Should I tell my Christian grandmother about my Pagan wedding?

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Your grandma might be more bad-ass than you're expecting. More photos from this wedding here.

I have a very close relationship with my Grandmother, however, in all my years of being so close with her, I, uh, “forgot” to mention that I am not Christian, but in fact Pagan. She is very religious and while it isn't overbearing — if anything it's wonderful that she has so much faith — this is very troubling to me because telling her than I'm Pagan would absolutely break her heart, and I really really really do not want to do that to her. Lying, yes, but with every good intention possible.

I've been dreaming of a hippie, backyard wedding, but now I am freaking out because even though I know no matter what that my Grandmother will always love me, but I know that she will feel directly responsible for me “straying from God.”

I've contemplated having two ceremonies, but do you had any advice on how I should approach this, and do you think there's any way I can really get away with this grand and terrible scheme I am trying to hatch? -Kei

Certainly having two weddings is a work-around to avoid confronting the situation, but alternately, this could be an amazing opportunity to deepen your already close relationship with your Grandmother. Do you really want to build your wedding around an elaborate scheme concocted to protect your grandmother from your true self? Or do you want to use your wedding as a chance to live your life with integrity and allow your grandmother to finally know the full and authentic you?

Of course only you can know the specifics of your particular relationship and your particular grandmother, but if you're close to her, it seems like you have been presented with a chance to really deepen your relationship with her. Potentially, you have the opportunity to act as an ambassador, giving your Grandma the chance to learn that Pagans aren't Devil-worshiping Hell-bound freaks… they're quite lovely, actually. She's loved and admired a Pagan for years, and not even known it.

You have the opportunity to act as an ambassador, giving your Grandma the chance to learn that Pagans aren't Devil-worshiping Hell-bound freaks… they're quite lovely, actually.

In keeping this secret from your Grandmother, you're also denying her the opportunity to surprise you with her acceptance. I have a friend in Seattle who, after months of agonizing over it, decided to come out to his Southern mother about his open marriage. “What a coincidence,” she responded. “Your step-father and I have an open marriage too!” I'm not saying your Grandmother is going to be all, “OMG, YES! I was JUST making plans for my Beltane celebration! Would you like to come?” But if you're as “very close” with her as you've described, she may be more accepting of her heathen granddaughter than you expect.

You've been given an invitation to stop protecting your grandmother from who you are — you're both people of faith, and I want to believe that people of faith can work to find the common ground. My mother was raised Catholic, and went Pagan in her 20s… and I know she's found a lot of similarities in the focus on ceremony, ritual, altars, and idolatry. I'd love to hear from Pagan readers about any specific first-hand experience they've got with finding common ground with Christian family members.

Alternately, it might not be worth it. You could have two ceremonies with an empty day in-between them, starting with the more traditional Grandma-friendly one. It'll be twice as hard to plan and more than a little sneaky, which begs the question of what's worse? Outing yourself to your grandmother and bracing for her to be upset who you truly are, or potentially fracturing the relationship by lying to her?

Update

Kei, the original gal who asked us this the question wrote in via comments about how the situation turned out. It was such a powerful comment that we thought we'd post it here:

Hello, everyone. I know it's been a year or so since I asked this question, and I still appreciate all of the advice that was passed onto me. But in the event this thread is read all the way through, I just wanted to update everyone.Two months after this question was asked, it was discovered that my grandmother had stage 4 esophageal cancer, which is, as it turns out, one of the worst kinds of cancer to have if you want to attend your granddaughter's wedding the following year. The issue with my religion was a non-issue at that point – because bringing it up to her and risking bringing an additional weight on her already stressful situation was, in my opinion, not worth it.

She passed away that December, a week before Christmas.

In that time I learned that I should have really just told her before all of this happened. I do regret not saying anything, but I don't regret trying to make her last days as comfortable and loving as I could make them for her. Nothing was more important to us than to make sure we were there for her when she was ready to leave.

So, as the featured questioner of this article, to whoever has this problem and you are searching for an answer here: Life is so short, I hate the cliche, but you really have no idea how much time you'll have left to do something that you want to do. To be honest with my grandma about my beliefs was something I wanted to eventually come to terms with, but just that quick, she was taken from us. I had no time to decide if it was really the best idea, but regardless, I find myself wishing that I could have told her, because our relationship was strong and I know that she would have loved me regardless.

All the best,
Kei

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Comments on Should I tell my Christian grandmother about my Pagan wedding?

  1. When I told my fairly xenophobic dad I was converting to Islam, the conversation went like this:

    Dad – That means no Jesus, but there’s still God, right?
    Me – Well, not entirely, but yeah, pretty much.
    Dad – So that means you’ll pray a lot and go to Muslim church?
    Me – Uh… yeah.
    Dad – Well thank God! Good to know you’re finally doing something to get your life in order. Pass the ham.

