One Season, Many Holidays – Religious Pluralism in the US

Posted by: Heather Fabrikant, Deputy Cultural Attaché

“We are a nation of many nationalities, many races, many religions – bound together by a single unity, the unity of freedom and equality.” – President Franklin Delano Roosevelt

“For the past four decades, new immigrants have brought to the U.S. not only their dreams of freedom or economic prosperity, but their Bhagavad Gitas and Qur’ans, their images of the Bodhisattva Guan Yin and the Virgin of Guadalupe. We the people wear yarmulkes, headscarves, and turbans now. We build temples, mosques, and gurdwaras.” Diana Eck, Harvard professor, Director of The Pluralism Project

Hanukkah at White House
Hanukkah at White House

Growing up a child of parents of two religious backgrounds, I celebrated not one but two holidays. Being raised worshipping and learning about two separate but linked traditions may seem strange to most, but it is an increasingly frequent phenomenon in America.  A recent survey indicates that among America’s married adults, 37 percent are married to someone from a different religious affiliation. A recent example is Chelsea Clinton’s marriage to Mark Mezvisnsky in July 2010, which was officiated by both a Rabbi and Reverend. While common, there are still mixed feelings in America about interfaith marriages, like that of my parents.


As a child, my Jewish father and I would go buy a fresh pine tree at the local church bazaar. Usually before Christmas, since Jewish holidays follow the lunar Hebrew calendar, my family lit a menorah for the first of the eight nights of Hanukkah. In my predominately African American junior high school, several classmates taught me about the Kwanzaa holiday, a week-long celebration founded in 1966 to honor African-American heritage.

According to an extensive study on the religious landscape of the US, America is one of the most religiously diverse countries in the world.  The First Amendment of our Constitution prohibits the establishment of a state religion and protects each individual’s freedom to worship as he or she chooses.  Every day, Americans of a wide spectrum of religions, ethnicities and creeds interact and worship in myriad ways. 

For more information about the religious freedom in the US check out the Freedom of Faith ejournal in English and Russian. I’d love to hear what you think!


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