Old Traditions, New Traditions
Over the weekend, my family and I had a stupid argument over a chain email my father sent me. Usually his chain emails are vaguely Christian flavored with the sort of “love thy neighbor” attitude that I have no problem with. I can usually glance at them and hit delete. This one however, was lamenting the death of Christian male privilege in our society. (Ha!) Unfortunately I hit reply and opened a big can of worms. I tend to forget that just because my parents are accepting of my Paganism, it does not mean that they are supportive or remember that my lifestyle is not theirs. They are usually quietly befuddled and have a sense of “where did we go so wrong?” about them. They try to cover it up at family gatherings and glide over the fact that their beliefs are not mine.
It’s hard to walk away from the traditions that we were raised with. In some cases you still end up participating in your old practices because of things like family gatherings. One night, a few years ago, my roommate and I were standing at work discussing our plans for the holidays. Our supervisor, an older German lady broke in and exclaimed “I don’t understand you, neither of you are Christian, why do you pretend to celebrate Christmas?”. She looked at my roommate, “you’re an Atheist…” and then she looked at me and wiggled her fingers in an indecisive manner, “and you’re…well…whatever you are!” as if by declaring us non-Christian she was driving the point home. “If you’re going TO BE non-Christian, act like it.” While both of us sat her down and explained that just because we were not Christians, it didn’t mean that our families weren’t. And that we were not only expected to participate in our family activities, that we still enjoyed being a part of our family gatherings for the sake of family itself. this moment always stands out to me as indicative of a larger problem in embracing a new community.
Some of us are lucky and we are starting to see an actual second generation and sometimes even a third of Pagan families. For the rest of us, it’s often hard to leave your background behind you and embrace new traditions. Some continue to celebrate whatever holidays we grew up with and our Pagan ones just to keep the peace. I politely refuse to go to church and when my family’s more religious activities happen, I politely bow out and go entertain myself elsewhere, but…how do we forge new traditions when some people just won’t let you escape the old ones? How do we raise our families with the traditions we embrace and not allow our old traditions to steamroll us into not integrating into our new community?
When you’re practicing two divergent sets of practices, where do you draw the line and say “this is no longer appropriate for me to be a part of” and just say “no”?
For me, I no longer allow my parents to ignore the elephant in the corner of the room. Our exchanges over the weekend were fairly unpleasant, but I hope that it made them look at the fact that I won’t just allow them to ignore a very significant part of my life. These exchanges are never pleasant, but I became Pagan for more than just the Gods. We have a wonderful, divergent community that I feel is just as important for us to embrace as the philosophy itself. We are a religion of practice. My practices are vital to my everyday life.
If I do have children, I will raise them Wiccan. If I get married, I will have a Wiccan ceremony and not be bullied into a Christian ones as several of my friends have been. When I die, I wish to be buried according to my beliefs. I asked my mother at one point who in the family would come to my theoretical wedding. Her reply was “well…I guess your dad and I”. And how sad is that? That the rest of my family wouldn’t want to help me embrace a celebration for something like a wedding? I will make sure that my children understand that while I embrace my faith, if they find another, that will be OK.
I refuse to stay in the closet to make them comfortable. I can live with this now though, so that my children won’t have to. I will take the upset and the confrontation. Leaving our old traditions are hard, but until we do, we can’t ever be free to embrace our new ones and let our families see that just because we haven’t embraced their ways, ours aren’t just as valid and important. It’s one thing to show up to a family meal for a nice piece of ham and pie, it’s quite another to ignore your religion and be untrue to yourself just to make them happy.