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Beyond Santa: How Interfaith Families Share Holiday Traditions (page 1 of 2)

See how four families blend their cultural and religious backgrounds into the holidays.

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Claire Warden listens closely when her husband, Alex Fletcher, recites the blessing over the Hanukkah candles. Claire, who grew up in a small English town, remembers saying prayers and singing hymns in school.

“When I was young, I decided I did believe in God because most of my friends did,” says Claire, who works as an actress. “Then about age 10 or 11, I started thinking it through, and I didn’t believe it anymore. Alex went to Hebrew school, and his parents are pretty orthodox. When I met them, it was important for me to respect their religion and their culture. I worked very hard to learn about their religion and backgrounds. When we had our wedding, I wanted to learn the words of the Hora (a Jewish folk dance often played at weddings). I spent days and days learning it.”

Their New York home is decorated with a Christmas tree, a menorah and blue and silver holiday lights. They play dreidel, make latkes and light the menorah. Each Christmas they return to the U.K. to celebrate with Claire’s family. When Hanukkah and Christmas occur at the same time, Alex brings his menorah, and Hanukkah becomes a part of their Christmas tradition. “Alex, who works as a scientist, has a strong link to his culture,” says Claire. “It is part of him, and that makes him special. He also has great respect for my beliefs.”

Courtesy of Melanie Grizzel

According to a study conducted by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, 27 percent of U.S. couples are married to someone from a different religious background. That number increases by 10 percent for marriages between people of different Protestant denominations, such as a Baptist married to a Lutheran.

Jessica and Tony Bruno (she is Protestant and he is Catholic) see the holidays as a perfect time to honor each other’s traditions. One of Jessica’s favorite holiday customs is leaving milk and cookies out for Santa on Christmas Eve and spreading food outside of her New England home for the reindeer. Her husband, Tony, who comes from a large Italian family, celebrated Christmas on December 25 with a big fish dinner made by his mom.

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