A married couple’s first Thanksgiving and Christmas—these are the moments on which years of holiday memories are built. Constantino and I have found our recent conversations turning to the topic of traditions, in particular which traditions we want to integrate into our family’s culture, and which ones we want to abandon. Traditions, after all, are so much more than repetition and familiarity; they reflect the values of the people who practice them, and they have the power to influence us for a lifetime.
Delving into old family traditions is a good place to start, and the process can be both wonderful and difficult. It compels us to revisit emotionally charged memories of our formative years, which for many of us are positive but for some are, at best, conflicted. For many LGBTQ Christians, the word “tradition” offers an additional layer of angst since it is the concept of tradition (“the way things have always been done”) that has been used as justification to label same-sex attraction as aberrant and perverse. The adherence to tradition that gifts us with turkey and Santa and Christmas trees is the same tradition that upholds marriage as exclusively between a man and a woman. It’s not called traditional marriage for nothing.
Furthermore, many LGBTQ people who are estranged from their families may also find themselves estranged from the traditions they once loved in childhood. Decorating a tree, singing Christmas carols, making sugar cookies: These become customs relegated to the past, to a place of sad nostalgia rather than present reality. For the estranged who still celebrate these traditions, alone or with friends, it can be a reminder of the loss of family. This is the power traditions wield over us.
Constantino has been more or less estranged from his parents for years, and has since grieved the traditions they once practiced: formal dinners on Christmas Eve, opening presents at midnight. We’re fortunate to have a good relationship with my family, and there are cherished traditions from my childhood that I hope to incorporate into our holidays. One of my favorites was an Advent calendar that my mom made for my sister and me. Each day we would take a felt ornament from the calendar and pin it on a felt tree above. As the tree grew with decorations, it made the anticipation of Christmas all the more exciting.
Our very first tradition as a couple began with Advent as well. Two years ago, not long after we had started dating, Constantino bought an Advent wreath so that we could commemorate the four weeks of Advent in the liturgical calendar. Coming from a more evangelical background, I had only a passing experience with lighting the candles and taking a moment to reflect upon the tenets of hope, peace, love, and joy. We performed the lighting within our small group at church and read a short piece of liturgy. It was such a meaningful experience that we’ve continued the tradition as a way to center ourselves in a season of commercial distraction.
Besides Advent, we’re starting with a mostly blank slate. But it’s exciting to imagine the possibilities. I wonder what must-have dishes there will be for Thanksgiving, or what special traditions we’ll come up with for showing gratitude. Surely we’ll have some must-play Christmas albums, and rituals for decorating the house and the tree. I’m looking forward to having that one spot we always go to for a seasonal egg nog, or the soup kitchen we always volunteer for. More than anything, I want to develop traditions that reflect our love for Jesus and for each other; I can imagine no better gift to pass on to future generations. If traditions reflect our values, I want our traditions to radiate with love.
If you’ve come up with any holiday traditions as a couple, a new family, or on your own, please share them in the comments. We’d love to hear your ideas and stories.
David Khalaf is a fiction writer living in Portland.
Photo by Moment Catcher, used through Flickr Creative Commons.
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