VERONA, NJ - Go into any household in this area, and it would not be that unusual to find both a menorah and a Christmas tree in the front room. Or children celebrating Diwali in October and awaiting Santa’s arrival in December. According to a Pew survey, 4 in 10 Americans who have married since 2010 have a spouse who is in a different religious group. This has doubled since 1960.
But what happens when religious holidays fall closely together on the calendar? How do families combine traditions and make sure that every faith is given its due?
Verona residents Emily Polizzi, who is Jewish, and Dex Polizzi, who is Catholic, like to make sure to keep the holidays separate and distinct, unless the holidays fall on the same day. “This year, the third and fourth nights of Hanukkah will be on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day,” said Emily. “Even though we’ll be decorating the tree (my husband’s family’s Christmas Eve tradition), we’ll still bring our menorahs to my in-laws house on Christmas Eve, and our cousins’ house on Christmas Day, to light the candles, sing the blessings and give gifts to the kids.”
Sometimes, this can be quite the balancing act. Emily continued, “On years when holidays have fallen on the same dates (like Passover and Easter have for the past two years), we have had to make the decision of where to go/what to celebrate, since my family is in Ohio and my parents host the Passover seder every year, but my husband’s family is mainly here in New Jersey. It’s a compromise at times, but we do our best to share our separate faiths’ holidays and traditions as equally as possible with our children.”
Even with a sometimes hectic holiday schedule, the couple is still happy to compromise in order to bring the magic of both faiths to their children. “What’s most special to us is the tradition of celebrating the holidays with family, whether locally or with my family in the Midwest,” Emily said. “Being with family and celebrating together is what makes the holidays so memorable. At this point, we’re not focusing much on religious beliefs or affiliations, it’s more about exposure to the different traditions and enjoying the unique celebrations and special times that come with having shared experiences with family.”
Dara and Todd Raffa, who are Jewish and Catholic respectively, make a point of combining the holidays. “We treat it as Chrismakkuh,” Dara said. “Not Christmas and Hanukkah. We just do our best to celebrate as a family. Sometimes that means celebrating Christmas in the traditional sense, other times we do a Jewish Christmas (head to the movies and eat Chinese food)!”
The Raffa family loves to honor both of their religions as the holidays approach. “We spend a day putting up our stockings and decorations (which includes a menorah) all while listening to holiday music. Our tree is decorated with dreidels (and, of course, the adorable ornaments our daughter makes at preschool)! On Christmas morning we all wake up, cook pancakes and open gifts in our pjs. For Hanukkah, we’re lucky to have my family close by, so we always head to my parents’ house to celebrate. We light the menorah, eat potato latkes and matzo ball soup, and the kids get their presents. A tradition that my mom started when I was a kid that she’s kept going with my kids is getting a new dreidel every year.”
Blake Meltzer of Verona makes sure that her son Max honors both Christmas and Hanukkah, though she and Max’s father, Chris have divorced. “I have a Hanukkah party every year with my family and he comes and celebrates with us,” she said. “On Christmas morning, I go to Chris’s apartment and do Christmas with Max and Chris.” Blake also makes sure that Max experiences all aspects of the holiday season. “During the season, I always take Max to shows--we saw A Christmas Carol this year. We’re going to the Polar Express and seeing the tree! He also loves our Hanukkah party. He loves playing dreidel and lighting the menorah!”
Though the holiday season with interfaith families can sometimes be a delicate balancing act, it’s clear that they are enjoying the best of both worlds.
TAPinto Verona/Cedar Grove is an online newspaper serving the Townships of Verona and Cedar Grove. TAPinto Verona/Cedar Grove is accredited by the New Jersey Press Association, and is a locally owned news organization serving the community.