Blending Faiths, Families & Traditions


Published:

Figuring out what traditions to carry on, or even which holidays to celebrate, can be a significant challenge for couples who come from different cultural or religious backgrounds, or those blending families through marriage. But it’s a challenge worth taking on.

Traditions help families feel like a unit, says Linda Cherney, a licensed marriage and family therapist practicing in Chapel Hill. “People want to carry on the things of their past, to create continuity between generations,” she explains. “Traditions provide a place to have fun, create memories and forge a sense of belonging.”

If your family is facing this issue as the holiday season approaches, here are some tips from Cherney and four local couples who have been through the process.

What’s “right” depends on the family

The parents we spoke with describe varying degrees of blending or adapting traditions in light of different beliefs or backgrounds. For Rachel Ruvo of Pittsboro, combining her Jewish heritage with husband Andy’s Catholic background has meant embracing both faiths, worshipping at temple or church on holidays, and joining a fellowship that emphasizes respect for all spiritual practices.

Linda and Kevin Derricks of Cary have agreed to raise their 10-month-old twins in the Jewish faith while still celebrating Christian holidays with Kevin’s family. Seunghee Lee and Brad Mott of Apex nurture a connection to her native country by attending a Korean church and enrolling their son and daughter in programs that teach them about Korean culture.

The important thing in charting this path together, Cherney explains, is that spouses are respectful and supportive of one another’s beliefs and traditions, even if they choose to practice just one faith as a family.

It helps to have a plan

The couples discussed these matters prior to marrying, allowing them to cultivate traditions more deliberately. Both Linda and Kevin came from families that explored or even converted to other religions, so, Linda says, “It was a given that we would be open to one another’s beliefs and traditions.”

Rachel and Andy began their lives together by having both a priest and a rabbi officiate at their wedding. Theresa Menz and Seth Kullman of Chapel Hill sought couples counseling to work through differences in their backgrounds — she was raised a Catholic, he was a nonpracticing Jew — while creating a new family with her preteen son. The process wasn’t easy, Theresa says, but it helped them understand their own limits and determine how they could explore spirituality together.

Cherney emphasizes that communication is crucial, especially with blended families. And even if you’ve had these conversations before, she suggests touching base each holiday season to “trouble-shoot” potential problems caused by differences in beliefs, expectations or experiences. If the issue causes tension between spouses, she adds, “a few sessions of coaching with a professional may help.”

Be flexible

Even the best plans may require adjusting, because families change over time. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Theresa says that in the years since she and Seth married, “trust and experience have given us a basis for making plans as a family, so the boundaries we negotiated have relaxed. We have both moved beyond our initial comfort zones.”

They now enjoy exploring Jewish traditions together — something Seth had not done much, prior to their marriage — and even Theresa’s son has grown spiritually through sharing holidays with his stepfather.

Rachel points out that Thanksgiving has actually emerged as the family’s most valued holiday, despite all the hoopla over celebrating both Christmas and Hanukkah. “It’s a time to focus on thankfulness, friendship and family,” she explains. “We invite everyone from our circle to dinner and talk to our children about the importance of those connections.”

Keep it simple

Holidays can become a blur of activity as couples seek to make everything about their blended celebrations special. Rachel admits that she and Andy have often “scratched [their] heads at the calendar” while trying to schedule holiday activities. “For practicality’s sake,” she advises, “make the traditions easy to maintain. It only gets more complicated as the kids get older.”

Seunghee explains that “finding time to ensure we’re providing good coverage of both of our cultures” is their greatest challenge; as a result, she and Brad have agreed to explore a “subset” of traditions from each culture, celebrating some holidays in American fashion and others, such as the Korean New Year, in Korean fashion.

“Keep the list of family traditions shorter rather than longer,” Cherney suggests, “so that the ones you maintain are truly meaningful. If the holidays get too complicated, the memories might not be good ones.”

Be prepared for mixed reactions — even your own

Change can be difficult, and sometimes even willing partners feel a sense of loss over no longer doing things “their” way. As Rachel puts it, “The holidays don’t feel like they did when we were kids.”

Theresa notes that she and her son have put aside some aspects of their Christmas celebration out of respect for Seth’s feelings. For Linda, whose family drifted away from Judaism during her teen years, recommitting to her faith has brought regret that so few members of her family are practicing with her.

