Holy Women Icons Bearing the Light of Advent by Angela Yarber

There’s nothing like the holiday season to bring out everyone’s least feminist self. In one of the courses that I teach—Gender, Food, and the Body in Popular Culture—students are assigned to examine gender roles throughout the holiday season through the lens intersectional ecofeminism. Inevitably, almost every student returns from holiday break with the same assessment: mom, grandma, and a kitchen full of women prepare, cook, and clean every family meal; women do the holiday shopping; men in the family watch sports. Of course, this isn’t true of everyone. There are plenty of families who subvert and dismantle stereotypical gender roles, but the holidays seem to heighten these roles, undergirding them with some kind of nostalgic and theological weight that claims that if mama doesn’t arduously prepare her famed casserole, the season will be ruined. Otherwise committed feminists find themselves singing carols filled with sexist language and participating in holiday rituals that they would critique any other time of the year. Subversion be damned because we want our traditional family holiday!

I’ve long struggled with creative ways to subversively approach the holidays as a queer clergywoman, parent, artist, and author. People like their nostalgic and heart-warming traditions, even when they sometimes smack of patriarchy, racism, and heteronormativity. I’ve confronted this as a preacher and worship planner, often to raised eyebrows or angry phone calls from congregants who just want to sing the carols without the preacher changing the words, or dismissing the notion of a virgin birth, or hanging enormous paintings of pregnant women all over the sanctuary.

But maintaining our intersectional feminism is important, even in the face of holiday nostalgia.

Added to this importance is the lengthening of night and shortening of days as winter draws closer. We find ourselves searching for light amidst the chaos of the holidays while the sun sets earlier and earlier each day. As one way of subversively aiding us in this search for affirming light, love, and hope throughout the holidays, I’ve created a series of Advent Daily Reflections: “Holy Women Icons Bearing the Light.” In these daily Advent reflections, a Holy Woman Icon offers readers ways of bearing light in the world. Whether it is Mary teaching us to wait for light, Gloria Anzalduá teaching us to bridge the light, Aurora teaching us to invoke the light, or Maya Angelou teaching us to embolden the light, each daily reflection includes an image of the icon, a brief reflection about how she bears light, an intention for the day, questions for contemplation, and a blessing.

Because we need ways of queering the holidays, there are myriad revolutionary queer women featured throughout the Advent Daily Reflections, offering us examples for bearing the light throughout the season. Tiamat, a Babylonian goddess syncretistically woven into the Judeo-Christian creation narrative of Genesis, stirs alongside the feminine ruah to birth the world into being. Queer understandings of Mary subvert traditional interpretations of Jesus’ mother in iterations of Mary, Guadalupe, La Negrita, the Virgin of Caridad, and the Virgin of Regla. Pauli Murray, the first black woman ordained as an Episcopal priest and a queer civil rights attorney, teaches us to subvert the light. The Mothers of Black Lives Matter remind us of the queer origins of the movement as they galvanize us to wake the light this season. Painter Georgia O’Keeffe, long known as a feminist bisexual artist, ushers in creativity as we seek the light. And Gloria Anzalduá provides us with tools for bridging the light between polarities.

Have you ever felt that you need tools, methods, examples, tactics for bridging the divide that exists between yourself and homophobic or sexist family members? Do you yearn for glimmers of light-filled hope throughout a nostalgic season that often leaves you feeling less than warm and fuzzy? Do you want to learn about other revolutionary women who have carved pathways, subverted the season, and created new ways of bearing light in the world? If so, many of these holy women can offer you the tools, glimmers, and pathways you’re longing for.

The season of Advent truly is all about longing, hoping, preparing the way. But many of us have been longing and hoping for far too long. Longing for equality. Hoping for acceptance. Yearning for ways to celebrate our feminist faith throughout the holidays. There are many beautiful ways to do this, from celebrating your chosen family to setting concrete boundaries with family who do not fully celebrate who you are. Because who you are is fabulous and amazing and beloved. Nothing less.

No matter what you do or where you go throughout the holiday season, know that you are loved. Know that you are worthwhile. Know that the light shining within you is worth sharing. Bear your light with pride.


