New Family Traditions: Creating Rituals (Interfaith or Otherwise)


As interfaith families raising children with two religions, we often find ourselves creating new rituals as we go through life honoring both family traditions. Starting with the design of an interfaith marriage, and moving on through welcoming an interfaith child, coming of age, and ultimately facing death, we draw from both religions and cultures, respecting the integrity of each, and yet compelled to also innovate in order to form a coherent whole that highlights the interconnections in our families. As a result, we are sometimes accused of being “inauthentic,” or watering down our religions, or creating a third religion. But those of us who live interfaith lives, through marriage or birth, escape early from the fear of change or innovation, and learn quickly the beauty and power of creating new rituals.

In The Book of New Family Traditions: How to Create Great Rituals for Holidays and Every Day, author Meg Cox encourages all of us (whether interfaith or monofaith) to create our own family-specific rituals. She goes further, advocating for the right of all families to take inspiration from rituals of other religions and cultures. In the author’s preface to the revised 2012 edition of her popular book, Cox writes, “When it comes to ritual (and loads of other things), parents should feel free to borrow from good ideas that are already circulating, no matter that another family’s tree was planted in a different country or a different type of soil.”

Cox describes the rituals that different families have created for moments large and small, including bedtime, daycare drop-off, gardening, first menstruation, leaving for college, and both pet and family deaths. The book would be equally useful to those families that are secular, spiritual but not religious, or deeply religious.

Cox does describe many religious inspirations including Quaker and Buddhist blessings for meals, weekly family nights created by Catholic and Mormon parents, and Native American, Celtic and African traditions. The strength and heart of this book dwell in the ideas for everyday rituals and rituals for “non-religious” events such as getting a driver’s license or traveling by plane. Cox does not attempt to compile a compendium of world religious holidays, though she does have sections on rituals for Hanukkah, Christmas, Solstice, Easter and Passover. (This blog is mentioned in the Passover section).

As a parent, I wish this book had existed when my children were still small. As an interfaith parent, of course I have created rituals for my family, but Cox describes many more ways in which family life can be enriched by the intentional pairing of words and actions, imparting greater meaning to our lives. Some of these rituals work not just for parents, but for couples without children, singles, and empty-nesters. I intend to embrace more of them, starting today.

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