Holidays and Religion in Intercultural Families

My husband’s religion has basically the same roots as mine. He is Orthodox (Christian, not Jewish Orthodox), so his religious traditions are somewhat similar to Catholic. I grew up Presbyterian. We are pretty flexible and accepting of each other’s beliefs. I never thought that we’d have religious differences–but it turns out there were a few surprises like these:

  • All of our holidays, including Christmas and even some New Year traditions, occur on different dates. Plus, my husband’s country celebrates a new and old New Year’s, as well as a new and old New Year. It gets confusing–but it’s always interesting! Also we have to leave the Christmas tree up for a REALLY long time (as one of the New Year’s celebrated in his country is a few weeks after January 1.)
  • We don’t know a single holiday song in each other’s languages. I listen to my favorite Christmas albums, but my husband doesn’t even know the song “Jingle Bells”! Also, I no longer sing hymns in church on Christmas Eve every year–my husband would go, but it doesn’t have the same meaning for him. It’s ok though–instead, we spend the evening as a family at home, which is also warm and wonderful!
  • I can’t baptize my children in the church I attend. He wants his children baptized in a church of his religion in his language. There is one church like that in the US! We baptized our first child there, as we lived close at the time. But now the church is far away, so 2 of our 3 children are still not baptized. I am not comfortable with that.

Even though the right answer isn’t always clear, I am so glad that my children get to grow up knowing that even deep aspects of life differ everywhere–religion, culture, and traditions.

But these are just the minor details–we LOVE learning–and teaching our children–about holiday traditions in each other’s countries. So do our children. I will never forget the pleasure on my husband’s face the first time he saw the boys and me putting cookies and milk out for Santa.

Holiday traditions are meaningful and a great bonding experience for families. My husband and I were lucky that we both felt pretty flexible about religion, and that our religious beliefs are similar. If he would have tried to force me to change, attend his church services, or force our children to attend those rather than mine, I would have refused–he would also have refused if I insisted on doing things “my way.” We have exposed our children to both, and for us, that has worked well–though it doesn’t always feel natural, logical, or easy!

3 thoughts on “Holidays and Religion in Intercultural Families”

  1. hi Wael,

    I guess what you feel is normal. 3 months of vacation is just too long and of course you’ll miss your family. The best you can do is too talk to your wife nicely, choose a good timing and when she;s a good mood, and discuss what bothers you. If you’re not happy with her and the baby being away for a long time and she refuses to listen and consider that, it will eventually take its toil. So you have to make her aware of the consequences without threats. If she loves you more than her family, she must understand.

  2. Hi,
    I really need some help. I’m married to a Serbian woman. We have experienced most of the issues you mentioned about foreigner marriage. We are still holding on. However, there’s one issue that really drives me crazy. I just want to ask someone else to tell me do i have the right to be mad at this issue or not. I’m married since 4 years and we have 3 years old daughter. My wife is insisting that she visits her family in Serbia for 3 months every year. Sometimes, i can accompany her just for 2 weeks because i have work. I also need visa to enter her country in spite of being married to and fathering serbs. Since our daughter will start to go to school, my wife plans to spend the whole summer every year in her country. I once lost nerves and called her while she is there and told her that it’s too long. I was nervous and i shouted at her. She got angry and threatened me that she will not return again. I had to back off and apologize because i couldn’t stand the idea that i will not see my daughter again. I tried to convince myself that it’s ok that she wants to visit her family every year but still i can’t stand to be away from my wife and daughter for 3 months per year. For my wife, she counts days until time of her vacation at home. Do i over react when i get angry for such issues? Or this marriage is somehow doomed?
    I need to hear your opinion. It will really help.

  3. The best way forward would be too follow a middle path… one child from each of the churches…and the third one? well, you decide! :)
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