If you want another beautiful way of bearing your feminist light this season, check out the Holy Women Icons Project’s Advent Daily Reflections. As a gift, use promotion code HWIP5 to get $5 off your registration. Reflections are accessed directly on an individual’s computer or mobile device with a daily email reminder. The daily reflections are $40 per person and include an Advent reflection emailed to you every day throughout the entire season of Advent.

Rev. Dr. Angela Yarber is the Founder and Creative Director of the Holy Women Icons Project. She holds a Ph.D. in Art and Religion. A professor of Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies, she is the author of seven books. As an author and professional artist, she is creating a retreat center with her wife and child on Hawai’i Island as a part of the Holy Women Icons Project non-profit. 

Categories: Advent, Ancestors, Art, Christianity, Christmas, Family, Female Saints, Feminism and Religion, holiday, Prayer, Ritual, Seasons, Spirituality

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12 replies

  1. I’m just wondering where in all this “light” that we can make room for darkness in her most generative aspect… bears are hibernating to sleep and dream…and perhaps we ecofeminist women need to do the same.

    Personally, each year I make a choice NOT to participate in holiday anythings…. I make my own wreath out of some part of a tree to honor the circle of life. I acknowledge the next turning of the wheel without putting emphasis the birth of anything male.I spend time with Nature and leave it at that.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thanks Angela, love your art works always.

    On bearing the light of advent, I have a fascination with the science of the changing of the seasons and its equality.

    One scientific explanation says delightfully that “as the Earth orbits the sun, its tilted axis always points in the same direction. So, throughout the year, different parts of the Earth get the sun’s direct rays.”


  3. what a lovely idea. my sister Tallessyn and I have rewritten hundreds of hymns. What we find works best is to print the inclusive lyrics in the bulletin, with the hymnal number printed there as well. Then worship leaders invite congregants to choose whichever version they prefer, so we have unity in our diversity. Some people sing the lyrics in the bulletin (more than you’d think!) and some look it up and sing their familiar hymnal lyrics. It gets people used to it gently.
    I echo the need for holy darkness, in balance with the focus on light. In our hymn rewrites, we often try to lift up the sacred and womb-like aspects of darkness.
    The virgin birth narrative really needs to go. I wrote a progressive Christmas pageant this year, from the perspective of the donkey. No virgin birth. :)
    Lovely idea, it sounds like a beautiful advent journey guide. <3

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Your art always moves me, Angela. Thank you for sharing.


  5. Angela, this is exactly what I need! I struggle so much with the patriarchal language of the holiday hymns, as well as the whole Christmas story. I cope with that by also celebrating the solstice with like-minded friends. I am looking forward to your Advent Daily Reflections!


  6. Ah, the story about feminist values being thrown out the window at the holidays rings so true to me. I remember one winter my mother got pretty sick, and she spent a lot of Christmas crying because she felt so bad she wasn’t well enough to “do Christmas” for us kids.

    I have often thought that the story of Mary’s conception via the Holy Spirit is pretty gay and queer. If the Spirit is feminine and she gets Mary pregnant…well you see what I mean.

    I also struggle with the idea of celebrating the birth of a male sun. In my Gaelic tradition the sun is considered in feminine terms, so if we need to gender the sun (do we?) that is my preference.

    But like others have mentioned here, I also wonder about all the emphasis on light. It’s a little funny to me that the winter solstice is all about the light coming back, but I’ve never really heard of anyone celebrating the return of the darkness at summer solstice. We definitely seem biased towards the light. And as someone who experiences depression affected by the lack of light this time of year, I can definitely understand that bias on a very visceral level. And yet I believe there is something important about embracing this darkness, and embracing the parts of myself that I would prefer to run away from. I am trying to develop a low-key practice of taking time to honour the darkness at this time of year, and to schedule a lot of time for rest and reflection so as to not get swept up by busyness.


  7. Why do you find the need to bring about change that not everyone wants? Is it really necessary to try to find alternative meanings (where there are none) in many of the things we hold dear? Anyone can do that, but why? Can’t some things remain as they are and as they should be?
    I love my role of wife, mother, and grandmother in our family. I’m helping to create lasting memories for all of us. Sometimes, traditions are the glue that holds families in a tight embrace.
    Shameful how some promote their agenda.
    And, ps – I’m not an ignorant or uneducated woman. My undergraduate and graduate degrees in mathematics have been put to good use.


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