09/20/2012 12:32 pm ET Updated Nov 20, 2012

What's This Weird Holiday and Why Should I Care?

What's This Weird Holiday and Why Should I Care?

The holidays are coming! This month, it's the Jewish holidays of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur (the new year and the Day of Atonement), next month it's the Chinese New Moon Festival, close on its heels are Hindu Dwali and Holi, followed by the Christian Christmas in December. Add onto that Shaldi Yadah, Eid, Pongal and No Roos, all of which come at some point during the year, and we've got ourselves lots of potential for celebration but also for conflict.

Because more of us than ever before are marrying a person of a different race or religion, the holidays can turn into an even messier confluence of events than is typically depicted in Hollywood. For those of us who have married into a different culture, celebrating a holiday that has none of the fond memories of youth, nor any of the angst of growing up can be an awkward experience -- particularly if our in-laws don't share their memories or explain the roots of the traditions.

There's no denying that we all enjoy the universals of celebrations -- the good food, the family members getting together and sharing embarrassing stories -- but a holiday with different customs can be unpleasant without some effort to be a part of it. The responsibility for turning an unfamiliar holiday into a pleasant experience lies with both sides of the family. The newcomer to the celebrations must express an active interest in learning and the extant family must be open to teaching. But if either side is unwilling to cooperate, these family celebrations can be miserable for all involved.

Problems arise if the family expects the newcomer to automatically understand and embrace the philosophy and theology of the holiday -- there's a learning curve with any new culture. At first, we're tourists in each other's customs. Sure, we can take pleasure in the happiness of others, but we can't immerse ourselves in the new without a chance to grow comfortable with it. Don't expect your in-laws from another religion to feel immediately comfortable at a religious ritual that's traditional for you and don't take their discomfort too personally.

Forget the delicious self-righteousness that only our religion has the answer. Many wise souls have contributed explanations of our origins and our coming demise. Religions conflict in these views, and that's when the going gets tough. We cannot expect our in-laws from different cultures to immediately embrace our own, but we can ask them to give us the chance to explain our traditions to them and to learn about theirs.

In the end, perhaps one of us will convert to the new way of thinking but, if not, we can still enjoy each other and our different traditions and grow from the different points of view.