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 to hell?

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