Linda is also trying to forgive herself for having forgotten many of the rituals she practiced as a child. “I’m basically starting from scratch with some of the customs of my faith,” she explains, “and I wish I had a more established community to support my sons as they learn and grow.”

In this respect, Cherney encourages parents to be patient and perhaps even lower their expectations. And if you’re in the first year of blending a family, be prepared for the possibility that older children may express reluctance or even resentment over trying new things.

Cherish the little moments

Cherney urges families experiencing this transition to enjoy “even the little moments that signify the beginning of that ‘family’ feel.”

Rachel recalls being “over the moon” when she first got to decorate the house for Christmas, and she admits she is usually the first one in the family to don a festive sweater. Linda is excited about the little Hanukkah sacks, decorated with Jewish symbols and filled with a gift for each night of the festival, that her mother is making for her infant sons. To her, it is nod of support for the Christmas stockings they will have at Kevin’s parents’ house.

For Theresa, memories of her first Hanukkah with Seth include the dish towels he ruined when he used them to squeeze liquid out of the potatoes he had shredded to make latkes. “One hazard of having an authentic cook,” she concludes with a smile.

Whatever path they have taken, these parents agree that open-mindedness and respect were crucial to developing meaningful customs in their family. They also note that the process has brought them closer to their partners. “It’s a continuous collaboration,” Linda concludes, “and a wonderful learning experience for everyone in the family.”

That’s a tradition all families can embrace.

Karen Lewis Taylor is a freelance writer and editor who lives in Apex with her husband and two daughters.

Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Related Content

Handling Holiday Gift Rivalry Among Children

Sibling rivalry can lead to gift-related gripes, but parents can use these tips to keep the holiday spirit alive.
Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Calendar

December 2019

Take part in a class that teaches individualized ways to foster motor development for your child. Learn about tummy time alternatives, best positions for your baby, how to help your child learn to...

Cost: 24.00

Where:
Open Arts
1222 Copeland Oaks Dr.
Morrisville, NC  27560
View map »


Sponsor: Babies On The MOVE
Website »

More information

Take part in a class that teaches individualized ways to foster motor development for your child. Learn about carry positions, best positions for your baby, how to help your child learn to crawl,...

Cost: 24.00

Where:
Open Arts
1222 Copeland Oaks Dr.
Morrisville, NC  27560
View map »


Sponsor: Babies On The MOVE
Website »

More information

Create artwork inspired by the Christmas tree. Ages 6-10. Register online. Choose course #126771.

Cost: $31/resident, $40/nonresident

Where:
Cary Arts Center
101 Dry Ave.
Cary, NC  27511
View map »


Website »

More information

Embark on a wild ride with favorite Disney characters Mickey, Minnie, Goofy and many others in this fun-filled getaway featuring unexpected hijinks and character interaction. Purchase tickets...

Cost: $15 and up

Where:
PNC Arena
1400 Edwards Mill Rd.
Raleigh, NC  27607
View map »


Website »

More information

Geocaching is a treasure hunt where participants use GPS coordinates to track down hidden "caches." We will learn how to use traditional GPS units and the Geocaching App (by Groundspeak), then hike...

Cost: Free

Where:
Harris Lake County Park
2112 County Park Dr.
New Hill, NC  27562
View map »


Sponsor: Harris Lake County Park
Telephone: 919-387-4342
Contact Name: Joanne St. Clair
Website »

More information

Holiday Gift Making for Friends They're back! Come learn how to sew the perfect sized scrunchie - an excellent holiday gift for friends. Choose from a variety of fabrics, colors, and...

Cost: $5.00

Where:
The Studio School of Durham
1201 W Woodcroft Pkwy
Durham, NC  27713
View map »


Sponsor: The Studio School of Durham
Telephone: 984-377-4502
Contact Name: Danielle Sunde
Website »

More information

Favorite Christmas songs are presented in authentic Nashville country style with dazzling guitars and fiddles along with soaring harmonies. Purchase tickets online. 

Cost: $25/person

Where:
Wake Forest Renaissance Centre
405 S. Brooks St.
Wake Forest, NC  27587
View map »


Website »

More information

The ensemble performs favorite holiday tunes as well as the soundtrack to "The Snowman" as it is shown on a large screen. Purchase tickets online. 

