Old and New, Mix and Match: Gay Dad Holiday Traditions
With all the boundary breaking and overcoming daunting obstacles that gay dads already do, it’s no surprise they find special ways to mark the holiday season. So what’s Christmas or Hanukkah or New Year’s?
They’re opportunities, that’s what.
They’re opportunities to build their families’ shared history. They’re opportunities to reflect on shared faith traditions. They’re opportunities to include extended relatives. And they’re an opportunity for simple, lasting joy.
We asked a few gay dads to tell us about their holiday traditions. As you might expect, the answers run the gamut.
Whitney Kyle, a single gay father, wrote that he emphasized the secular celebratory side of the Christmas season.
“We are not Christian,” he wrote. “For us, Christmas is a secular holiday that we celebrate the entire month by taking advantage of sales for the things we need or want. We do put up a tree and some lights and have a big traditional dinner for our friends but there is nothing religious about it for us.
“My family and circle of friends include Quakers, Jews, Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, and Masons, so not celebrating all faiths equally and neutrally makes no sense to me.”
Dustin Jolly’s family has something in common with others in their holiday routine. They don’t wait for Santa to start opening the presents.
“One of our family favorite traditions is opening a gift on Christmas Eve,” Dustin wrote. “The anticipation and wonder of what gift it will be that they will open that evening.”
Gays With Kids contributor Jason Howe has also worked as a TV reporter and an LGBT activist. His family draws on several traditions to make their holidays special.
“I grew up in California and Hawaii and my husband is from the Valencian community in Spain. We're both basically atheists, but he calls himself a cultural Catholic, and I'm ethnically half Jewish,” Jason wrote.
He came from an assimilated Jewish family on his mother’s side, which meant that “Christmas – all Santa, no Jesus – was a big deal for her growing up and she, not my über-Maine-WASP dad, made sure it was for me too.”
But for Jason, who lives in Studio City, Calif., becoming a parent himself has meant reconsidering and re-emphasizing that Jewish identity for the sake of his own family.
“I'm an enormous history and archaeology buff, and my feeling is that the Jews are one of the few ethnic groups in the world with an unbroken tradition and language stretching back at least to the Iron Age,” he writes. “Religion isn't important to me, but it's a weird feeling to think that you're the one who let traditions die out that your ancestors struggled for 2,000 years to maintain.
“So now that I'm a dad, while I'm not tossing out the Christmas tree, I want to make sure that my girls have a sense of where they come from – though that also includes Spain, India (where we did surrogacy) and the Mayflower [the ship that sailed to America in 1620].”
He hopes to teach his daughters Olivia and Clara some Hebrew. And that’s not all.
“Our plan is to observe the Jewish holidays as secularly as we can, which usually isn't difficult; the traditional explanation of almost every Jewish holiday is, ‘They tried to kill us . . . We survived... Let's eat!’ We also light oil lamps for Diwali (the Hindu festival of lights) to make sure the girls know about that side of their heritage, too.”
But Christmas is still omnipresent. Jason and his husband Adrian Pérez Boluda incorporate Spanish food and traditions, including Caga tió, the pooping log of Catalonia. As Jason explains: “Children hit [the log] with sticks on Christmas morning and he poops turrón (a type of nougat), modestly, under a blanket,” leaving treats for the family.
"Adrián isn't Catalan and had never heard of the tradition, but I read about it and said, 'We are so doing this!'" Jason writes.
Bruce Lindstedt has decided to keep things close to home. Family and faith are important parts of the season to many, and that’s reflected in how he celebrates his Christmas.
“When we can, we go to out to dinner at our favorite Italian restaurant and then to church on Christmas eve,” Bruce writes. “Christmas day we spend at home. I spent too many years on Christmas as a kid running from aunt to aunt and cousin to grandparents. I vowed I would never do that to my children.
“So, get up, have breakfast of German "Stollen," open presents and the front door is open. We eat dinner at 2, you show up, you are welcome to what we have to share.”
For Chet Errett Atkins, his family’s traditions are part of a continuum. Both relatives and nostalgia are involved.
“We celebrate Christmas Eve at my grandma's – their great grandmother – and then go to candlelight service at church and then come home and open their gifts afterward,” he writes. “They spend Christmas Day with their mother. It's been that way for 9 years. ... And it's a lot like my childhood traditions as well.”
Close to Home
Gays With Kids Founder Brian Rosenberg finds himself bridging religions and working to include others in the joy of the season. He and his husband Ferd van Gameren, who is also the site's executive editor, have three children.
“Our family celebrates the holidays each year by giving all our neighbors a gift bag of homemade jams, marmalades and other preserves that Ferd makes with the kids’ help,” Brian writes. “Our kids take turns ringing the doorbells and they all shout ‘Happy Holidays!’ We hope this teaches them the importance of being good neighbors and of giving.”
The family celebrates both Hanukkah and Christmas, incorporating their Jewish and Christian backgrounds.
“On Christmas we’ll open Santa’s presents in the morning, then have a traditional Dutch Christmas breakfast (usually had at midnight on Christmas Eve, but we do it on Christmas morning with the kids instead), and followed by a Jewish "Christmas" in the afternoon, which means going to the movies and eating Chinese food,” Brian writes.
As for this writer’s family, we’ve also incorporated traditions from each parent. My husband’s family would always open presents on Christmas Eve, so we do that, much to our son’s relief and excitement. My mother was a great devotee of Christmas cards, so I’m the one who designs and sends them off to friends and relatives.
So far, we’ve kept the holiday low key, given that our parents live in other states. But we’ve involved them via Skype, and have made sure to document each year with photos and video.
And that’s the tradition that seems the most important. The holiday season is a time for pausing and taking stock, a time for realizing how much your family has grown and changed in the past year. Looking through old photos and video footage, you can see for yourself how quickly your children have grown, and how much they’ve already achieved.
And that’s the greatest seasonal gift of all.