December. For many the holiday season is their favorite time of year. Office parties. Ugly sweater parties. Hanukkah parties. Family parties. Parties, parties and more parties. Others view the holidays a little different, forced merriment they say. For me, I do like the holidays, everyone seems a little nicer, a little friendlier. Everyone is optimistic about the new year ahead, thinking things will improve, and for a brief time, actually believing they will.
What I really love about the holidays are the many traditions I have with family and friends. Traditions that were started years ago and traditions started more recently. Some of them still in existence today and some we have grown out of.
When my sister and I were younger, decorating the family tree was a huge tradition for us as it is in many families. As we decorated the tree, there was one ornament that held special powers – the Miss Piggy ceramic figurine. Whoever got to place her on the tree had bragging rights for the entire year. The rules of the game to this day are still a little murky. You technically weren’t allowed to search for Miss Piggy, if you happened to put your hand in the ornament box and find her, yay you were the winner! Naturally more often than not there was an all out war to find Miss Piggy! As I grew older, I loved staying up as late as I could reading into the night guided by the lights of our Christmas Tree. My mother excelled at so much, but making Christmas special for us was one of her many many talents. (and yes that is THE actual Miss Piggy ornament hanging on my sisters tree this very year. It has been in our family for close to 50 years!)
My family is very large, and very Italian. I am lucky to have more cousins than I can count, many of them not just cousins but true friends. In our 20s, because we didn’t get to see each other enough around the holidays, we held a separate “Cousins Christmas party!” These parties, at our cousin Michael’s apartment in Brooklyn usually numbered around 25. Just cousins. And a boyfriend/girlfriend/fiancee or two here and there. The night revolved around the “secret santa gift exchange.” In true competitive fashion, it was a White Elephant gift exchange, meaning when it was your turn to choose, you could either pick from the unwrapped pile of gifts or steal an already opened gift. Stealing a $20 gift from a family member is just as much fun as it sounds!. By the end of the night it was a secret santa bloodbath!
When I started teaching, family’s of my students were extremely generous around the holidays, and I would receive dozens and dozens of gifts. So many in fact, that I was able to hold my own “regifting” holiday party. I would invite friends over and place all the loot on the table, first come first serve. Inevitably, I would end up with a lot of “cologne, shaving cream, body wash” 3-packs from places like “Macy’s” and “Marshalls”. The families were quite thoughtful, trying to figure out what to get for a youngish, single male teacher.
Past NYC traditions with certain friends have included annual treks to the Rockefeller Center tree and yearly trips to Broadway matinees during the week of Christmas break. There is also the annual “Toys for Tots” epically fun gay party each year on a Sunday early in December. Always a fun evening, and an excuse to get dressed up, it’s on many a guys yearly to attend list.
Definitely one of my all time favorite traditions was with my friend Phil. Both of us loving the Charles Dicken classic novel, “A Christmas Carol”, each year we would search out a new production of the story. We have seen Danny Pinaturo from “Who’s the Boss” play “Tiny Tim” in a gay themed production at the Stonewall Theater. His Tim was HIV-positive without health insurance. I both loved it and cried my gay eyes out! In the years we couldn’t find a theater production, we would watch one of the many film versions. My favorites are the 1984 George C. Scott version, “The Muppet Christmas Carol” with Michael Caine, and -wait for it- the Lifetime tear-jerker “Ebbie,” with Susan Lucci as Elizabeth “Ebbie” Scrooge. The dual themes of redemption and that it is never too late to be the person you want to be has always resonated with me. Now more than ever in these volatile, political days.
Finally, a tradition that doesn’t really require anything for me to do but I do love are seeing the Christmas card pictures from family and friends each year. Each one is taped to the archway between the kitchen and living room in my apartment. I love seeing how everyone’s family is growing each year, how happy and loved they are. I do particularly enjoy when the ages of each child is added in parenthesis after their names. I know it’s awful to say out loud, but I do sometimes forgot how old your kids are. I’m sorry. (And yes, that is my sister and I in our of our first pictures together. Don’t you love the rainbow suspenders, my poor mom had no idea what she was starting when she put those on me. Add a gold chain to the mix – oh how my parents wanted a little Italian guido. lol.)
What is it about traditions that I and so many others love and crave? Maybe they provide a sense of belonging and a sense of comradery that might be missing during the other 11 months. Maybe being a part of something special makes us in turn feel special. What I love most about traditions and honoring them year after year, is the feeling each of them provide. Christmas is not just one day, not just one holiday. Christmas is a feeling, an emotion. A feeling of peace, kindness and goodwill towards our fellow man (and woman!). Those feelings we have on Christmas can stay with us long after December 25th.
As Big Bird and his fellow muppets sing on the Sesame Eve Christmas special (also another yearly viewing tradition when younger) “Keep Christmas with you, all through the year. When Christmas is over, save some Christmas cheer. Those precious moments, hold them very dear. And keep Christmas with you, all through the year!”
And God Bless us, every one!