Cost: See website for fees

Where:
Cary Arts Center
101 Dry Ave.
Cary, NC  27511
View map »


Website »

More information

Embark on a wild ride with favorite Disney characters Mickey, Minnie, Goofy and many others in this fun-filled getaway featuring unexpected hijinks and character interaction. Purchase tickets...

Cost: $15 and up

Where:
PNC Arena
1400 Edwards Mill Rd.
Raleigh, NC  27607
View map »


Website »

More information

Favorite Christmas songs are presented in authentic Nashville country style with dazzling guitars and fiddles along with soaring harmonies. Purchase tickets online. 

Cost: $25/person

Where:
Wake Forest Renaissance Centre
405 S. Brooks St.
Wake Forest, NC  27587
View map »


Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Ages 15 and older enjoy a night of dancing, refreshments, a winter wonderland photo booth and more. 

Cost: $3/person

Where:
Century Center
100 N. Greensboro St.
Carrboro, NC  27510
View map »


Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Winter is a great time to explore nature at the park! Join a naturalist to learn how to identify tracks, explore conifers, and drink pine needle tea. Then observe snow and ice through hands-on...

Cost: For all ages; FREE. Registration is required for everyone

Where:
Crowder County Park
4709 Ten-Ten Rd
Apex, NC  27529
View map »


Telephone: 919-662-2850

More information

Family members join teams to shoot foul shots for a chance to win a holiday ham. See website for age divisions and times. No registration necessary.

Cost: Free

Where:
Apex Community Center
73 Hunter St.
Apex, NC  27502
View map »


Telephone: 919-249-3402
Website »

More information

Ages 11 and older with special needs enjoy a showing of "Home Alone." Register online. Choose course #128732.

Cost: $2/resident, $3/nonresident

Where:
The Cary Theater
122 E. Chatham St.
Cary, NC  27511
View map »


Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Please join Admissions, Division Directors and our Head of School as they talk about Duke School’s unique program, specifically for students entering 5th-8th grade for the 2020-21 school year....

Cost: $0

Where:
Duke School
3716 Erwin Road
Durham, NC  27705
View map »


Sponsor: Duke School
Telephone: 919-416-9420
Contact Name: Logan Blaylock

More information

See Happy Dan perform magic, comedy and more.

Cost: $5/person

Where:
Renaissance Centre
405 Brooks St.
Wake Forest, NC  27587
View map »


Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Assist with our habitat box monitoring. Tasks will vary depending on what needs attention and may include: cleaning or repairing habitat boxes or installing new ones, monitoring our current boxes...

Cost: Free

Where:
Harris Lake County Park
2112 County Park Dr.
New Hill, NC  27562
View map »


Sponsor: Harris Lake County Park
Telephone: 919-387-4342
Contact Name: Joanne St. Clair
Website »

More information

Enjoy a family-friendly movie and a slice or two of pizza. Doors open at 5:30 p.m. Purchase tickets online.

Cost: $5/person. $2 for ages 2 and younger

Where:
The Halle Cultural Center
237 N. Salem St.
Apex, NC  27502
View map »


Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Kids hike, make projects and engage in nature activities. Ages 5-8. Register online. Choose course #127199.

Cost: $9/resident, $12/nonresident

Where:
Stevens Nature Center/Hemlock Bluffs
2616 Kildaire Farm Rd.
Cary, NC  27518
View map »


Telephone: 919-387-5980
Website »

More information

Bring your kids to the park for a day of crafting and nature while you take advantage of a few more hours of holiday shopping.  The crafts your child creates will make great keepsakes or gifts for...

Cost: $16 per child

Where:
Harris Lake County Park
2112 County Park Dr.
New Hill, NC  27562
View map »


Sponsor: Harris Lake County Park
Telephone: 919-387-4342
Contact Name: Joanne St. Clair
Website »

More information

Ages 11-17 create old-fashioned taffy and hard candy using ingredients like caramel, marshmallow and chocolate. Register online. Choose course #127044.

Cost: $18/resident, $23/nonresident

Where:
Herbert C. Young Community Center
101 Wilkinson Ave.
Cary, NC
View map »


Website »

More information

Kids spend a night out in nature making memories and new friends in an old-fashioned, camp-style program. Ages 8-12. Register online. 

Cost: $15/resident, $19/nonresident

Where:
Stevens Nature Center/Hemlock Bluffs
2616 Kildaire Farm Rd.
Raleigh, NC
View map »


Telephone: 919-387-5980
Website »

More information

Kids spend a night out in nature making memories and new friends in an old-fashioned, camp-style program. Ages 8-12. Register online. 

