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The Olympian, Olympia Washington Saturday, December 21, 2002



Season can get complicated in a multi-faith family

Dear friends of all faiths, To our Moslem friends, hope you had a blessed Ramadan and a joyous Eid.

To our Jewish friends, hope your Hanukkah was great. To our Wiccan friends, we wish you a joyful Yule. To our Christian friends, a blessed Advent and a merry Christmas. To our agnostic friends, a happy and meaningful solstice (hey, you gotta celebrate something!) To our African-American friends, a delightful Kwanzaa.

And to our Baha'i friends, well -- celebrate with all of the above and get to the after-Christmas sales early to shop for Ayyam-i-Ha.

But what happens when one family (nuclear or extended) has members of different faiths?

How our family does it

Well, this is how our -- Baha'i, Catholic, Foursquare Gospel, and Lutheran -- family does it.

Daughter Janelle (Church of Living Water) says:

"Our family is continually learning what it means to love and respect each other even though we disagree. We each believe that we have more of the truth, and we each want to share it with the rest, but we also recognize that we each also believe that. We have to learn to love each other right where we're at. Which I believe is what God does with us too.

"We try to respect each other's beliefs and traditions and allow the others their beliefs and traditions without getting offended.

"For example; closing a prayer over the meal, you may hear my sister and I say 'In Jesus' name we pray,' and my dad will perform the Catholic sign of the cross, touching the forehead, heart and each shoulder while saying 'In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,' an 'Amen' may come from the Lutherans, and I can't even begin to spell what the Baha'is say!

"But we are able to pray together as a family. ... Nobody insists anyone participate in anything that goes against their beliefs. The invitation is always offered but no one is offended if turned down.

"It is a wonderful treat to celebrate Christmas and Easter with my in-laws, who all share my faith, but my family is just who they are and I love them right where they're at."

Our ground rules

As for ground rules, the children's father, Bill (a Catholic), explains:

"How can families with diverse faiths celebrate the birthday of Christ? In this family, we plan an extended family get-together at a time that allows each family unit to celebrate, or do nothing, in their own time in their own customary way. We also have extended family get-togethers at least two other times per year.

"To keep these get-togethers harmonious and satisfying for all with a wide diversity of faiths, there are unwritten rules accepted and observed by all. First, no one is ever arbitrarily excluded. The same invitation and welcome are given to all in any way related to the family. If any persons wish to exclude themselves, that is respected.

"The second rule is basic -- that the sincere conscience of each one is respected. No effort of any sort is made by anyone to persuade others to accept his or her own way of worship.

"A third rule is corollary to the second. No jokes about the particulars of any other's faith are permitted. If you feel secure enough to pass on a funny story about your own faith or church group, great. We'll all laugh with you.

"These rules have never been spoken or written. They are simply assumed by all to be binding on all."

In our family, this applies to Christmas; in yours, it might be Hanukkah or Yule or Kwanzaa. Same rules apply.

Party before or after

And on a practical note, we've evolved a timely solution to an old problem.

We have our family party on the weekend just before or just after Christmas. Christmas Eve is for the in-laws, and Christmas is for our individual households to start their own traditions. The three Baha'i households don't celebrate Christmas among themselves but do share the holidays with friends and family.

Joy to all in this season of holidays.

Janet Tanaka is a member of the Baha'i Community of East Thurston County. Perspective is a coordinated by Associated Ministries in cooperation with The Olympian. The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily endorsed by Associated Ministries or The Olympian.

©Copyright 2002, The Olympian (Olympia Washington, USA)

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