Monday, December 21, 2015
Have a Splendid Whatever
For the first eight years after my partner Jonathan and I met, Christmas was completely off the menu. No tree. No poinsettia. No evergreen boughs. The memories were too visceral for him of growing up Jewish in New York and feeling as though the whole city was ramming the holiday down the throats of his family and neighbours.
Christmas, on the other hand, is wired into my German Lutheran DNA. During the fifteen years that I shook the dust of homophobic organized Christianity off my feet, my alienation from the faith I’d grown up in never extended to hating the season. It always felt to me like the culturally specific version of something more or less universal--the need to celebrate light in the depths of a season of darkness. During the years of that long disaffection, the Solstice Parade that snakes every year through Kensington Market in Toronto felt like a magical expression of all that that I loved in Yuletide:
as did the Christmas sequence from Bergman’s Fanny and Alexander:
Six years ago, hell-bent on bringing some observance of the season into the house, I was the one who searched out the hand-cast glass menorah that we’ve used every year since. Jonathan hadn’t lit one at home for the four and half decades of his adult life.Two years ago, the first winter after we changed houses, I acknowledged his ongoing reservations but finally insisted on a tree. As I unwrapped the ornaments that hadn’t been out of the box for seven years and started talking about the associations each had--the heavily oxidized remnants of my grandparents’ decorations, purchased in the 1930’s; the baroque extravaganzas my mother and I assembled from craft kits when I was in high school--he got it, and within two days announced that we needed a bigger tree next time.
Since then, we’ve taken to giving each other Christmas ornaments as Hanukkah presents. Christmas Eve, I attend midnight mass, as I’ve done since the late 1990s when I decided once again that the wisdom embedded in the spiritual traditions of my youth were my birthright, to be claimed on my own terms. Christmas morning we unwrap presents before heading off for Chinese food and a movie.
Last Saturday night, I went to a radical faerie Solstice party. Among the guests was a gifted counter-tenor who sang an aria from Handel’s Messiah, while a loop of digital photos on the TV screen featured partially naked people cavorting in a green landscape last Beltane.
I know that for many queer people who’ve cut ties with the Christianity of their upbringing as a matter of survival, the season’s associations bring up far too much of what they need to leave behind. Nonetheless, here’s my invitation: hang onto the mystery of light kindled in darkness, of the spirit of generosity towards friend and stranger, of warmth in the depths of winter. Yes, toss out what doesn’t serve you. But don’t surrender what fed you as a child, and what some corner of your heart may still long for. Make it new, make it yours.