    I ended up not converting, but the moral of the story? Parents will surprise you.

  2. I “came out” as an atheist to my parents in a rather public setting (I invited them to the Youth Service at my unitarian church many moons ago), and though initially upset at first, they saw that I was still a good person, serving the community, etc and ultimately they knew it shouldn’t deter their relationship with me. I say give your grandma a chance to show you she unconditionally loves you – and at the very least it gives her an opportunity to learn more about your faith, even if she doesn’t agree with it. Good luck and have a fabulous wedding, however you end up creating it!

  3. I “came out” to my one set of grandparents that I’m atheist. I wish I could say that they were awesome about it. For all I know, my grandpa is. But, my grandma all but disowned me. Any/all acknowledgements of me involve mailing me a card to acknowledge an occasion complete with a note that she donated the money she would have sent me to a Catholic missions that have agreed to pray for me.

    But, honestly, now that we’re past the rawness of being hated, I’m *glad* that I told them. It sucks to lose family like that, but its also good to know that she’s so afraid of people outside of her religion that she chooses to demonize me (no, really, I’m possessed by some demon in her mind) rather than accept that not all people believe the same things. Because of this, we chose to not invite her (or anyone else not accepting of our choice in religion), and now we know that ALL people invited love us for who we are, in the complete package. We’re not worried about people hating our choices on our day, nor are we worried about fights or passive-aggressive moves. And this takes so much stress off like you wouldn’t believe.

  4. Hi! I’m the person featured in today’s post!

    Firstly, WOW. Thank all of you so much for your input — I did not expect this much of a response at all! But then again, this is off-beat bride, and it is quite popular. 😀

    I wanted to touch base with a lot of people who suggested I go Pagan-Lite with the ceremony. This would totally be an option for me if I wasn’t inviting a TON of people from the Pagan community to my wedding, and if my fiance’s mom was not officiating and doing the ceremony (she’s been practicing Wicca for something like 35 years). That and most of my family could care less what I do with my religious side so long as I don’t kill babies or animals, so all in all, being outwardly Pagan is not an issue, it’s just about my grandmother. But I do appreciate the advice, so thank you for that.

    My other grandmother, however, suggested that we try out the traditional Polish broom-jumping, which involves putting on a babushka and an apron immediately before the broom jump. I think this would be ironic and adorable, and I get to keep my broom. But I will still be having a blatant High Priestess calling gods to the circle, and lots of people who I expect will want to say a lot of good things about Fiance and Me and talk about how we all met at a crazy Symbel.

    However, at my Mom’s behest, I have agreed that I *should* tell her because no one wants her to show up and be offended, and at least give her the option to be there or not until the reception. Now the challenge is how I’m going to tell her and hope she doesn’t immediately try to explain why I’m wrong.

    I’ll certainly keep everyone posted! Once again, thank you so much for the advice, everyone. Seriously, I feel much less alone and confused about this. Bless all of you!

    • First of all, kudos and good luck. Telling your grandmother might be difficult but it could be amazingly rewarding.
      My g-ma knows that I’ve been pagan since I was 15 (and isn’t too happy about it) but, when it came to my wedding, she was a little hesitant because she didn’t know what to expect.
      It turned out that all I had to do was explain the ceremony to her and she was fine with it. Basically she summed it all up with “Someone lights candles and then jibberjabbers about love and blessing the day? Sounds like a wedding to me.”
      I lucked out because she’s always thought of me as the weird one so she didn’t have any real expectations. I hope that your relationship with your grandmother allows for you two to have good conversation about the situation. My advice would be to point out the similarities of your religious views (Love! Harmony! Not killing kittens!) and offering to explain/discuss anything she isn’t sure about. Hopefully she’ll be able to understand that being pagan isn’t wrong- just different.
      Good luck and blessed be!

  5. I’m Pagan and my husband is Atheist; we both come from Christian families. What I did was to have a ton of information on our “wedsite” in the FAQ section, explaining what a handfasting is, etc. It didn’t hurt that DH is Scottish and it’s part of his heritage as well. I put the wedsite URL on our invitations and a note that anyone with further questions could ask. Avoidant? Yes. Worked like a charm? Yes! If anyone needed to express shock or rant, all I know is they must have done so in their own homes looking at the wedsite, because they did not do it at our wedding. I think giving them time to adjust was a good thing. 🙂

    • I’m currently writing a FAQ for my parent’s parents to circulate amongst their family for anyone who’s concerned – as well as to later on publish to our wedsite and I would LOVE LOVE LOVE to see yours!

  6. Good choice to tell her the truth! Personally, I find a lot of my friends (both Christian and non-Christian) always seem to think they have to hide things from me if they think I won’t like it. Usually, when they tell me such things, they’re right in that I’m disappointed/dislike their actions… but I prefer to know what’s what rather than be ignorant of the real lives of the people I love! I hope your granma is the same way!

