Peabody native Corey Jackson grew up attending a conservative Protestant church, but when he was 23 and in college, he decided to convert to Judaism. Later in life, he married his wife, Sarah, who grew up in a Catholic family and was raised religiously, but said her faith cooled as she got older.
Today, the couple have two small children, Maddie, 3, and Milo, 5, and they are celebrating the traditions of both faiths this holiday season.
In the window of their Boxford home sits a menorah, and their yard and home are decorated for Christmas, with a tree by the fireplace. Their message to their kids is there are many different faiths and beliefs, centered around “being good people and leaving the Earth a better place than how we found it,” said Corey.
A 2015 study of the Greater Boston Jewish Community by Combined Jewish Philanthropies showed that 47 percent of households with a Jewish parent are interfaith, and of those, 57 percent are raising their kids Jewish. The study found interfaith families were just as likely to light Hanukkah candles, or attend a Seder or a service within the past year, as were families with two Jewish adults.
“It’s our reality,” said Rabbi David Kudan of Temple Tiferet Shalom in Peabody. “I think that overall we want to use the holiday season as an opportunity for sharing values and respecting traditions and strengthening our families and our ties with one another.”
Corey Jackson works as the executive director of Citizens Inn in Peabody, a nonprofit that helps find housing for the homeless and feed the needy. Sarah Jackson works as a fund-raising consultant.
Corey said a combination of things led him to convert, including growing up in Peabody, where he had a lot of Jewish friends. In college, he worked at the Hendricks Chapel at Syracuse University, which was built in the style of the Pantheon in Rome and serves all faiths. He was attracted to the open, tolerant, and community aspects of Reform Judaism.
Sarah Jackson grew up a Catholic home in Methuen, where she attended a Catholic grade school and went to church every week. After Methuen High, she went to the Catholic Emmanuel College in Boston, but she drifted away from her faith during college.
In 2009, the Jacksons were married by her campus priest, “but he was very cool with interfaith,” she said.
“We have our own set of core beliefs and sort of moral code and all of that that we feel we got from our religions, and, like, how do we give that to our children without all of the what we consider the not so good parts?,” Corey wondered.
They put their kids in day care at the North Suburban Jewish Community Center in Peabody, where they were exposed to elements of the Jewish faith.
“Milo’s doing the prayers, we light the menorah right now. He knows the tune, he knows some of the words, it’s great,” Corey said.
Sarah said their individual faiths are more about community than anything else. When her children mentioned during a car ride that those who celebrate Hanukkah don’t have Christmas lights, she told them, “There are all kinds of awesome, different holidays.”
“And, I think, as a result, we expose them to everything that we enjoy such as pieces of the traditions and the foods,” Corey said. “We made a kugel and some latkes the other day, so that was fun. But, you know, they have a Christmas tree and the reindeer outside and they are counting down to Christmas Day as much as they are lighting the menorah.”
The challenge for real estate agent Kate Aikman of Marblehead, whose husband, Dennis, was raised in Andover in a Protestant family, is more from outside the home than inside when it comes to celebrating both holidays.
“I think it works well as a family,” Kate said. “We don’t have any challenges as a family. It’s everything else. It’s the environment.” Her kids will be asked if they are celebrating both holidays, for example.
While they do celebrate both Hanukkah and Christmas, they are raising their three daughters, Jenny, 14, Taylor, 12, and Noa, 10, as Jewish.
Their home has an inflatable Santa and lights outside and they put up a Christmas tree. The kids get a stocking from Santa, but not presents. Christmas Eve and Day are spent with Kate’s husband’s parents.
There is a challenge in making Hanukkah just as exciting as Christmas. Last year, they overlapped, which Kate said was difficult because it detracted from celebrating Hanukkah for two of the eight nights.
“I like being able to celebrate Hanukkah for what it is,” Kate said. She likes when the family pauses to be together as the candles burn down. They also like to prepare Hanukkah foods such as matzo ball soup, latkes, and sufganiyot.
“As a family we haven’t had any hiccups,” Kate said. She has a supportive husband who attends services and enjoys talking with Rabbi David Meyer, spiritual leader of the Reform Temple Emanu-El.
Katie Wadland of Wakefield and her husband, Jason, are raising their two daughters, Kyla, 9, and Aubrey, 7, Jewish, and they attend Temple Tiferet Shalom. The “Mensch on a Bench” and “The Elf on the Shelf” both make appearances in their home.
She said it was important for her to get married in a Jewish wedding ceremony and raise her kids Jewish. Jason comes from an Italian Catholic background, but he is not a practicing Catholic.
Growing up, she attended Temple Beth Elohim in Wellesley, and her faith was more about family than anything else.
Katie said her husband appreciates Jewish values and ethics. For him, his faith was all about family celebrations.
“He’s a great partner,” she said of Jason, who even took an introduction to Judaism course before they got married in 2009. Her in-laws also are supportive. They purchased a menorah so they can light the candles when the kids visit, and they come to temple when their grandchildren have parts in services.
Katie Wadland wants to be just as welcoming. “I didn’t want to disregard [Jason’s] traditions because he was so open to having our traditions,” she said.