How Re-imagining traditions helped me heal my holidays

Growing up queer in an ultra-conservative and Evangelical/Pentecostal household had its challenges. My family lived in the center of the Midwest surrounded by eight other states. Missouri is often considered the buckle of the bible belt.  

At age seven, I knew I was “different.” But I would not know the label/name or understand its meaning until many years later. I was aware enough to know that it was important to keep my feelings to myself. 

Separating Religion from the Rituals

When I was young, Christmas was a time to celebrate the birth of a certain baby. I carried that religion with me for years, even attending a Bible college and seminary training in my youth.

Now, even though some of my current traditions may be considered culturally Christian, I have been able to release the myths and legends related to my religious history. The holiday season remains, for me, a deeply spiritual time — subtracted from the burdens of religion. I am making them a time of peace, love, joy, and community. 

I decided that the holidays are what I put into them! I released the expectations from family and friends, the expectations for them to make me happy and the expectations they have for me to make them happy. I have found that I am the happiest when I allow myself to be authentic. I also find joy serving my community and family of friends.  

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

There were so many things I loved about the holidays. The special food, decorations, and of course gifts under the tree. I also enjoyed fun times with my family during this season. Part of our tradition was outdoor winter activities. Living in the country, we would spend countless hours in the snow. 

We would sled down hills for hours. I remember wearing boots that were not waterproof, so we would wear sandwich bags over our socks. Occasionally coming inside to thaw out and enjoy some holiday foods and beverages, only to do it again.  

I also loved decorating for Christmas with my mom.

I grew up with 3 sisters, two older and one younger. Over the years I became the one that would help my mom decorate and cook the meals for holidays. In retrospect it is quite funny, because so many people consider the stereotypical queer boy being good at both. I was not introduced to these stereotypes until I was in my twenties. 

Queer Holidays Perspective

My mom was very particular about how she wanted things done, so in a way Christmas was her holiday and the rest of us just got to participate. I learned how to decorate for the holidays (and decorating in general!) because my mom was always decorating the house. These memories warm me and point my mind in the direction I like to look when I look back.

I could have been considered a mama’s boy.  After all, I was the only boy. I was expected to work the cattle and help my dad on various construction projects and car mechanics. All the while, my parents had no idea they were raising a “Renaissance Man,” as a friend pointed out years later. 

Facing Your Holiday Family Blues

Yes, the holidays are meant to a time of joy, and they can be! But it often a time of sadness and struggle for many people. For us in the queer community, we experience normal holiday stress, financial stress, pressures of the commercialization of the season, plus isolation and concerns that come from family expectations and interactions.

Old past hurts and resentments often come to the surface during this time of the year. 

“The holiday season has a lot of associations with family, togetherness and unfortunately many people in the LGBT community have experienced some family loss, whether it was the loss of relationships, being ostracized or not accepted,” says Dr. Gregory Jones of District Psychotherapy Associates, in theWashington Blade. It’s a time of year, more than ever, we need to recognize our losses, and rely on our family of choice.

I remember my grandma on my dad’s side having Dollar Store gifts for my sisters and me, but more expensive gifts for a second Christmas for my cousins.

It was years later when I found out that my grandma did not like my mother. For years I thought that my grandma didn’t like my sisters and I, which is how the child’s mind often interprets such experiences.

Therapy helped me get over that hurdle and provided me with the right questions about these inconsistent holiday experiences.  

Finding Your Holiday Bliss

Although commercialization pressures every person to experience the holiday season in a limited (and unreasonable!) way, knowing this truth is power! For me, the holidays are like a buffet: I can chow down on the things I love to experience and do  —  leave the green bean casserole for someone else to enjoy!

Singing at the holidays

For example, I LOVE singing Christmas songs.

In my 20s, I joined an ensemble and a few choirs. I was able to travel around the world and sing. I was able to see countries I never imagined I would ever see. Who knew my singing voice would take me to so places like Western and Eastern Europe, China, Thailand, Japan, 40 of the 50 U.S. states? 

Adding the uplift of holiday music gives me a boost of dopamine, and lifts my spirits.

I grew up loving the holidays; even if I did not have a say in what type of decorations went up until I had my own house and set of rules years later. With therapy in my 20s and 30s, I’ve been able to revisit aspects of childhood and young adult experiences, appreciate the good things, and find healing from the traumatic experiences. 

It wasn’t a “straight” line, however, to my understanding how my Evangelical youth impacted me. Allowing myself to dive into wonderful experiences like singing gave me a clearer vision of our world. It contributed to my healing journey and allowed me to soak up and enjoy the good memories. It gave me a way to process through past, present, and future traumas. 

Building Heart Connections (With Food)!

My holidays are about people that I love and that love me in return. So of course food is a major part of my holiday experience.

I love cooking and baking, and the holidays give me an opportunity to love others through my kitchen skills! It was my love for preparing food that eventually motivated me to receive a culinary degree. Becoming a catering manager and event specialist. 

For me this is about surrounding myself with a family of choice rather than my family of birth. This year I am facilitating two holiday meals within my spiritual community: one on Thanksgiving and one on Christmas Day. It is important for me to ensure that people have a safe, warm, and inviting space to celebrate the holidays.  

But it goes beyond just filling stomachs and setting the table.

My holiday is a time of self-expression. From cooking and baking, to singing, and so much more, the holidays are not a time for me to fit another person’s mold. That mold was broken years ago. The holidays are a time for me to cherish all that I am. 

Saying a Blessing 

And so my holiday also includes remembering: Remembering the good times and remembering to work on letting go of the tough times. The holidays have also taught me a lot about forgiveness and letting go. 

Whether this is a queer perspective or just a perspective of someone that is growing up, one belief I hold onto is this: every day I make a clear decision not to give responsibility for my future happiness to others.

All the love, joy, and peace I have (and will ever experience!) is available within me. It is my responsibility to let it out.

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