How Queer People Can Reclaim Holiday Rituals
Published in The Advocate on December 22, 2020
I’ll admit it. I’m a queer/lesbian biracial cis femme social justice advocate — and I adore the holiday season. I was raised Catholic on my Polish mother’s side, Buddhist as a way of life by my Chinese father. I guess that’s why even in my strongest days of Catholicism I always had waves of space and adaptation in my practice.
Like many of us in the LGBTQ+ community, I had a falling-out with the church when I came out. It’s taken years to be able to reflect on what I gained from being raised with religion and to realize what I’ve reclaimed for myself in my own practices. The holidays are challenging for a lot of us, especially in this unprecedented year. The following suggestions are drawn from ways that I’ve reframed aspects of the holiday season, and I offer them to help you to not just survive it but reclaim it for yourself:
Find something to look forward to. Like it or not, the end of the Western calendar year is a time that feels different from others. Whether they’re celebrating Kwanzaa, Hanukkah, the birth of Jesus, or the more general public observance of Christmas/holiday time, many people are buzzing around and looking forward to and counting down to something. Offering: Find something that feels meaningful to you, and celebrate it every year around this time. Whether that’s a reclaimed version of one of these holidays, the winter solstice, a friend anniversary, or just the closing of a calendar year and the chance to begin anew, find something to look forward to. Part of the joy for this year can be just counting down and building anticipation, and having your own “holiday” or celebration around this time can help to ease that feeling of disconnect during this season.
Make your own ritual. Growing up Catholic did teach me that there is comfort in ritual. Doing something each year with intention builds our memories of our lives and can create comfort in a world of uncertainty and things we can’t control. Finding what you want to do around this time, some repeated action that brings you joy, can help you look forward to this time of year, no matter what or who is around. Offering: Whatever you choose to celebrate at this time, you can design what that looks like. Whether it’s an involved ritual with intention done with others or a simple action (watching a movie, eating a certain type of food, visiting a certain tree or body of water) that you do each year, find the ritual that feels right to you to close out your year.
Build your own holiday community. I’m one of the lucky ones because I have a good relationship with my bio fam. It wasn’t an easy process after my coming-out, but with space, understanding, and lots of conversations, I’m amazed at the relationships we’ve built. That being said, we don’t celebrate holidays together. Since I went to college we’ve celebrated before or after the actual days, when we don’t have to be in the holiday travel rush and paying unreasonable amounts for tickets. That has also freed me up to spend holidays with so many different loved ones and chosen family over the years. It’s been surprising to me to find out how many people, for so many reasons, don’t go “home” for the holidays. Especially this year, celebrating with your quarantine “pod” if you have one or finding time to connect virtually to those you love (video fatigue and all) can be a sweet reminder of the connections you’ve built for yourself. For me, shifting my thinking from feeling left out or isolated because I didn’t go home to an opportunity to meet and connect with new people each year has made such a huge difference and given me a chance to get to know people I might have otherwise missed. Offering: Start telling folks that you will be around for the holidays or asking what people will be doing. Reach out to people you miss but haven’t talked to in a while and see if they want to connect. If you’ve decided on a ritual or something you want to celebrate, let people know and see if they’re interested in joining. Or choose to spend the time on a solo or even silent intentional time to just be with yourself!
Define presents for yourself. One reason I have kept my holiday joy is that my bio family and I stopped exchanging presents after I graduated from high school. One of the stresses that can ruin the holiday season is an over-capitalistic exchange related to its success or the idea that your value for a person or a relationship is built on your ability to guess, purchase, and present of the material object a person wants to own. Personally, I’m a terrible gift-giver when it’s expected. I like to give gifts as they feel right throughout the year, not on demand. Offering: Have a check-in with folks who you exchange gifts with or want to celebrate with. Consider other options for showing that you care about each other at this time of year. You can exchange recipes, poems, songs, or books. My ex and I used to wrap up things from our house to give to each other every Christmas. She’d gift me a shirt of mine that she liked seeing me in or a book that I’d bought for myself but had never read. Many of us already live in abundance, and can use this as a time to re-appreciate what we already have. Finally, consider gifts that cost nothing, like a three-hour block of uninterrupted time to paint, a game night, a long walk, or a sleep-in morning.
Spread some cheer. The collective energy of our country is palpable at this time of the year. Some of our isolation as queers can be due to the fact that we don’t tap into or that we even reject this feeling because of its Christian origin. Redefining cheer, positive vibes, and even decorating can be a helpful lift at this time. Let’s face it, we’re all sick of looking at our walls at this point in 2020. If you’re not into Christmas decorations, cut snowflake-like designs from rainbow paper or magazines. Hang up pictures of queer icons or loved ones that you want to keep in your mind at this time. Put up silly pictures or paper chains with jokes on them. Decorations can serve to change, brighten, and remind us that this is a different time than other months, and we need that right now more than ever. Offering: Get to the root. At its essence, this can be a time to spread good vibes, smile more, and extend gratitude toward neighbors, friends, and even strangers. Donate more, write affirmation cards or texts, uplift and fund QTBIPOC artists, authors, activists, or spread cheer or joy in ways that feel meaningful to you.
I want to acknowledge that this isn’t easy, and it isn’t for everyone. I have a lot of privileges that make the holidays easier for me to reimagine and redesign. If you’re overwhelmed and want to block out these months each year, please take care of yourself and meet your needs. Reframing doesn’t happen overnight. My last offering for today is be kind to yourself.
Bex Mui, she/her, is a queer social justice advocate working in LGBTQ-educational advocacy. @itsbexnow