This is not a clinical how to. If you're struggling with interfaith issues in your relationship or friendship or life, I'd suggest talking with your pastor, priest, rabbi or a counselor. If you want to know the Ferny How To Guide to Life, keep reading.
1. Seek cultural advice from willing mentors, like my friend V did.
My best friend from law school is Jewish. V had never spent a Christmas Day with people who actually celebrate Christmas.
Until this year. V and her cutie husband P, also Jewish and Russian like her, came to the Fernicola's famous Christmas Day open house, where friends and family gather, eat, drink, eat, laugh, eat, celebrate and eat from noon to 2PM every Christmas (this is the portion of the day before we sit down and … eat … the main meal, that is - lasagna, salad, ham or turkey, sides).
V's boss is Italian so before the big day she told him, "I'm going to my Italian friend Fern's house for Christmas!"
He sat her down and advised her of the following:
1/ Don't shake hands. Kiss everyone hello, even all the ones you've never met.
2/ Don't say "Happy Holidays." It's "Merry Christmas."
3/ There will be at least one eggplant dish. (Of course, Millie's famous rollatini it was.)
4/ Dress conservatively.
5/ Bring a bottle of wine. (V's thought bubble: "I wasn't raised by wolves.")
Needless to say, V and P were a big hit and were begged to stay for dinner. Likewise, they thoroughly enjoyed the Fernicola's famous Christmas Day open house … because it has all of the ingredients for the best of times: good food (with at least one eggplant dish), being together, talking and laughing, which is tasty no matter what your religion or culture.
2. Marry into a funny family.
I'm 100% Italian American. H is Jewish. Snippets of conversation overheard at the Fernicola house on Christmas day:
Barbs (my mother in law): Look! I made little Christmas trees out of the napkins!
Later, I was asking questions, like I do.
Me: What did you think of S (my father in law) when he showed up for your first date?
Barbs: He had this green sweater on. He looked like Robin Hood.
S: I was told she was going to be blond.
Me: What did you say when you saw her and she had brown hair?
S: Where's your sister?
Playful people and humor make everything easier.
3. Be born into a family that embraces everyone.
In between the open house and the main meal, as H, my in laws, my aunt and I were relaxing in the living room, my father - an amazing cook, who prepares half of the Christmas Day delights along with my mother - was frying something in the kitchen while the turkey cooked.
Me: Ma, what's he doing in there?
My mother shrugged.
Several minutes later, my father came out to the living room. "Surprise!" He was carrying a piping hot plate of … potato latkes.
My father - the Italian car dealer, born and raised in Belleville, New Jersey, who has a pinky ring with a cross (yikes, this is making him sound like a real boombatz, which he is not. Sorry, Dad) - knew to have sour cream on the side.
And, like his meatballs and rice balls, Patty Fern's potato latkes are the best in the land.
So, there we were, the Italian Fernicola's and the Jewish Ronay's eating potato latkes before lasagna on Christmas Day.
That, my friends of all races, cultures and creeds, is how you do it.
In the spirit of Roses, here's to ~
1/ the best friends,
3/ in laws,
4/ mother and father
5/ and family
a girl could ask for.
Fern Ronay relocated to Los Angeles in 2014. Her first novel, Better in the Morning, the story of a single 29-year-old Manhattan lawyer who is guided in her dreams by her dead Italian grandparents, is available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Follow the hashtag #BetterInTheMorningBook on social media and follow Fern on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat @FernRonay.