The winter holidays have always been a
bit confusing for me. As a little kid, my mother gave me dolls I
ignored and my big brother gave me the fun stuff: trucks and guns. We
had a little tradition. My father would lug home a Christmas tree and
hide it on the fire escape. Christmas morning, Santa would have it
up, decorated and ringed with gifts. Except for the big package from
my mother’s family in Boston – how come they didn’t let Santa
do his thing?
It also puzzled me that Santa could be
at Macy’s and Gertz’s, ringing the Salvation Army bells and
circling the globe all at the same time. I somehow knew that I
shouldn’t ask for explanations, though. Grownups enjoyed keeping
their tricks secret too much.
By the time I was eight, my family had
a car. Suddenly, Santa wasn’t in New York any more, he was in
Boston. How did he do that? My Boston aunt always had a
ceiling-touching tree absolutely hidden under ornaments, garland and
silver icicles, as if the reality of the tree had to be disguised.
Gifts for my aunt, uncle, two cousins, my mother, father, brother,
me, two sets of grandparents, the great aunts and uncles, the cats,
the bird and all the second and third cousins – in case they came
by – spilled out from under the tree until they threatened to swamp
the couch. I slept on that couch during our visits. That made me
witness: Santa obviously had nothing to do with this holiday.
Meanwhile, in school, the classrooms
emptied out for Hanukah. Many of the kids headed for Florida with
their families – and without Santa. I had some vague idea that
Hanukah was celebrated in hot places while Christmas required snow.
Religion didn’t weigh heavily in the equation. The Boston clan went
to some mysterious ritual called midnight mass and my Jewish friends
lit menorahs. Over time, I learned about the manger and all that, but
it never made sense to me. The baby, Jesus, was Jewish, but non-Jews
claimed him for their own and didn’t like people who lit menorahs
and went to Florida. What was that all about? And how about all the
different churches that said Jesus wanted them to do one thing while
other churches believed something different? And how come the
kazillions of people who didn’t celebrate Christmas all had to go
It was as confusing as seeing all the
fat Santas, the skinny Santas, the Santas in New York and the Santas
in Boston, and not knowing what was real.
So when I grew up, I went along with my
family’s winter rites. I left my lovers behind and trekked north
because you spent Christmas with family. Biology trumped lesbian
bonding – no wonder relationships didn’t last. Even though there
was no Santa or church-going and the great aunts and uncles and
grandparents had died off, dutiful, queer me endured rather than
celebrated the holidays.
Feminism almost killed Christmas and
Hanukah. It wasn’t okay to celebrate either – they were
patriarchal holy days. I was careful to call that little pine in the
living room of the collective a solstice tree. But still I drove in
ice storms and blizzards to share Christmas with relatives and
without my partner.
Eventually, I left behind both the
solstice deal and calendar Christmas. I’d drive to Boston the
weekend before or after. I was not out to my family, but my partner
and I were both, at her insistence, included in her family’s
Christmas. At least this way, we got to spend the holiday together,
if not alone together.
I still felt tricked, though. Without a
religion, I had no reason to celebrate the season. I said bah humbug
a lot, but exchanged presents with the strained cheer of an outsider.
As much as the word peace is used at that time of year, I didn’t
see it happening in the world. The Christians still hated the Jews,
and the queer partner was tolerated and only very delicately, very
deliberately, very painstakingly included. It was much easier to
throw oneself into buying and wrapping and well-wishing than to think
about what it all meant. Peace-on-earth-goodwill-to-men. Uh-huh.
This year my sweetheart, who is the
personification of the joy of the season and once met me at a Florida
airport in a Santa cap, has been tripping gleefully around the house
decorating. The two wooden candy canes we picked up at a garage sale
are at the walkway so I feel like I’m strolling Candy Cane Lane.
Everywhere I turn there is some trinket of Christmas urging me to be
part of the general merrymaking and discouraging me from trying to
figure it all out.
There’s nothing rational about
lighting up the middle of winter. Whatever we call our trees and our
candle holders, our rituals and our get-togethers, wherever we go and
whoever we’re with, we’re there to be among those we care about
and who care about us, to raise our energy and to pay homage to our
spiritual selves, while gifting those to whom we’re bound by choice
or by birth, by tolerance or by kindness. If only, in Boston, New
York or Florida, we treated one another as we do at these holidays,
respectfully and lovingly. The only trick is to recognize the plain,
common peace-seeking holiness of one another.
[Editor's Note: Lee Lynch is the author
of over 12 books. Her latest, Beggar
of Love, was called “Lee
Lynch's richest and most candid portrayals of lesbian life” by
Katherine V. Forrest. You can reach Lynch at
Copyright 2009 Lee Lynch