    Actually, when I think about it, I’ve had people I’m close to (including my FH) “come out” to me that they don’t believe in God… and yeah I was upset by that. But while I was concerned for their salvation on the one hand, I was also seriously hurt that they would keep something like that from me for so long- the secrecy was far more damaging than knowing they had different beliefs from me.

    I hope it all goes well with your granma…

  7. I had a really close family friend who was really really offended that we were having a non-religious ceremony in the church I grew up in. (It’s a long story, but suffice to say that my parents, who are religious and the priest, were all cool with it.)

    She pretended like she was OK with it when I told her, but then would pick fights about the wedding (food, clothing, etc). Eventually, it got so out of hand that we ended up disinviting her the the wedding. It was really sad, because I had thought should would be really supportive and it turned out to not be the case. It also ruined her relationship with my whole family – I am in touch with her and her relationship with my parents and sister is still strained a year later.

    My only point is that not every one is self-aware. Just because your grandmother seems OK with it at first, doesn’t mean she actually is and that may play out in other things.

    I do think it makes sense to be honest and tell her before the wedding (who wants drama on the day), but at the same time be prepared that her words and actions may not coincide.

    The other thing to think about is how you will feel looking out at her during the ceremony – will you feel judged or concerned about what she’s thinking? That’s obviously not the way you want to feel.

    Anyway, it’s a tricky situation and I hope it all works out for you!

    – Becca

  8. Well this article came at a time when my fiance’ and I are in the planning stages of our wedding ceremony. Right now we decided to do without a ring for either of us and do a handfasting our church. You see I am a kitchen Christian witch and he is an agnostic, kristna with a touch of Buddhism going to a Unitarian Universalist Church. I kinda agree you should tell your grandmother that you are Pagan. Grandmothers as I have noticed are a bit more forgiving and open minded than the parents. My family, except for my sister in law does not know that I technically I am a Pagan.For all for the most of my family I am relapse Christian who has not return to the Catholic church since my divorce. Depending on how you present it to your grandmother, get some information for her to read on and be open to any and all questions from her. Hopefully this will keep the bond between you two strong

  9. I’m Wiccan, and like you am doing the full-out whole hog Wiccan business for the ceremony.

    I really believe in giving people the benefit of the doubt on this stuff, even if you do tell her, and the reaction seems unenthusiastic.

    My family has known my religion a long, long time, and I notice when I bring up the religious elements of the wedding everyone tends to go a little quiet. My partner’s parents do the same thing. It surprised me at first, especially with my family, but I realized I had to stop the emotional jump to interpret silence or awkwardness as disapproval. Instead, as I realized from talking to a couple of friends and my partner’s parents starting calling asking for information because they want to be well equipped to answer questions, I think it’s just that everyone is being super cautious to not offend me!

    My family believes in and respects my religion enough that they want to be careful not to make light of it or assume anything about what I’m doing. It means a little more work – and an awful lot of awkward silence where I need to volunteer more and more information before anyone seems to feel equipped to participate in the conversation – but it’s coming from a place of love and care, not discontent

    In contrast, I’ve realized some of my non-religious friends are super excited about it because even though it’s religious, they seem to equate non-Christian as non-religious, which is actually pretty offensive ideologically, but they’re the ones skipping and jumping to talk about my ‘alternative’ wedding. Even though I know there’s a bit of an uncomfortable connection there, I’m also taking the skipping and jumping where I can get it.

    Your handfasting/wedding will be FANTASTIC. They are so core celebration and frivolity, that anyone religiously comfortable enough to attend will have a good time.

    As much as it would be a disappointment if your grandmother doesn’t attend – and I think a lot of us have acknowledged that as a slight possibility – I think you should give her the opportunity to let you know what she needs. It might even be that you end up compromising to have two ceremonies, where she only attends one, or she attends both but enjoys one more – but then you can do it *for her* and don’t have to worry about deceiving her, or her finding out the wrong way.

    If there’s any silence or awkwardness – which has been a super common response for me: space to digest, then information, information, information!

  10. I told my mother that I was having a pagan handfasting, not a Christian wedding. She was supportive, as always….but I’m still not sure how my other family members will respond. I have a mix of Mormons and Catholics at various levels of faith extremes. I’ve often realized that for most people it’s just a matter of not understanding, of fearing what they do not understand. So, we’re taking steps to educate our friends and family about the process, about what we’re doing, and how to be prepared. We’ll also let them know that we understand if they are uncomfortable to come directly to us, and they don’t have to watch the ceremony if they don’t want to. We’re fine with reception-only guests.

    Everyone’s family and individual circumstances are different. Some parents take a child’s sexuality or religious choice as a slight against their parenting skills, others go “hey cool” and let it go. I hope your grandmother is of the latter kind, and I’m sure with information and love she’ll grow to understand. Good luck!

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