Beyond Chrismukkah: An Interview with Samira Mehta

Anxious Bench | 12/13/2018 | Staff
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It’s December, the month for feasting on latkes and Buche de Noel, lighting menorahs and Advent wreaths, and singing “Dreidel, Dreidel, Dreidel” and “Deck the Halls.” For interfaith Christian-Jewish families, though, the merry-making can be unusually complicated. Which holidays do they celebrate? Which traditions do they observe? And how do decisions about Christmas and Hanukkah relate to broader questions about identity, belief, practice, and pluralism? To understand how interfaith families have handled these issues, I interviewed Dr. Samira Mehta, Assistant Professor of Religious Studies at Albright College and author of Beyond Chrismukkah: The Christian-Jewish Interfaith Family in the United States (University of North Carolina Press, 2018). As she points out, decades before Seth Cohen celebrated the holiday of Chrismukkah on The O.C. , interfaith families were finding their own ways to create happy and harmonious families across boundaries of religious and cultural difference, during the holiday season and beyond.

On early approaches to interfaith marriage in the 1970s:

Thing - Target - Historically…how - People - Practices

“The first thing that I think is important to say is that this is a moving target. It runs historically…how people have understood “best practices” have changed over time. At the beginning of the period that I’m writing about, really, there was sort of unilateral agreement on the part of the Jewish, Protestant, and Catholic clergy that it was best for interfaith families to pick one religion for their home and to really celebrate one religion. And what that one religion should be—obviously, the different kinds of clergy had different opinions about that. The Church would prefer that people stay Catholic…The mainline Protestants, for a wide array of reasons, tended to support Jewish arguments that there should be one religion in the home, and it should be Judaism.”

On the symbolism of Christmas trees and the pressure placed on interfaith families who affiliated with...
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