Navigating the challenges of interfaith holiday celebrations

As many celebrating Hanukkah this week are lighting the Menorah, spinning dreidels and eating latkes, for some interfaith couples, navigating holiday traditions and family celebrations can be a challenge when December rolls around.

In an article in last week’s Jewish Chronicle, Wendy Levin-Shaw, a licensed clinical social worker and therapist with Squirrel Hill Psychological Services, spoke about navigating the complexities that can accompany some interfaith couples’ holiday celebrations.

Click here to read the article.

At SHPS, Wendy works with individuals, couples and families on issues and challenges relating to relationships, parenting, marital conflict and interfaith marriage. Wendy also provides education and support to groups regarding issues interfaith couples may face in their relationships, including holiday dilemmas or disagreements.

“Issues between interfaith couples can vary, and for some couples, this is more of a dilemma than for others,” Wendy said. “It’s important to know that disagreement in the relationship is okay. The goal is to minimize conflict and come to a shared solution within the family when discussing and determining your family holiday traditions.”

Wendy suggests approaching the topic yearly as the holiday season approaches, and incorporating the entire family in conversations about celebrations when appropriate, to ensure family members feel respected and have an opportunity to share their perspectives and preferences.

“Throughout one’s life as a family member, one goes through different phases of what is important and meaningful. This is not something you decide and the conversation is finished forever,” Wendy said. “It’s important that there is ongoing conversation and discussion throughout the years to determine what is right for you and your family at different times during your lives together.”

When determining family holiday celebrations, Wendy advises interfaith couples and families to consider incorporating the following steps into discussions to encourage and maintain respectful and open communication:

  1. Check in with yourself
    Take time to reflect on what traditions are important to you as the holiday season approaches. Consider your own attachment to your traditions and which celebrations mean the most to you.

  2. Check in with each other
    Around the holiday season, engage in meaningful and respectful conversation with your spouse. Convey your interests and intentions to your partner and let your spouse know you’re interested in hearing his/her point of view and incorporating his/her preferences when it comes to family celebrations.

  3. Involve your children
    As children grow older, involve them in family decision-making about holiday traditions. Consider their input and make children feel like their contribution to the conversation is welcomed and valued.

  4. Seek out additional resources
    Usually, most interfaith couples and families are able to reach a decision and come to a shared solution by following the above steps and maintaining open communication with each other. However, if you or your family feels there is a need for another perspective, mediation, counseling or advice, contact Wendy Levin-Shaw at 412-521-3800 or by email at For additional counseling or therapeutic needs, call Squirrel Hill Psychological Services at 412-521-3800 or visit

Wendy suggests that couples of the same faith can also benefit greatly from having frequent conversations about preferences regarding holiday celebrations, from incorporating traditions passed from generation to generation to creating your own traditions with your spouse or family.

And if you’d like to read more about how Pittsburgh’s Jewish community celebrates Hanukkah, check out this article in the Tribune-Review about Hanukkah celebrations and traditions, where our own Stefanie Small, a geriatric care coordinator at JF&CS, is interviewed!

Whether your family is lighting the Menorah, stringing lights on the Christmas tree or celebrating the holiday season in your own special way, we wish all a happy and bright holiday season!

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