During Hanukah, Glencoe residents Renata and Greg Bregstone light a menorah and give their children a small gift for each of the Jewish holiday's eight days. But at the same time, their children, ages 3 and 5, are also counting down to Christmas with an Advent Calendar. Decorations for both holidays are displayed in the window, and a Hanukah banner created by the children hangs beside a Christmas tree.
Renata, who is Catholic, and Greg, who is Jewish, both wanted to raise their children with the holidays they grew up with. Over time, however, they have come to value the different perspective celebrating both traditions provides.
“I want them to be open-minded and understanding of others,” Renata said.
The challenge of getting that balance right is one being faced by an increasing number of couples.
“The stigma of interfaith couples has definitely diminished," said Rabbi Ari Moffic, director of InterfaithFamily Chicago. "The couples I marry, the parents are just happy they found a compatible mate. But the holiday season can still be challenging because you’re dealing with comments and all these ideas about religion and identity really surface at this time.”
Moffic, a Glencoe resident, encourages people to come to terms with what they feel the meaning of their holiday is, and decide if their concern with celebrating their partner's holiday is personal or just a matter of how their parents will perceive them.
“When each partner understands what they feel is the meaning of the symbol, they’ll be able to talk openly about what aspects of the holiday are so important to them and why,” she said. “It gets so emotional for so many people, this idea of having a tree in your house for two weeks. It’s not about the tree. It’s about, 'Will my grandchildren be Jewish?'”
On the other hand, Christians can be intimidated by unfamiliar traditions, especially the Hebrew blessings on the menorah. That's why InterfaithFamily.com provides transliteration and translations of the blessings for families to read.
"It’s not so easy to just light the Menorah," Moffic said. "Some families get hung up on doing it right.”
Some interfaith families celebrate the universal ideas of a holiday, disassociating them from their religious aspects.
“I think for a lot of families the idea of light in this dark time resonates," she said. "They light menorahs in their home alongside the Christmas tree, and they’re not at odds.”
Others, like the Bregstones, prefer to expose their kids to both religions. Their children go to The Interfaith Family School in Chicago and services led by both a priest and rabbi through the Jewish Catholic Couples Dialogue Group.
“For families that want both religions in their lives, they know they can’t be theologically Jewish and Christian, but their kids can have exposure to both religions and figure out who they are,” Moffic said.