For the LGBTQ community, the annual end-of-the-year holiday season traditionally kicks off with costumed Halloween parties at clubs and homes. Following are the usual mix of dinners and house parties with friends and family for Thanksgiving and general seasonal merriment as we wing our way into Hanukkah (Nov. 28 – Dec. 6), Christmas (Dec. 25) and Kwanzaa (Dec. 26 – Jan. 1).
Christmas, commemorating the birth of Jesus Christ, has been celebrated in the western world on Dec. 25 since A.D. 354, replacing the earlier date of Jan. 6. By then, the Christians had appropriated many pagan festivals and traditions of the season that were practiced in parts of the Middle East and Europe. Today Christmas is celebrated in several countries around the globe. For many, Christmas is a time of easier smiles, family gatherings, gift exchange and good food.
For others, and particularly those of the Jewish faith, Hanukkah (traditionally spelled Chanukah), is an eight-day wintertime “festival of lights,” celebrated with a nightly menorah lighting, special prayers and fried foods. Based on the Greco-Roman model of celebrating a military triumph, Hanukkah was instituted in 164 B.C. to celebrate the victory of the Maccabees, army of Jews, against the much more powerful army of King Antiochus IV of Syria. Today the appearance of Hanukkah can be found more readily than in decades past, with displays and mentions of the holiday found in retail outlets, offices and greeting cards.
Kwanzaa, the newest of the three holidays, is just 55 years old. It’s also the only one of the three that is purely a cultural holiday. Those who celebrate Christmas and Hanukkah are welcomed to celebrate it too, in addition to the other holidays.
Kwanzaa was created in 1966 by Dr. Maulana Karenga, a Black nationalist and professor of Pan-African studies at California State University at Long Beach. The holiday is defined by Nguzo Saba, or the seven principles. Each day of the festival is dedicated to a specific principle, marked by lighting a new candle on the kinara, a seven-branched candelabra. This non-religious holiday is meant to honor the roots of African-Americans, while presenting and promoting empowering and sustaining principles to live by.
What do all the holidays have in common? They are all celebrated around the same time with family, friends, food, gifts, gratitude and resilience being paramount. They all come at a time where togetherness and goodwill are championed.
But what does that mean for LGBTQ community? Our experiences with the holidays are as diversified as we are. For some, these holidays hold little relevance or social value. For others, and many who are unable to escape the overwhelming presence of the days, the holidays can be a bit daunting.
Unique Lee, a former Charlotte resident and out lesbian loves this time of year. Her family lives all over the country. “I’ve always gone to holiday gatherings with my partner, and my family has been welcoming and cordial to my partner(s) and myself.
“I came out to my family in November, about three weeks prior to Thanksgiving,” she continues. “That was years ago, and at that time, my mother wasn’t comfortable with my lesbianism or me bringing a partner. My father, though, was supportive from the very beginning. When I told him I was [a] lesbian he said, ‘And…?’ He went on to say [about the upcoming Thanksgiving], ‘This has always been your home, and you’re welcome to bring whoever you want [to dinner].’”
For those who feel disconnected from their biological family, the holidays can be a difficult time. Disconnection can happen for a myriad of reasons and sometimes, being a part of the LGBTQ community is one of those reasons.
Although major strides towards social acceptance of LGBTQ people and culture have been made in the past decade, in some instances it remains the elephant in the room for less enlightened families. Simply stated, you might be encouraged to attend a Christmas dinner, Hanukkah menorah lighting or a Kwanzaa Karamu (the ending feast and celebration) – as long as you don’t bring your LGBTQ self along.
So how does the LGBTQ community celebrate the winter holidays in an inclusive and affirming way? Here are a few things you might want to consider: Does your family or the people you plan to be with generally affirm you? Do you feel good when you’re in their presence? Do you feel welcome to be you? If the answers are yes, then by all means, get ready to eat, drink and be merry.
If any of your answers are no, you might want to consider other options. While you’re pondering those, also consider this: Family is about much more than genetics. Many of us already know and practice this. This ideology, this need for connection was the foundation of Ballroom culture – a drag performance-based culture where the members are often linked by associations emulating traditional family structures, i.e., House Mothers, siblings and extended family members.
There are many “Houses” from the Ballroom and Kiki Ballroom Scene that are continuing the tradition of offering holiday events and celebration to their members and friends. In the Carolinas, the House of West, the House of Blahnik and the House of Ebony are among those planning for 2021/2022 holiday celebrations.
Rev. Sonja Lee, founder of the Lionel Lee Jr. Center for Wellness, is currently in the process of organizing an inclusive Kwanzaa celebration that will welcome and affirm Charlotte’s LGBTQ community of color and friends.
“We are intentionally inclusive of our LGBT+ community,” Lee explains. “To be welcoming is one thing, but to be affirming is another. That’s what sets this event apart from others.”
No matter what holiday you celebrate this winter, know that you have community. qnotes would like to extend cheer and community to all those who might be grappling with disconnection, anxiety, depression and/or loneliness. We care about you and hope you’ll be able to find loving and affirming spaces that celebrate you, your resilience and this joyous season.