Mixing the faith for the holidays: Families try integrating religious traditions
A matzo bread house, sold on Chrismakkuh.com, is meant to celebrate both Christmas and Hanukkah. (Photo: Chrismakkuh.com)
The holiday season is upon us, everyone can agree. Exactly which holidays? That’s where the discussion can get less festive.
“They call it the December dilemma,” said Jordie Gerson, a Manhattan rabbi who has studied Buddhism. “Families are trying to decide, ‘Should we celebrate Christmas? Should we celebrate Hanukkah? Are we going to do a little bit of both? Are we going to do nothing at all?’”
More people are mixing traditions and adopting a build-your-own-religion approach, according to a recent Pew Research Center poll. One-third of Americans say they go to services at more than one place, with the majority indicating they attend religious services of a faith other than their own, the survey found.
Gerson, 32, called it the iPod effect. Like building a playlist, “you can go shopping in different religious traditions,” she said, citing sociologists.
Sheila C. Gordon, director of the Interfaith Community in Manhattan, which works with Jewish-Christian families, has encouraged people to celebrate the distinctions of their different religions rather than blending them.
“It’s normal that families are interfaith. That is the new reality of the 21st century,” said Gordon, who will mark Hanukkah and Christmas with her Episcopalian husband. “Many of the barriers to those marriages have broken down, both socially and theologically. People just know each other more. They move in broader circles.”
Lilly Padia is evidence of the trend. Her mother is Jewish and her father Christian.
“We have all of our non-Jewish family friends over for latkes and candle-lighting every Hanukkah,” said the 20-year-old Bushwick resident. “And our Jewish friends come over to help us decorate our Christmas tree and drink hot chocolate.”
The melding of winter holidays has been a commercial boon. Chrismukkah.com, sprung from the canceled “O.C.” TV show, sells Christmas tree ornaments adorned with Stars of David and cards that blend menorahs and candy canes. Virgin Mobile marketed its services years ago with the “Chrismahanukwanzakah” ad campaign, which included the pan-African holiday Kwanzaa.
With so much mixing and matching of religions, devoutness is questionable. Greg Smith, senior researcher at Pew, said: “I wouldn’t conclude from this that people are not serious about their practices of faiths. It’s just that they hold a multiplicity of beliefs.”
Chris James contributed to this story.
For the rest of us
Festivus began in 1997 as a nonreligious, nonserious holiday on canceled TV show “Seinfeld.” Since then, tens of thousands have adopted the celebration, which involves airing grievances, performing feats of strength and erecting Festivus poles.
Their ranks are growing, said Allen Salkin, author of “Festivus: The Holiday for the Rest of Us.” ‘Why Festivus works and why it’s growing in popularity is because everybody is in on the joke. It’s not exclusive,” he said.