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TheHolidays: Ceremony for Everyone  
byPatricia Nell Warren 
November, 1997 

Patricia Nell Warren is the authorof the newly released novel about youth, Billy's Boy, sequel toThe Front Runner.   Her publisher is WildcatPress. 


My Filipino friendLouis goes on and on about his Christmas extravaganza for this year. As I listen,  I think about the community's collective hunger forthe healing that can come with holiday ceremony.  Louis describeshimself as a "Christmas queen."  He spends these last weeks of theyear making his apartment beautiful, surrounding himself with friends ina one-man Disneyland of lights, music and color.  His blood relatives,who live in Manila and don't accept him, won't be there.  But Louishas built a big circle of loving friends as a new family.  Startingat Halloween, his artistic and culinary efforts bridge Thanksgiving andChristmas, to touch the New Year.   This way, he can leave uphis twinkling lights  for a looooong time! 

Meanwhile, a lesbian friend of mine is in the midst of similarly massivepreparations for the Jewish holidays.  Ina has her own vision of Judaism. This includes knocking herself out with cooking and entertaining for herpartner and a vast raft of loving relatives...and being visible at hersynagogue, where she and partner are equally accepted. 

The word "ceremony" means "circle of the Moon."  Though we humanshave 10,000 years of civilization behind us, the Moon is still how we keep track of time, and the passing of our lives.  No matter what our beliefs,there is a deep human need for ceremony at key times of the year. For beauty that gets tacked up and taken down, so it stays brief, magicaland special.  For special foods that only get tasted once a year. For gifts and laughter.   For the company of people we find mostspecial.  For prayer, if prayer is our thing.  Humanity has lovedceremony ever since early peoples assembled in their caves by torchlightto rub shoulders and sing and paint walls with paleolithic versions ofLouis's gala.  We heal ourselves by fulfilling this need.  Gaypeople need this and want this healing as much as straight people do. 

I don't do the Christmas thing...but as a pagan I feel the need to celebratethose four great turning points of the solar year, and share this timewith my own friends and family.  So I am planning my Winter Solsticegala. Something with a living green tree (not a cut one).  Somethingwith candles, to light my way into a new round of 12 moons. Something toremind myself that I -- as a human, a woman and a gay person -- am partof the vaster circles of Life that move our planet through space. Somethingto share with my own friends and family, to remind myself that I am partof the human race and its collective journey through the ages. 

For gay people, this need to celebrate our life and times does not vanishwith coming out.  To steal a phrase from Dickens, there are "ghosts of Christmas past" that live in many of us.  These are memoriesof childhood holidays, lapped in warmth of family togetherness, beforewe found ourselves suddenly older and wiser about our sexual differences,hurled into a time of  temporary (or sometimes permanent) alienationfrom blood family, old friends, old places, old religion and spiritualthings.   Sometimes those memories are painful -- sometimes theystill hold joy for us.  Sometimes both feelings are woven togetherin a wreath of contradictions. One thing is sure: children want to feelsafe and cared for; we don't lose these needs as adults, no matter howold we get, or how far we travel from our roots. 

For me, the "ghosts of holidays past" were holidays on a Montana ranchin the mid-1940s -- blown snow cutting the air like a knife, hoofs crunchingon ice, clean smell of hay forked to the calves, struggling into the timberto cut the spruce tree ourselves, hauling it home on the truck, fillingthe house with its wild perfume, unpacking the antique German glass ornaments,anticipation of gift books from relatives who knew that the tomboy girlloved to read -- and the semi-pagan holiday ceremonies of a beloved Germangreatgrandmother who honored the pre-Christian old ways. 

Oma dressed her holiday table without any bows to church history. There were the same magic foods every year -- soup with marrow dumplings,American turkey with German apple stuffing,  and "California pudding"made with the raisins and dried fruits that were such a staple of thosetimes, before the advent of frozen food.   We never got tiredof eating them.   There was storytelling around the dinner table. We never got tired of hearing her stories -- how she saw Napoleon as achild, how she heard Richard Wagner conduct his operas at Bayreuth, howshe survived the San Francisco earthquake.  As to her tree, she drapedit in the richest Teutonic fantasy -- a forest goddess straight from Grimms' fairy tales, with elves, angels and tiny animals living in her branches. 

