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.