While I was a student, I lived in a house with roommates who were practicing Jews, practicing Catholics, and one staunch atheist. These different backgrounds meant wildly different holiday traditions, but we made our joint living situation work smoothly without any major arguments.
Different religions aren’t the only reason holiday conflicts can pop up. Even within a single religious or cultural background, different families have different traditions, so even if you wanted to prescreen all potential roommates to only live with people of the same religious or cultural heritage as you, you’ll still likely experience a few of these possible conflicts.
Decorate for Everyone’s Comfort
Will you have a tree in the front room? A display of menorahs? A kinara on the communal dining table?
Deciding what holiday decorations take center stage can be the first and most challenging territory for discussion. Talk early, so people have time to think through compromises and options before they’ve actually started decorating.
Be ready to compromise. If your roommate feels very uncomfortable with something you enjoy, maybe you can add those decorations just to your room. Or keep them up for a shorter time. Maybe you can combine decorations from both of your backgrounds. The important part is to acknowledge that your roommates might not like these things as much as you do, and ask for their input before taking over the house with a giant inflatable talking Santa or whatever other decorations have always graced your home at the holidays.
Be a Good Roommate
Many holiday issues come back to the basics of being a good roommate — remember that you have shared spaces and not everyone enjoys or believes in the same things. It’s always fine to decorate your room or play non-stop Christmas music with your headphones in, but think about what might cross the line for others.
If you’re a holiday fanatic and want to do it all, think of ways to move some of the celebration away from your home. Can you host a holiday party at a restaurant or park? Change some of your more overtly religious items to more general decor? For example, maybe just strings of lights or snowmen yard statues would be more acceptable than an angel-topped tree or a nativity scene in the main living space.
This applies to food, too. Does one of your roommates observe religious or health-related food restrictions? Be sensitive to those needs as you plan your cooking, baking, and celebrations, especially if you’ve decided to have a multi-cultural celebrating for all the roommates — you don’t want to make a traditional Christmas ham and serve it to your Jewish roommates. Does your roommate prefer to keep groceries separate? Even if they don’t, it’s best to assume that the fresh-baked holiday treats are off-limits unless you’re invited to sample!
Invite Them to Join You
My Jewish roommate loved to celebrate passover with a big Sedar meal. She invited lots of friends and all of the roommates to join, potluck style, in preparing traditional dishes. She sent around the recipes, and we did our best to create the right tastes of the holiday. Then, she guided us through the dinner, complete with singing, prayers, blessings, and stories. We all could choose to participate in the parts we felt comfortable with, but we were never pressured into things. What we all enjoyed was time together and tons of great food and wine!
Inviting roommates to join in your traditions can be a fun way to get to know each other better. Remember to keep it light, optional, and educational. Alternatively, if you’re invited to take part in a different religious holiday tradition, be sure to keep an open mind and enjoy learning about a new culture.
Start New Traditions Together
One of the best ways to make the holidays happy is to join together with these new people in your life and create new traditions together. Try hosting a big party together, or going for a special hike, or seeing the big game or a holiday show together. You can teach each other to bake your favorite holiday treats and eat them while binging your favorite TV shows. Look at your local events calendar and pick out something to do together. Lots of communities have light displays, concerts, parades, ice skating, and more during the winter months. Try out something new to all of you! And if you all are going to be together rather than with family, think about planning a little getaway — a day trip to the beach, an overnight ski vacation, or whatever would let you spend some cheery time together.
Above all, remember that the holidays are a time of both great cheer and often lots of stress. Try to stay open minded about new experiences and have some fun! And if nothing else, this time of year will end, and you can bond together over your new year’s resolutions.
Share your story of diverse holidays in the comments below!