A few proactive steps can be taken to avoid spring holiday conflicts between interfaith couples.
I Recently came across a cartoon with a picture of a Jewish family sitting at a Passover seder table, with the Easter Bunny, carrying a basket of colored eggs, having just walked in the door. “Yeah, I know I’m off my route,” said the Easter Bunny, “but I suddenly had this intense craving for charoset.”
This cartoon reminds us of the fact that — as many people in interfaith families are acutely aware — Passover and Easter overlap this year, with Easter Sunday falling on the second day of Passover.
In the two years that I’ve worked for InterfaithFamily, I’ve received many more phone calls from reporters asking me to comment on “The December Dilemma” (or, as I prefer to call it, “The December Dialogue” — not everything involving interfaith couples and families is necessarily a dilemma) than I have asking me to comment on the proximity of Easter and Passover.
I’ve also received many more requests to teach at programs about navigating the winter holidays than programs about navigating the spring holidays.
I find this somewhat ironic, considering that Chanukah is a relatively minor Jewish holiday, and Easter and Passover — one of Judaism’s three pilgrimage festivals — are more equal in importance than Christmas and Chanukah.
This time of year, it’s important for interfaith couples to talk about how they’re going to handle the holidays — both between themselves and with their extended families.
The holidays of Passover and Easter have a great deal in common, such as an emphasis on family and food and themes of rebirth, renewal and hope; but they also have different philosophical and theological underpinnings.
So how should an interfaith couple or family navigate this holiday season? Here’s some advice:
Talk about it in advance. And listen, too. It’s never good to wait until the last minute to have a conversation about the holidays. Will you spend seders with one family and Easter Sunday with the other?
Discuss with your partner what your holiday means to you and try to understand what your partner’s holiday means to him or her. Be honest — with yourself and with your partner — about any discomfort you may feel about partaking in your partner’s holiday celebration, and listen to how they feel about partaking in yours.
If you have children, decide in advance, for example, whether you’ll let them go on an Easter egg hunt — don’t wait until you drive by the church with the sign about the hunt for your kids to ask if they can go and have no idea how you — let alone your partner — plan to respond. And remember, your decisions may evolve and change over time. What feels right or wrong for you, or your partner, this year may feel differently next year.
Be sensitive and show gratitude and understanding. If you’ve decided with your Christian partner that you’re going to raise your kids Jewish, you should be very grateful to your partner for giving you this tremendous gift.
But be sensitive to the fact that this isn’t your partner’s holiday and make sure that your partner has an opportunity to celebrate his or her own holiday in a meaningful way.
If your partner doesn’t want to attend Passover services or lunch with you and your children on Sunday because they want to celebrate Easter, be respectful.
Distinguish between family and religious celebrations. Bringing your children to an Easter celebration with your extended family is different from attending Easter mass. Perhaps you are comfortable with one but not with the other. But also remember that attending Easter mass with your partner doesn’t have to mean that you are there for personal religious reasons, and it may be meaningful for your partner to have you sitting there to show support — just as you may have wanted him next to you at a Passover seder the night before.
Discuss this in advance with your partner, and be honest about what family celebrations and religious services each of you is, and is not, comfortable attending and why.
Ask and answer questions. If your Jewish family has non-Jewish relatives or friends attending your Passover seder — or even if they’re not coming to seder — let them know that they are welcome and encouraged to ask questions. Similarly, if you have questions about Easter, ask them.
As long as your question is coming from a good place — and not intended to be judgmental or hurtful— than it’s worth asking. More knowledge, appreciation of and respect for each other’s holidays can only be a good thing.
Rabbi Robyn Frisch is director of InterfaithFamily/Philadelphia and spiritual leader of Temple Menorah Keneseth Chai.