Home for the Holidays By Carol P. Christ

Yesterday I was watching an episode of Grey’s Anatomy in which George’s father said to him, “you’re not like us, you’re a surgeon.”  “And,” George’s father added, “you don’t like to do the things we like to do.”  It is not easy not being like your family and not liking the things they like.  When my mother was alive, she was the glue that held us together.  Since then, my sheer presence in the lives of my father and my brothers and their families is disruptive.  No matter that I try not to make waves, I make them all the same.  I do keep my mouth shut about politics and religion and feminism.  Even so, the last time I was home for the holidays my father asked me to stay in a hotel because having me in the house made him nervous and uncomfortable.  To be fair, how would you feel if your daughter was 6 feet tall and you weren’t, she had a PhD and you didn’t, and even if she didn’t open her mouth at all, you knew that she didn’t agree with your political views or your everyday assumption that men make the final decisions on all important matters?  Or if you were my brother who does not have a college education and who feels that women and minorities and gays have taken something from him? Or if you were my Mormon brother who is trying to keep his three daughters on the straight and narrow and not on the path chosen by their aunt?  On the last Christmas day I spent at my brother’s house, I did not mention any of the obvious things, but it was hard to hide being astonished by the number of presents and the amount of money spent on them, and I simply could not force myself to watch football.  

My disaffection from my family may be extreme, but it is not uncommon in the modern world.  It is one of the fruits of higher education, mobility, and freedom.  But that does not make it any less painful.  In my home away from home, I create Thanksgiving for group of friends, most of whom are not American, using my mother’s and grandmothers’ silver and china, and making the pumpkin pie from scratch.  On Christmas Eve a German friend invites a group of us for dinner, last year we had marinated salmon with dill sauce prepared by a Swedish friend followed by wild boar with mushroom cream sauce.  On Christmas day English friends invite another group of us for turkey and plum pudding.

We are creating our own traditions. Still, I remember Grandmother’s laden platters, tables and card tables pulled together for all the relatives, and the stories of the farm told by Uncle Emery.  It would be nice to go home for the holidays.

Carol P. Christ is a founding mother in the study of women and religion, feminist theology, women’s spirituality, and the Goddess movement.  She teaches in the Women’s Spirituality program at CIIS and through Ariadne Institute offers Goddess Pilgrimages to Crete. Her books include She Who Changes and Rebirth of the Goddess and the widely used anthologies Womanspirit Rising and Weaving the Visions.

Categories: Family, Feminism, Foremothers, Major Feminist Thinkers in Religion

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11 replies

  1. Thank you for posting your experiences about something that touches many of us. In my family experience, the father was the nurturer and mother was bitterly critical. I will not say more about my experience, though it has taught me so much about the pain in relationships. Some are fortunate to recover from this pain, to be able to forge relationships with others in their communities, academic, political, social or professional environments. In my case, almost any relationship is a challenge, being in a difficult relationship with/within myself. I admire your courage and the compassionate, scholarly manner in which you treated this delicate subject.

    Family tensions have led me to see how a cloud of pain hovers over all relationships. Knowing that some kind of pain is bound to emerge does not keep me from trusting and caring for others. However, I believe that not enough has been written about the spiritual implications of the pain that comes when an ideal relationships ends. By ideal I mean a relationship defined by kindness, intelligent explorations, thrill, warmth and compassion. I have experienced that, and I sadly remember… In the ideal relationships the pain of separation is even worse than it is to separate ourselves from tense or abusive family relations.

    This is a topic which perhaps needs to be further explored in western spirituality. It has been elaborated in detail in the Sanskrit term vairagya, dispassion, in Indian spirituality. An understanding about the unavoidable pain in all relationships, whether positive or negative, is one of the basis for the Indian monastic order of renunciation, “sannyasa.”

