When I walk into a gay man’s home during the holidays, my appetite for all things sparkly, glittery, and bright is instantly satiated. Where else can you find shiny disco balls hanging from the ceiling, a meticulously decorated Christmas tree, and lighted villages big enough to make Thomas Kinkade swoon?
I asked the question “what does Christmas mean to you?” to a few gays I know and got some colorful responses.
A friend of mine who is African American told me that his fondness for decorating comes from his grandmother. She believes the home should be a reflection of how much the host wants to welcome his or her guests. By doing so, they are able to show how much they appreciate the people who have come to visit. Cooking is treated as a celebration, as food is an integral part in black culture. My friend’s family starts making food a few days before Christmas. There are so many dishes to prepare, even small children can be found helping in the kitchen. Some staples include collard greens (a substitute for cabbage found primarily in the southern U.S.), fried catfish, chitlins (pig intestines), cornbread, and peach cobbler. After several helpings the family sits down, listens to gospel music, and exchanges stories. Before the end of the evening, children are invited to help bake cookies for Santa. On Christmas morning, gifts are exchanged and the merriment continues (often times in the form of egg nog).
Another friend who is Filipino decorates his home with traditional star lanterns, which is the symbol of Christmas in the Philippines. It represents the guiding light, or the star of Bethlehem. He also hangs streamers inside and outside the house. As the majority of Filipinos are Roman Catholic, this friend attends Midnight Mass and indulges in the family feast after midnight. The food is served buffet style, and among the typical foods are roasted pig, rice, and egg rolls. The buffet can have up to 20 different items. Gifts are exchanged and the gathering provides an opportunity for a reunion of immediate and distant family members. Most of the attention is focused on the family matriarch, or grandmother, who is deeply respected and highly revered.
A gay Caucasian friend loves big, lush trees and decorates with garland, beads, and ribbons. There are dozens upon dozens of white lights on his windows and doorways. He and his family go to church in the evening, drive around different neighborhoods looking at Christmas lights, come home and watch the American classic It’s A Wonderful Life. While his family dinner consists of a few traditional dishes such as a roast and potatoes, they place more emphasis on cookie baking. Frosted sugar cookies, lemon bars, and snickerdoodles (made with butter, sugar and rolled in cinnamon) are just some of the treats they bake together.
These friends’ traditions are not unlike those of heterosexuals, however they have had the challenge of coming out to their families. There are a number of gay men who have done so and the outcome hasn’t been positive. The holiday season can be extremely difficult for them, especially if they are forced to be alone. Although the transition took some time for my friend’s families, they have been lucky enough to spend the holidays with people who are accepting of their lifestyles. To them, Christmas remains a sign of peace, a reflection of the past, and hope for the future. The only notable difference may be a tighter squeeze at the table for another significant other. Who just happens to be a man.
Here’s wishing you and yours a very merry, with a little throwback to George Michael to help spice things up!