Oma made sure you understood that the tree custom was older than churches. In her youth, she was a genteel renegade -- an educated "progressive" (asthey called liberals in those days) woman who fled Prussia when Bismarckbecame ruler.  In post-1900s Montana, Oma was one of the citizenswho demanded that women be allowed to vote.  In 1944 Oma must havelooked studyingly at her tomboy desperado greatgranddaughter, the one wholived in muddy cowboy boots, and accepted the fact that this child wasgoing to turn out "different."   Oma died when I was 9, so Inever got to come out to her.  All this was part of the ceremony. 

Today, with all the old people in my family gone to the spirit realms,my brother and I still meet  to dress an evergreen tree in our fantasyof the moment.  Today it's a "living tree," not a cut one, becausewe live in a time when every tree counts. We share a meal that we cooktogether, and exchange gifts, and talk about how far we've come from kiddays on the ranch.   After we've worn each other out with storytelling,the tree gets planted later.  My brother is straight and I am gay,and we don't always agree on things...but for the moment, the pungent smellof a pine tree holds us together in a special space.  For both ofus, remembering a greatgrandmother who saw Napoleon is part of our differingsexual sensibilities, yet part of our shared sense of time.  That"circle of the moon" is equally healing and equally needed for both ofus. 

For many gay people, I think, healing ourselves as self-acknowledgedhomosexuals must include that effort to recapture and rekindle ceremonyin our lives.  In fact, we have a RIGHT to ceremony.  We haveas much right to the holiday ceremonies as those Americans who judge usand condemn us to no ceremonies at all! 

If the old family ceremonies are too painful to continue, we must createnew ones -- and this renewal can heal us.  It's no accident that holidaysprompt sadness, sometimes suicide, for people who suddenly feel a vastvoid in their lives at this time of year.   Many in our communityhave lost the family with whom they were accustomed to have their ceremony-- whether blood relatives who rejected them, or lovers and friends whodied of AIDS.  Older people often feel this void keenly, because ourcommunity's youth culture has marginalized them to such an extreme. 

Young people feel the void too.  Among the youth I know, especiallythose who are marginalized from their heterosexual relatives,  thereis a deep worry about the approaching holidays -- that they will be alonethen, that no one will care.   Amid the physical decorations-- lights, candles, ribbons -- the core concern is a circle of faces ofpeople whom you can care for, and who care for you.  Yes, it is truethat some ceremonies must be done alone,  face to face with the Universe. For young people, these life-ceremonies include becoming economically independent,finding a direction in life, discovering their true selves.  But theholiday ceremonies are ones that we need to do with others. 

For those who face the void, there are ways to fill it.  Like Scrooge in the Dickens tale, we can step out of the loneliness. Find a gay-friendly church, if church is our thing.  Take a trip somewhere,if that's our thing. Volunteer for something.  Take meals to houseboundPWAs, and actually spend time with them.  Do something positive andresponsible for needy young people.   Take a tropical friendto see the snow in New England.  Make something beautiful, if that'sour thing, and invite others to share it. For the young, there is the chanceto get acquainted with old is not complete without enjoyingthe company of a few gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgendered curmudgeons! That desperate holiday reach to spend a few days in other humans' companymay well become a new direction in life. 

The Moon-circle of caring, glowing faces, that so many of us want tosee at this time of year, doesn't happen by accident.  We can't inheritit like money.  We can't go out and buy it.  We can't even buildthe extravaganza of twinkling lights and expect it to have a living magicalspirit if we don't work to infuse that spirit into it.  We have toearn it, more like earning respect from others.  My friend Louis andmy friend Ina build their spirit of ceremony before they ever light a singlecandle, or hang a single string of lights.  The circle of beauty andlove that they enjoy is created with effort, over time, by investing intoothers -- through many moons and many journeys of our planet around thesun. 

That holiday ceremony is for everyone, no matter what our sexualityor view of life.  Indeed, doesn't the Moon herself shine down equallyonto all people on Earth?

PatriciaNell Warren' s Intro to Bridges Across 

Rightto be Spiritual 

"AndLiberty for All"  in  the South 

PatriciaNell Warren's Personal Page 

Choicein Sexual Orientation: The Sword that Cuts Both Ways (re the APA resolution) 

Moreeditorials from PNW 

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text © 1997 Patricia NellWarren
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