I was going to write this entire background to how I got to where I am now with my family and life, but it occurred to me that the how isn’t important (or indeed what you’re really interested in hearing about) it’s the what I’ve learned that matters. So, here for you, are my tips on surviving the holidays when you’ve got a different religion/belief system/outlook on the universe to the rest of your family. My traditions and beliefs differ a great deal from my family – so I’ve been there!
Give your family time to get used to the fact that your ideals differ.
For me, it was a very gradual process and it has taken a good 15 years to bring them from the initial accepting that I would not go to mass with them to getting mum to join me in a Midwinter ritual last year. Chances are, unless you are converting for your romantic life partner (which is a fairly accepted reason a lot of people would understand) they may not really understand why you’ve made the choice to have different beliefs.
I know a lot of families where religion is a strong part of the family identity, so those who choose to follow their own path may find that the family feels they are being rejected, not just the family religion.
Advice on how to talk about your religious beliefs with your relatives
- Keep telling them how important they are to you!
- Be open about what has drawn you down your path and answer any questions they may have, but don’t overwhelm them with information.
- Make sure you know all about your different traditions and beliefs so that you are prepared to answer any questions. The more you know and the clarity with which you can explain things will help them understand that it isn’t a phase.
- Be prepared for them to simply dismiss it as a phase at first, part of the reason it’s taken me so long is precisely that.
- Once you’ve been at it for several years the ‘only a phase’ argument dies out on its own, or at least it did for me.
- Give them time to adjust to the change and don’t expect them to accept everything right away. But, by being calm and steadfast, they will come to accept your new beliefs as part of who you are, and eventually may even be curious enough to join in with yours!
Be calm, not combative. Belief is a tricky thing. Changing beliefs is hard and it can be difficult to convince people you’ve done so or otherwise hold a different belief to what they thought you held. People can be willing to die for their beliefs, so this isn’t something to take lightly. If it seems like an argument is brewing, try to take a step back. As I said, your family may feel that in changing to a belief different to the one you were raised with you are rejecting them alongside their beliefs and they may become defensive. Don’t try to rush them and don’t fight with them about it. Be firm so that they know shouting about it won’t change your belief back, but always be polite. Be the person you have always been to them, that they know and love, and give them time to incorporate this new knowledge into who they know.
Continue to participate in as many family traditions as you can.
This will help them understand that although you may not celebrate the same holiday now, you can all still decorate the house together or watch that special film. In my family, I am in charge of the tree, which is a tradition my grandfather and I shared and which has been my responsibility since he died.
Decorating a tree doesn’t conflict with my being a witch as Midwinter/Yule also has decorating with greenery as part of the celebrations. Plus, it’s a special tradition for me, which I celebrate as something important in its own right.
Find parallels between your celebrations and theirs. When I first stated explaining to my family that I didn’t celebrate Christmas anymore I had to endure a lot of ‘well, we won’t bother getting you any presents then’ and similar comments. I responded by saying that Midwinter was celebrated from the solstice to 6 January and presents were exchanged at any time during those celebrations, so I was happy to give them their Midwinter presents on Christmas, if they liked. By including them in my celebrations, they stopped feeling the need to exclude me from theirs.
It’s totally okay to celebrate the bits of their holiday that you still enjoy.
Despite not celebrating Christmas as a religious holiday, I’m still a total Christmas dork. I love the music and the films and I think that’s great! Besides, it’s not like the Muppet Christmas Carol or Love Actually are really religious anyway, they’re just fun seasonal films. Christmas in particular has strong secular traditions alongside the religious ones, so I think it’s perfectly fine for me to enjoy the holiday in that context and still have my spiritual celebration on the solstice. Besides, Santa rocks and I’m not giving that dude up! He fits in pretty well with the pagan traditions, too.
Very important: Don’t bring it up at dinner.
No matter when you choose to start explaining your new (or newly revealed) beliefs to your family, the big celebratory dinner is not the time to do it. Quite aside from shocking people over the turkey is the fact that religion is one of those topics -like politics and money- which is considered bad manners to discuss at a special dinner. My family will say grace before a special meal, now, I obviously don’t believe in a Christian god, so I say my own blessing in my head, and when everyone else says ‘amen’ I say ‘blessed be’ which is the traditional witches response. In retrospect I’m kind of surprised how many years I spent doing that before anyone actually noticed.
Invite them to join you.
Once you’ve arrived in a place where your family is acceptive and supportive of your beliefs, invite them to join in. They may want to do this straight away or it may take time, that’s up to you and them. They may feel that participating in a magical ritual is not something a catholic would do or they may be excited to join you in a bonding experience.
Create new traditions.
If you’ve got to a point where everyone is really down with your different beliefs, mix them up with theirs! Maybe you say grace and a pagan blessing before dinner now or everyone opens one present on the solstice before the rest of them at Christmas. There are all sorts of ways to blend things together and there is nothing wrong with celebrating the diversity in your family!
Above all else, have fun and celebrate the holidays with your family and friends. No matter what the differences in beliefs are, this time of year is about warmth and kindness and love and everyone can celebrate that!
If you have any questions about what I’ve written, please feel free to ask!
I’m happy to help if you’ve got something specific you’d like to discuss or if you’d like more details about my experiences. It’s against the ethics of being a witch to try to convert people, which is why I haven’t discussed anything in depth, but I enjoy talking about it when requested to do so.