Nicole Chu and Ketsada Phanivong
Nicole Chu and Ketsada Phanivong

The holiday season has arrived. Many families will come together to celebrate, to share and to love one another despite differences. But what do you do during the holidays when you share different religions? Personally, I was raised Buddhist and my husband was raised Christian. We respect each other’s beliefs and values. Yet, we are not a religious couple. I don’t visit the neighboring temples every weekend nor does my husband go to church every Sunday. Yet, there is an unspoken faith we share rooted in love and mutual respect when it comes to our religions.

When my grandmother passed away last December, I was deeply touched by my husband’s participation in the Buddhist rituals. It was moving to see amongst the sea of Asian faces, my American husband sitting there with his hands together chanting along with the monks. His love gave me strength, but it was his participation that pushed me beyond my own grief helping me move forward.

I know my husband and I are not the only couple around the world who have dual religions. I asked my good friends, Nicole Chu and Ketsada Phanivong, to give me their thoughts on how they deal with having different religious backgrounds in their family. Chu’s family is Catholic, while her husband is Buddhist.

I asked them if they ever felt any pressure from their sides of the family. Chu experienced the most pressure from her side of the family for not marrying someone who had the same religion. Growing up, she was taught to marry someone who is raised Catholic or at least would join her religion later on.

She felt they wanted this for her because someone who did not belong to the same faith would not have the same core values or beliefs. And in turn could cause strife or possibly a break up in the relationship.

However, after dating Phanivong for a long time she realized they had very similar values and beliefs, such as being loyal and respectful. Phanivong, whose family is from Laos, said he did not care about her Catholic upbringing or Vietnamese background. He said he loved her independent spirit and personality. As for his family, he said they only wanted the couple to be happy and to love each other.

This past summer, the couple got married. When they were planning the wedding, they decided to honor both sides of the family: they had a Laotian wedding, a Catholic church wedding, and a traditional Vietnamese ceremony. Both expressed it was important to celebrate all sides of the family. Chu added, “I really wanted my family to see his side and his cultural background, because the families were so different on paper, but truly both families were more similar than expected.” She felt her family was able to see at the Laotian wedding why she had married him and that he was a good person who came from a great family.

Of course, there will always be some pressure or issues in an interfaith relationship. For example, now that they are married both families want grand-children, but her family would like her to baptize them in the Catholic Church. They are both not sure if they will do this in the future, but understand it is an important ritual for her family. For these newlyweds, they hope their future children will be able to take “the good parts” from both religions.

I then asked them, what would they want their kids to learn? Phanivong expressed, “Buddhism has taught me to think for yourself, don’t let others dictate to you, but always question and make sure it is your choice, your path.” Chu hopes they will learn from Catholicism, “Being disciplined not to give into outside influences, but believe in yourself and not to give into the here and now.”

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