Cost: $15/resident, $19/nonresident

Where:
Stevens Nature Center/Hemlock Bluffs
2616 Kildaire Farm Rd.
Raleigh, NC
View map »


Telephone: 919-387-5980
Website »

More information

Traditional dance caller Connie Carringer teaches fun dances for the whole family: squares, circles, Appalachian and more accompanied by old-time, string band music performed by local musicians. No...

Cost: $2/person or $5/family

Where:
Halle Cultural Arts Center
237 N. Salem St.
Apex, NC  27502
View map »


Website »

More information

No Christmas season is complete without your family experiencing The Raleigh Boychoir’s shining “Carols of Christmas.” This year we are excited to invite community members to sing...

Cost: $10 Students, $15 Seniors, $20 Adults.

Where:
Edenton Street United Methodist
228 W Edenton Street
Raleigh, NC  27603
View map »


Sponsor: Raleigh Boychoir
Telephone: (919)881-9259
Contact Name: Erin O'Hara
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Give rugby a try. Take part in tag rugby pick-up games every Saturday morning at Baileywick Road Park, near the Second Shelter.  No experience necessary. All ages. 

Cost: Free

Where:
Baileywick Road Park
9501 Baileywick Rd
Second Shelter Field
Raleigh, NC  27615
View map »


Sponsor: Raleigh Redhawks Rugby
Contact Name: denise travis
Website »

More information

Ages 5 and older move through yoga poses set to holiday music, decorate a special treat and drink hot chocolate. Registration required online. Choose course #127393. 

Cost: $19/child

Where:
Middle Creek Community Center
125 Middle Creek Ave.
Apex, NC  27539
View map »


Website »

More information

Ages 4-12 enjoy free arts and crafts. Registration not required. Children must have adult accompaniment. 

Cost: Free

Where:
Halle Cultural Arts Center
237 N. Salem St.
Apex, NC  27502
View map »


Website »

More information

One ticket admits the entire family to decorate a special gingerbread house. Supplies provided. Workshops available at 2 p.m. Allergy-free workshop available at 11 a.m. Registration required...

Cost: $40

Where:
Family Preschool
4907 Garrett Rd
Durham, NC  27707
View map »


Sponsor: Family Preschool
Telephone: 919-402-1500
Contact Name: Sue Henson
Website »

More information

Harris Lake will welcome a special holiday visitor this December! Santa will take time out of his busy schedule to join us for a cup of hot cocoa and a ride on our wagon along the back roads of the...

Cost: Free

Where:
Harris Lake County Park
2112 County Park Dr.
New Hill, NC  27562
View map »


Sponsor: Harris Lake County Park
Telephone: 919-387-4342
Contact Name: Joanne St. Clair
Website »

More information

Girls ages 5-12 take their favorite doll and have a creative time together preparing for the holidays. Register by emailing llpolkhouse2@gmail.com.

Cost: $22/attendee, $20/sister

Where:
Historic Polk House
537 N. Blount St.
Raleigh, NC  27604
View map »


Telephone: 919-676-6368
Website »

More information

Discover what's happening in nature as the sun sets and listen to stories around a campfire. All ages with adult. Register online. Choose course #127675.

Cost: $18/resident, $24/nonresident

Where:
Stevens Nature Center/Hemlock Bluffs
2616 Kildaire Farm Rd.
Cary, NC
View map »


Telephone: 919-387-5980
Website »

More information

Take part in this annual walk to celebrate the winter solstice. Take a handmade lantern (white lanterns/lights only, handmade is requested, no fire allowed). Participants will gather at the...

Cost: Free

Where:
Downtown Hillsborough
, NC  27278


Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...
Edit Module Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module

Newsletter Sign-Up

Stay connected to what's going on for families in the Triangle by signing up for our FREE e-newsletters!

Subscribe

Edit ModuleShow Tags

Directories

Edit ModuleShow Tags Edit ModuleShow Tags

Annual Guides

Education Guide

The 2019-20 Education Guide offers 718 education resources in the Triangle, including area preschools, private schools, public school systems, charter schools, boarding schools and academic resources.

The Triangle Go-To Guide

Our Triangle Go-To Guide connects you to family fun resources across the Triangle. In our 2019-20 issue, explore 1,028 resources for family fun.