    This leads one to want to redefine family and relationship. I can see how when you share your mother’s and grandmother’s silver and china, the delicious food and warm hospitality with your Swedish, Greek and German friends, in that very moment you manifest your mother and grandmother’s spirit, and all together embody family:

    वसुधैव कुटुम्बकम transliteration: “Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam,” meaning, “the whole world is one single family.” I also see how easily you embody the caring love for the world family. Wishing you the Warmth, Love and Kindness of all dear ones near and far! Yours in Goddess, Vrinda


  2. Thanks Vrinda, the whole world is one single family, what a lovely idea!


  3. Carol: This is such a poignant piece! Your line, “my disaffection from my family may be extreme, but it is not uncommon in the modern world. It is one of the fruits of higher education, mobility, and freedom” reminded me of the life of Richard Rodriguez — a Mexican-American author who has written beautifully about what he has gained and lost through upward mobility (n.b., he talks about ‘coming home’ and being an “anthropologist in his own family’s kitchen.”

    How nice for you to be sharing your familial and cultural traditions with others. Still, I can’t help but feel sad that your success has caused others in your family to feel so alienated from you.


  4. My experience quite mirrors yours in this regard. I used to get so pissed when I and my two brothres were on a visit home with Dad the “boys” would be so interested in discussing and catching up on each others’ career stuff and I was totally left out…not a question…I pretty much choose not to visit my very own personal original patriarchal site these days. Having only one brother left ( a top propagandist for the military) makes it simpler, except inside.

    Thanks for sharing this, it is real and worthy of honoring.

    Happy Holydays :)


  5. I think this is where Women’s Spirituality is such a great help, support, and comfort. Carol, your books are stunning in that they offer the possibility of a world where we can have ‘real’ family, where we can have full relationships.

    I no longer go ‘home’ and, yes, I miss what I thought I had there. But it was a phantom. The religion I was rasied in gave us one, and only one, path: one I could not endure. Goddessing opens the world and the world’s peoples and ideas to us, giving us the knowledge to make a new path to a better living world.

    I morn what I have lost, I morn what you have lost, but I love the image of Hecate challenging us at the crossroads. The future is a powerful gift.


  6. I so appreciate that you put into words what so many of us experience and feel. It is rather taboo to admit that holidays are not always a big ball of happy wrapped in a silver bow. Honestly, you described my former family holidays quite clearly. Like you, I have assembled a tribe of friends and have created my own rituals in order to celebrate. Nevertheless, I found tears streaming down my face as I drove to a class final yesterday. I wasn’t conscious of any particular pain, but there was a longing not for what actually was, but for what I wish it had been…a holiday where family accepted each other and celebrated accomplishments with arms open wide, rather than talking about football and how much each person spent on gifts, and who had gained or lost weight, or had a higher paying job. But I am so grateful that I have the ability to find solace in nature, to attune with the cycle of the year, and to find rest there with the Goddess because it allows me to let others ‘have’ what it is they want and need at this time of year, even if it means I don’t participate in it. Perhaps nothing entirely takes the sting out of being estranged from one’s biological family, but it does force me to look for and revel in the larger family that exists, and I’m so grateful to know that this is possible. Have a love-filled holiday, wherever that leads you. Ms. Christ, you are a treasure!


  7. Thank you Carol for this lovely commentary and to the others who left comments… I too, have a similar story of creating family outside my own and feeling like the white elephant in the middle of the room. My father was a spiritual seeker & eventually became an evangelist so, when my siblings used to say to me, “Oh, you’re just like Dad”, chills went down my spine. Now, that we have all mellowed a bit, they say instead, “We know you loved Dad but it’s difficult to hear this (feminine divine conversation) because of our experience and pain with Dad”. Therefore, I am lucky that we have all grown, since we fled from home in so many different directions when we came of age to do so; but now we skype at Christmas. Probably, what has helped us the most to come together is the humor we share and oddly enough, we were gifted that from my father !


  8. Wow! Can I related. I never even realized that there were others like me.


  9. I mean can I relate. Christmas has been very difficult time for me. Similar story to Carol’s.


  10. As an only child, I cannot imagine what it would be like to have such a family. Thank you, Carol, for sharing the very difficult relationship with your family. I admire your courage in standing up to the patriarchy and being able to move so far beyond.


  11. I appreciate what you shared.


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