Thanksgivukkah: The Challenges of Interfaith Families in America

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Holiday Mash-Up 

This morning I woke up in sweat.

I’d just had an anxiety dream about tomorrow’s mash-up of the traditional American holiday, Thanksgiving, and the Hindu holy day, Ekadasi.

In January 2013, Fred and I recommitted to participating in one another’s holy days–from Lent to Holy Week to Advent to Hinduism’s festivals and fasting days.

Ekadasi, the bi-monthly Hindu fast from grains and beans, falls on tomorrow’s traditional celebration of Thanksgiving. While Thanksgiving is not a religious holiday, its themes of gratitude, love, and service are familiar to many faith traditions. Tomorrow’s occasions also have something important in common: food.

It’s not surprising that my anxiety-ridden dream was gastro related.

“Fred, I just had a nightmare that I cheated on Ekadasi,” I confessed this morning.

“What did you eat?” He asked.

“A biscuit and a chapati,” I replied.

“That sounds about right.”

These simple dietary conundrums pale in comparison with families who are truly struggling how to incorporate meaningful and sacred religions traditions and rituals in their blended households.


“Happy Thanksgivukkah” has a nice ring to it. While the cadence works, some Jewish-Americans are concerned that Thanksgivukkah (a combination of Thanksgiving and Hanukkah) will take the focus away from the Jewish celebration of the festival of lights.

Such discernment has sparked important conversations on how families navigate two cherished holidays falling on the same day or week. 

And even when holy days are separated by significant blocks of dates on the calendar, what do interfaith families do? Light a Menorah? Buy a Christmas Tree? Both? With whom do they celebrate? What rituals and traditions are included?

The discussions can get dicey quickly. But, these challenges are familiar to interfaith families, whose composition encourages (and sometimes forces) us to discern all year long how to celebrate the holy days of multiple faiths.

This past summer, I made a tough interfaith decision when Ekadasi fell on a communion Sunday at Binkley Church. Did I take communion? Or hold fast to my interfaith marriage commitment of observing a grain-free Ekadasi with my Hindu husband? Find out.

Interfaith Marriage in America

On Tuesday, the Diane Rehm Show had a special show on “Interfaith Marriage in America,” featuring Susan Katz Miller (author, Being Both), Naomi Schaefer Riley (author, Til Faith Do Us Part), and Alan Cooperman (deputy director, Pew Research Center’s Religion and Public Life Project).

Miller, Riley, and Cooperman all had significant insights into the changing landscape of America’s familial configurations. Both Riley and Miller are in interfaith marriages and have children; Riley is committed to raising children in one faith (Judaism), while Miller remains in the overwhelmingly optimistic camp of encouraging the grassroots efforts of interfaith communities such as the IFFP, the one she and her family belong to.

Keeping in mind that 50 years ago, interfaith families were highly discouraged and often discriminated against in houses of worship, the outcomes of how today’s interfaith children view faith, holy days, and “being both” will continue to be revealed.

What will America’s families look like in 50 more years? How will holidays and religious holy days change shape as blended families become the norm? How will houses of worship and religious institutions adapt–or not?

I have more questions than I have answers and maybe you do, too.

Your Turn

Do you think interfaith families should mash-up their holidays? Why or why not?

Are you hosting an interfaith holiday gathering this year? Share your story! What traditions/rituals do your celebrate? How do you navigate these conversations?

Upcoming Saffron Cross Events

If you missed our local events in October, we hope you’ll join us on Saturday, December 14th, at 11:00 a.m. for a reading of Saffron Cross: The Unlikely Story of How a Christian Minister Married a Hindu Monk at McIntyre’s Books in Fearrington Village, Pittsboro, NC.

Come enjoy the beautiful NC countryside, holiday decorations, and of course—the famous Belted Cows! Thanks for spreading the word, y’all!

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