All I want for Christmas …Bottom Highlights, Feature Story Thursday, December 20th, 2012
Celebrating the best of the season, the LGBT way
A line from “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” (first sung by the iconic Judy Garland) says, “Make the yuletide gay.” That was long before “gay” took on a different meaning. Yet, with its lights, designer ornaments, displays, fresh-baked smells, festive songs and images of elves, reindeer and penguins, what other occasion lends itself more to our light hearts and creative genes? (Sorry, Halloween.)
But aside from chorus concerts and the Hillcrest Ace Hardware store windows, is Christmas viewed and celebrated differently in the part of the LGBT community that observes it than in “mom-and-apple-pie America?” Like many ponderables, the best way to get an idea is to ask. So, we set out to “survey” a cross-section of people on how they view Christmas through the LGBT lens, and any unique, special ways in which they celebrate.
We found several common threads: A fondness and warmth for this time of year; a spiritual component, or religious one in the celebration of the birth of Jesus; and family, often including fond memories and traditions. Some interesting, rich perspectives suggest Christmas is much more to the community than just another festival.
Gabriel Mason is a self-identified “trans man” to whom Christmas means festivity, lights, decorations and the holiday spirit … and time spent with family and loved ones; a time of giving gifts and “to celebrate the love and affection we have for each other.” He sees that same feeling in the LGBT community and that as much as anyone, “We want to be loved and accepted by our family and friends.”
The unique thing he sees in our community is that we embrace each other, “Not a holiday has gone by that I haven’t been invited by more than one person who opens their home to others who don’t have friends or family.” Gabriel enjoys the holiday gatherings in the community, but still has time with family, including between Christmas and New Year. This year he looks forward to inventing “some sort of in-between holiday” with them.
For out Navy member Brooke Williams, 21, “Christmas has always been my favorite holiday! I remember growing up listening to the Carpenters’ Christmas music and feeling the warmth of my parents’ home filled with candles and joy!”
She views it as a time when relatives and friends are brought together and “to reflect on everything that God has done the past 12 months. Christmas is about opening your heart to joy and peacefulness.”
In looking at the LGBT community, Brooke said, “The support that I’ve come to find from the many diverse people has been uplifting! Coming from a small town, it’s overwhelming to see how welcoming and open-minded the people in San Diego are as a whole.”
Her special tradition? “Since I was old enough to remember, my Mom always buys my sister and me a pair of pajamas, and we change into them and she reads The Night Before Christmas.”
Mike Franz and Phil Sanchez are parents, having adopted 5-year-old Gabriel at 8 months. They shared that “the beauty of our community is our diversity. We have so many amazing people bringing their own color to Christmas. The holidays don’t always have to look like a Norman Rockwell painting.”
Personally for them, “Christmas, aside from the spiritual, is all about tradition. It’s building on the traditions we grew up with, and adding to them, giving Gabe his own memories. Every Christmas Mike’s mom gave him a special ornament to decorate the tree. We buy one ornament each year for Gabe that signifies something meaningful from that year. (This year it’s a red airplane with Santa in it because he liked going to the Air and Space Museum.)”
For young Gabe, a Christmas Eve tradition is “staying home with my dads and drinking hot chocolate with little marshmallows and waiting for Santa to come with my presents.”
Kaki Johnson is a mature lesbian who spends weekly quiet time in prayer. She thinks that for the LGBT community, “Christmas offers a wide range of perspectives … gift giving, parties, food, fun … or very much as it’s always been since infancy.”
For her, “Attending worship and seeing church friends is really an integral, important part of celebrating Christmas. It’s about having special meals and on Christmas Day being with my partner at home, opening a gift an hour over the course of the day (all 20 years we’ve been together).
Gift giving is simple. We agree on the amount we spend because it’s more about giving than being extravagant. We don’t spend the day with extended family. Before that there’s Christmas for the grandchildren, but now, it’s our turn, just the two of us.”
Irma Guzman and Yolanda Sanchez are a couple in Oceanside. They see the “LGBT community growing up emotionally” and at Christmas not only looking for fun and to “get wild” but to “look for real friends to get together and have nice times.”
Their special tradition is “to have a posada, in which we sing to Jesus; we break a piñata decorated with seven horns that mean seven sins. When people break the piñata, the sins are broken and we start as a new reborn person.”
Houston and Connie Burnside, both in their 80s, recently celebrated their fourth (not a typo) wedding anniversary and have had a long endearment to our community.
To Houston, Christmas “brings back memories of department store window displays, the big Sears store which we called ‘the Santa Claus store,’ candied apples, family gatherings, and sleepless nights waiting for Santa.”
He shared that “some in the LGBT community are separated from families, making it often a season filled with mixed emotions. Some have been able to establish new friends who become like family. These newer connections help lift spirits and renew happy feelings experienced in earlier years.”
Connie reflected on a meaningful concert she attended last year that reminded her “that we are all one … scriptures were read both from the Jewish culture and Christian heritage; it was a connection story!” Their traditions include Balboa Park Christmas organ concerts, December Nights, mailing out 150 cards, and Christmas Day breakfast and dinner with their kids.
Michael Sayre is a single gay man in University Heights. He feels that Christmas “presents an opportunity to celebrate in a unique way. We really don our gay apparel, though gay decorating is overly done.”
For him, it’s about simplicity, “Hot dogs on the beach, talking to the ocean, or inviting friends over to make the holiday easy and accessible for them.”
To experience the holiday he says, “Go out into nature; it’ll remind you how to celebrate, create. Nature provides access to our own selves and our creative element. It’s the portal. You can find it at the ocean – the mother of all – in your backyard, in neighbor’s plantings.”
That led him to a personal tradition he calls The Winter Bloom Festival. Though the darkest time of the year, he sees an abundance of things blooming here: bird of paradise, bougainvillea, bromeliads. The days are starting to get longer and, “What’s been dormant is coming to life in the blooms. It’s like a rebirth, and a reason to celebrate.”
Leslie Alexis, a survivor of Hurricane Katrina, moved to San Diego afterwards and lives with her partner Linda Smith. They see that for the LGBT community this holiday “brings out smiling faces and unconditional love.” Their first Christmas together, “putting up lights and decorating the tree was so much fun,” they plan to keep that tradition.
What does all this reveal? Perhaps that, like the LGBT community itself, Christmas for us is both different and the same.
Our diversity is certainly evident in the individual, creative, special ways we each celebrate. Just like our homes, cars or “gay apparel,” we have a way of making Christmas uniquely our own.
Yet, we are mom-and-apple-pie America. (OK, perhaps Dutch apple crumb with a fabulous scoop of cinnamon ice cream.)
When we espouse equality, in marriage or otherwise, we express that we are “just like” everyone else. So, is it surprising we often commemorate Christmas with “traditional” family gatherings, friends, food, gifts, music, decorating and spiritual elements?
The rest of the “yuletide gay” line in the famous song says, “from now on, our troubles will be miles away.” That’s a hope we can all share. As we do, in one more little way, we just may feel less alone and more in the
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