiths. Emphasize that your date wants to learn about — but not convert to — their faith and its traditions. And explain that you, too, will be showing your date’s family and faith the same respect.
Don’t let families guilt-trip you into abandoning your plans to share the holidays with someone of another faith, and be prepared to come to your date’s rescue should he/she feel cornered or uncomfortable at large family gatherings.
Don’t feel threatened.
Your date’s traditions shouldn’t pose a threat to your own, nor should yours hers. If your faiths can coexist in the relationship during the rest of the year, embrace the idea of having double the traditions come the holiday season. Try to find some rituals or traditions you can both take part in, and give each other the freedom to also practice certain faith traditions on your own.