Modern Life: A Dual-Faith New York City Family Juggles Christmas and Hanukkah

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CATHERINE COPPOLA, 57, MUSIC HISTORY PROFESSOR, RIC FRANK, 63, LOWER SCHOOL MUSIC TEACHER AND BAND LEADER, AND CELIA FRANK, 15, HIGH SCHOOL STUDENT.

For this Manhattan family, December means a holiday double-header: Christmas and Hanukkah. Catherine Coppola, a Catholic, her husband Ric Frank, who is Jewish, and 
their daughter, Celia Frank, pull off this dual-religion feat by combining old and new traditions in “roll-with-it” New York City style. They treated us to a glimpse of their particular winter wonderland, where Christmas ornaments and a menorah mix and mingle.

Questions answered by Catherine unless otherwise noted.

What do you like most, and least, about raising a child in New York City?

It’s great to have the incredible opportunities available here, especially for music and arts education. But it can be difficult for a child to be surrounded by high-end stores and all kinds of food and products that may not always be affordable. The flip side of that disparity, though, is the learning experience of growing up among many different kinds of people and levels of wealth, and the awareness that we are lucky to be in the middle, which can give a kid a healthy perspective.

How would you describe your parenting styles?

I try to talk things through, and accept the fact that the talk may go south, in which case tomorrow is another day. Sometimes you just have to leave it for a while and come back fresh.

My style is changing and evolving. The main thing I do is pick and choose my battles, and try to stay supportive. —Ric

What are some of your family’s Christmas and Hanukkah traditions?

For Christmas, tree decorating includes a goofy version of "The Twelve Days of Christmas" to go along with a set of ornaments that was given to me by some very good friends, and then we’ll drink eggnog, attend church and have dinner with my extended family. For Hanukkah, we light the menorah and sing the blessing, which Celia knows in Hebrew.

Have you found any challenges to living in a dual-religion household? If so, how have you dealt with them?

I was a church organist for many years, and Celia attended many services with me while Ric practiced his music, so it was natural for her to become part of that community. It also allowed Celia to participate comfortably when we attended church on holidays with the larger family.

Ric was not raised with synagogue attendance except on high holidays, but he always reads the services at home on the holidays and has tried to engage Celia in that way. So for us it has always tilted more toward the Christian side, and that can be a challenge for Ric, whose extended family is not on the East Coast. The challenge is that even with the best intentions, exposing Celia to both traditions can leave her confused as to which religion she is.

How did your friends and family react to your marriage?

We were introduced by a friend of Ric’s, and both his and my friends were happy for us. I had been married before, and about my first husband my father had raised the very legitimate question of why was he divorced. With Ric, my dad asked, “At 44, why has he never been married?” Parents will always have some trepidation until their child’s mate proves that they are a good person who will share your essential values. Once it was apparent that that was the case, my parents were fine with Ric. The only objection came from my very traditional Italian uncle. When I visited him in Bensonhurst and told him I had met a good guy, he asked, “What nationality is he?” When I said Jewish, he put his head in his hands and just shook it back and forth. Once he got over the surprise he was fine. With Ric’s family there was really no issue—his parents liked my cooking!

What song best captures the spirit of your family?

“My Girl.” It was our favorite early in our relationship as a couple, and it captures our love for Celia. What do you love most about Celia?

I love that she is able to assert herself when necessary but that she seems to know the difference between assertiveness and aggression. I’m actually a little jealous of the way she is able to make her needs and feelings known—and this is true whether they are feelings of anger or of love, with which she is very generous. I also admire the way she can hold her own in conversation, whether with peers or adults, and I am very proud of her honesty and her work ethic.

In addition to Cathy’s thoughts, I really love how Celia stands up for equality across the board whether related to gender, age, race or religion. —Ric

What’s the biggest challenge for your family?

We need to remember how good our life is and keep the trivial things that we argue about in perspective so they don’t weigh us down. And when it’s not so trivial, we need to put a priority on communicating clearly what we feel and need from the other person in the situation. Sometimes that seems even more challenging in a family of three, where the triangle of emotions can be very intense.

Any tricks to keeping sane while trying to do the whole work/life balance juggle?

Yoga and meditation for Ric, Pilates for me and creative work for both of us in performing and writing; it’s also important not to be too hard on yourself. Allow yourself some shortcuts, like a take-out night. Eating together feels good even if you didn’t cook the meal!