Beyond Santa: How Interfaith Families Share Holiday Traditions

See how four families blend their cultural and religious backgrounds into the holidays.
By: Michele C Hollow
TS-200486001-001_Chanukah-Christmas-Cookies_s3x4

TS-200486001-001_Chanukah-Christmas-Cookies_s3x4

Christmas and Hanukkah cookies on plate, elevated view

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.”

CI-Melanie-Grizzel_Christmas-Stocking-Chocolate-Coins_s4x3

CI-Melanie-Grizzel_Christmas-Stocking-Chocolate-Coins_s4x3

©Melanie Grizzel

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.

CI-Melanie-Grizzel_Christmas-Red-envelope_s3x4

CI-Melanie-Grizzel_Christmas-Red-envelope_s3x4

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.

CI-Jessica-Bruno_fish-dinner-with-English-pudding_s4x3

CI-Jessica-Bruno_fish-dinner-with-English-pudding_s4x3

Photo by: Picasa ©Jessica Bruno

Picasa, 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.

CI-Melanie-Grizzel_Turkey-apples-appetizers_s3x4

CI-Melanie-Grizzel_Turkey-apples-appetizers_s3x4

©Melanie Grizzel

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.”

Keep Reading

Next Up

How to Make a Hand-Painted Vintage Sign

For the holidays or anytime, use an old board or a cabinet door to post your favorite message.

How To Make a Handmade Holiday Card

Send warm holiday wishes this season with a one-of-a-kind, handmade greeting card. 

How to Make a Holiday Greeting Card Display

Turn a plain bulletin board into a message center for greeting cards and holiday photos. This project took just a couple hours to make and cost less than $15.

How to Get a Holiday Cactus to Bloom

Got a holiday cactus? Learn the trick to making it flower.

Guidelines for Decorating for the Holidays

Decorating your home for the holidays follows the same guidelines as decorating at any other time of year.

How to Make a Modern Easter Centerpiece

Use neutral colors and natural materials to create an easy, elegant Easter centerpiece.

How to Make a Giant Oversized Bow

It's easy to make an enormous gift bow to add a festive touch to your decor or if you’re lucky enough to be giving a loved one a luxury car.

How to Make Christmas Tree Cake Toppers

Learn how to make snow-covered Christmas tree cake toppers using ice cream cones and candy. Use these on a wedding cake, holiday cake or cupcake.

Decorative Lights for the Holidays

See the different kinds of lights people use to make their homes a Christmas wonderland.

Home Hacks to Make the Holiday Season Merrier

Holiday season hacks make life as easy as Christmas apple pie. 

On TV

Lawn & Order

7:30am | 6:30c

Lawn & Order

8:30am | 7:30c

Lawn & Order

9:30am | 8:30c

Yard Crashers

10am | 9c

Yard Crashers

10:30am | 9:30c

Yard Crashers

11am | 10c

Yard Crashers

11:30am | 10:30c

Yard Crashers

12pm | 11c

Yard Crashers

12:30pm | 11:30c

Yard Crashers

1pm | 12c

Yard Crashers

1:30pm | 12:30c

Yard Crashers

2:30pm | 1:30c

Yard Crashers

3:30pm | 2:30c

Yard Crashers

4:30pm | 3:30c

Yard Crashers

5:30pm | 4:30c

Yard Crashers

6:30pm | 5:30c

Yard Crashers

7:30pm | 6:30c
On Tonight
On Tonight

Salvage Dawgs

8pm | 7c

Salvage Dawgs

8:30pm | 7:30c

Salvage Dawgs

9:30pm | 8:30c

Salvage Dawgs

10pm | 9c

Salvage Dawgs

10:30pm | 9:30c

Salvage Dawgs

11pm | 10c

Salvage Dawgs

11:30pm | 10:30c

Salvage Dawgs

12am | 11c

Salvage Dawgs

12:30am | 11:30c

Salvage Dawgs

1am | 12c

Salvage Dawgs

1:30am | 12:30c

Salvage Dawgs

2:30am | 1:30c

Salvage Dawgs

3:30am | 2:30c

Elbow Room

4:30am | 3:30c

On TV

Lawn & Order

7:30am | 6:30c

Lawn & Order

8:30am | 7:30c

Lawn & Order

9:30am | 8:30c

Yard Crashers

10am | 9c

Yard Crashers

10:30am | 9:30c

Yard Crashers

11am | 10c

Yard Crashers

11:30am | 10:30c

Yard Crashers

12pm | 11c

Yard Crashers

12:30pm | 11:30c

Yard Crashers

1pm | 12c

Yard Crashers

1:30pm | 12:30c

Yard Crashers

2:30pm | 1:30c

Yard Crashers

3:30pm | 2:30c

Yard Crashers

4:30pm | 3:30c

Yard Crashers

5:30pm | 4:30c

Yard Crashers

6:30pm | 5:30c

Yard Crashers

7:30pm | 6:30c
On Tonight
On Tonight

Salvage Dawgs

8pm | 7c

Salvage Dawgs

8:30pm | 7:30c

Salvage Dawgs

9:30pm | 8:30c

Salvage Dawgs

10pm | 9c

Salvage Dawgs

10:30pm | 9:30c

Salvage Dawgs

11pm | 10c

Salvage Dawgs

11:30pm | 10:30c

Salvage Dawgs

12am | 11c

Salvage Dawgs

12:30am | 11:30c

Salvage Dawgs

1am | 12c

Salvage Dawgs

1:30am | 12:30c

Salvage Dawgs

2:30am | 1:30c

Salvage Dawgs

3:30am | 2:30c

Elbow Room

4:30am | 3:30c

Get Social With Us

We love to DIY. You love to DIY. Let's get together.

Consult Our A-Z Guide

Everything You Need to Know

Browse a full list of topics found on the site, from accessories to mudrooms to wreaths.  

How-To Advice and Videos

Get video instructions about kitchens, bathrooms, remodeling, flooring, painting and more.

Watch DIY Downloads Now

Watch DIY Network LIVE

Don't miss your favorite shows in real time online.