As Thanksgiving rolls in, the December holidays of Christmas and Chanukah are not far behind. If you are one half of an interfaith couple or family, it can be helpful to check in with each other about your vision for the holidays. This doesn’t have to be too arduous if you keep in mind one of my favorite sayings: ‘All feelings are okay its what we do with our feelings that matters.’
The more we can learn about each others’ inner worlds the more connected we will feel with each other. Psychologist John Gottman calls this knowing our partner’s inner psychological terrain: love maps. For our purposes, an interfaith love map includes sharing the childhood memories that you cherish the most. Is it the different kinds of cookies your mom baked well in advance of Christmas? Taking turns with your siblings to light the menorah each night? Talk with your partner about these special times so he or she knows what is important to you. Find a quiet time to sit together and be truly open to learning about each other. An emphasis on mutual understanding and not focusing on an ultimate solution or answer is also recommended. Below are a few more ideas to get you started creating your interfaith love map:
- Read or talk about the meaning and the history of your partner’s holiday along with the symbols and rituals that accompany it. If you notice you have a visceral reaction such as a strong aversion to Christmas trees, try to examine this yourself before you talk it over with your partner. Exploring your own feelings first will make your conversation less reactive.
- Break down how you will celebrate together. For example, will you give presents each night of Chanukah? Will you go to church or stay home? Will your extended family be involved? If yes, what will that look like?
- Think about and discuss the rituals that you already share as a couple or family. Together, you can find ways to establish new traditions that encompass what means the most to each of you.
- Finally, let family members know that you have made decisions that are best for you and your family. Explain to them how and where you plan to celebrate the holidays so they are not surprised. Should they have a problem with what you have determined, stand firm and let them know that you love them but this is what is right for your family.
For more hands on help incorporating both faiths, check out The Interfaith Families Project Of Greater Washington.