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

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

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A few years ago Tony’s mom died, and now it is Jessica who prepares the Feast of the Seven Fishes on Christmas day. Jessica, who writes the blog Four Generations One Roof, expects between 25 and 30 relatives at her house on Christmas Eve and Christmas day. Her mother makes the turkey with all the trimmings and they end the meal with a number of desserts including their family’s traditional English pudding made by her grandmother.

Courtesy of Jessica Bruno

“Christmas Eve starts around 3 p.m. at our house,” says Jessica. “My husband and I read 'Twas the Night Before Christmas to the kids. My mom makes all the traditional English foods: turkey, stuffing with cranberries, puddings, homemade breads with marmalade, sprouts and other veggies, potatoes and gravy. The children get the best of our combined traditions.” “My husband didn’t grow up with leaving cookies for Santa and spreading reindeer food on the front lawn. He loves doing that with our son.”

Mixing religious and cultural differences is not new to Andrew Schrage, who grew up with a Jewish father and Catholic Chinese mother. “We celebrate Hanukkah and Chinese New Year.” His partner, Carly Stewart, was raised Catholic by two Caucasian parents. Christmas at Carly’s parents’ home is a big celebration. “My family doesn’t celebrate Christmas, but it is a major event for Carly and her family,” says Andrew, “Christmas day is spent with Carly’s family, and she participates in my Chinese and Jewish celebrations as well, which occur at my parents’ home. When my family celebrates Hanukkah, we light the menorah, but don’t exchange gifts.”

The couple’s celebrations center around food. On Hanukkah, they enjoy potato pancakes and jelly-fried doughnuts. For the Chinese New Year, they partake in a large pork and fish dinner. On Christmas day the couple, who live in Chicago, visit Carly’s parents’ home for a traditional turkey and fish dinner. Carly’s parents have a tree and decorate the house with Christmas decorations. “The holidays are about spending time with family and enjoying each other’s traditions,” says Andrew.

Courtesy of Melanie Grizzel

While Hanukkah is a modest holiday, for Jessica S. Lappin, Democratic Councilwoman in New York City, it is about spending time with family. Her husband, Andrew Wuertele, always celebrated Christmas. His mom is a Lutheran pastor. Jessica and Andrew were married by a rabbi in a Lutheran church. In their New York City apartment, they have a Christmas tree and menorah. Andrew goes to church, and sometimes he brings their oldest son with him. “We usually go to Andy’s church on Easter,” says Jessica.

“Christmas is special, though, because the Saturday before we spend the weekend with Andy’s family. It’s a wonderful tradition started by Andrew’s parents so the entire family can spend time together. We open presents, but the emphasis is on family. The fact that we celebrate the weekend before Christmas guarantees that we will all be together.” Christmas day is spent at home with their sons. Then they go over to Jessica’s mom’s home. “Hanukkah is a low-key holiday,” says Jessica. We do celebrate Passover with a Seder usually at my mom’s house.” “We are raising our sons in the Jewish faith, and educating them about Andy’s religion. Andy and I believe it is important for them to learn about both of our religions. Showing respect for our differences and making our children take part in all of our celebrations teaches tolerance. It also brings us closer together.”

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