For many Jewish families, Christmas Day means quiet time at home with good TV and a predictable trip to the movies followed by Chinese food. But for Sharon and David Lieberman, a Jewish couple who live in Northbrook with their two children, Christmas Day is filled with good food and lots of good friends.
Several years ago, when the couple's now-5-year-old daughter was a baby, they were invited to join their friends' Christmas celebration. What started as a fun night together is now an annual event and has grown to include the Liebermans' Hanukkah celebration and another family's annual Easter egg hunt and lunch.
While some may crave the company of good friends during the holidays, others see sharing their culture and holidays with friends of different faiths as an enriching and eye-opening experience for their children.
What has been most surprising for Sharon Lieberman, though, is watching her kindergartner share with great pride her own family's traditions.
"For the kids, it's new foods, games, everything fun," she says. "My daughter has such pride being able to teach and share her holiday. Likewise, while she understands that Christmas and Easter aren't our holidays, she loves learning about them."
Rabbi Karyn Kedar, of Congregation BJBE in Deerfield, says friends might actually find more commonality than they expect.
"Religious traditions and rituals are an expression of our most basic human desires," she says. "All faith traditions use light to express the desire to banish the darkness of the soul; all faith traditions require charitable giving to express the obligation to give to those who suffer; and all faith traditions gather in community to banish a sense of isolation."
Michelle Newman, whose family has been celebrating Hanukkah with the Liebermans for the last several years, says her small children are not the only ones learning from the experience.
"Having grown up on the East Coast in a small community with little variety, it has been most surprising to discover new ways of observing holidays through reflection, prayer, conversation and celebration," Newman says.
The Rev. Melissa Earley of Northbrook United Methodist Church says many members of her congregation share holidays and significant life events with friends of other religions.
"Families who have been able to participate in traditions and holidays with those of other faiths say they not only learn about practices, which are different, but they also think more deeply about their own faith," she says.
If you would like to share your holiday this year with friends of a different faith, Earley offers some advice.
Briefly explain what the holiday celebrates and give an overview of what will happen.
Think about all the details your guests won't know-what is appropriate to wear, when it is appropriate to ask questions and when that would interrupt the event.
If part of the ritual is in a foreign language, don't feel the need to translate word for word. Instead, consider giving a one sentence description of what is happening.
For those families like the Liebermans and Newmans, who will share traditions and rituals with others, Kedar advises, "Leave your world, just for a moment, and enter into the sounds and sights of another religion's expression of hope, of the quest for meaning, of the yearning for purpose and you will be enriched."
Elizabeth Abrams is a mom and freelance writer living in Northbrook