Keep the Yuletide Gay

We had a wonderful solstice yesterday. In the morning we got up and opened our presents. Robin didn’t quite understand what was going on but he caught the enthusiasm of the moment, especially as one after another of the intriguingly wrapped boxes proved to contain a present for him. There were clothes, there were toys, there were delicious things to eat. Robin was eating graham crackers when we unwrapped our present to him, a little boy doll, and the first thing he did was eagerly take the doll into his arms and carefully, precisely lift a graham cracker to its sculpured lips. It was the cutest thing.

After the gift-unwrapping I spent most of the day cooking. I was well prepared and everything went according to schedule, so it was fun rather than stressful or tedious. Robin amused himself with his new toys for most of the day.

This year our guests were drawn from my gay male coterie of friends, allowing me now to lapse into a flight of generalizations based on very small sample sizes. Our guests all showed up right on time and bearing gifts. They made witty conversation all night, they were effusive in their praise of the food, and this morning they each sent me very nice e-mail to say how much they’d enjoyed themselves and to thank me for the dinner. Now, we love our straight friends too, but I have a very vivid memory of a solstice a few years ago when one of our guests cornered me in the kitchen after the meal to tell me—with the sympathetic air of one saddened by the news he is forced to deliver—that the green bean casserole had arrived at the table lukewarm. And I can definitely say that thank-you notes are not the norm, at least among straight Californians of our generation.

Why is that, I wonder? Why are gay men such better dinner party guests? It can’t have anything to do with upbringing because most of these particular friends have hilarious stories about their graceless family origins. These kind of manners must be taught and enforced by the gay community, is all I can figure, maybe in the same way that good personal grooming is taught and enforced? I don’t know, I’ll bring it up with them next time I see them.

After our friends had gone we put Robin to bed and spent a little time together cuddling in front of the TV before we followed him there. I was filled with an intense happiness and sense of security and warmth that actually really surprised me, because it is exactly the sentiment that Christmas greeting cards hollowly evoke in their formulaic way: the peace and joy of the season. When I say that it surprised me I don’t mean that I am usually unhappy or that I expected the holiday to be bad: I can’t remember the last time I’ve had an unhappy winter holiday, and I can remember several very nice ones, very recently. But I guess I think that “peace and joy” is mostly something people say, not a special sort of feeling that really comes to you on Christmas (or in our case the solstice). In fact if I had to guess I’d probably say that the expectation of such a feeling causes more unhappiness than joy, because people get all stressed out trying to achieve the perfect Christmas and then they fight with their families and end up all angry and alienated. Right? I mean, I’m not making this up, there are all kinds of books and jokes and articles about de-stressing the holidays and insulating yourself from family drama and all the rest of it. So what I mean is that, at least since I’ve become an adult and the sheer mercenary excitement of getting presents has faded, a happy Christmas means the ordinary happiness of good food and relaxing with family. It doesn’t mean special happiness. And yet there I was, peaceful and joyous, basking in a unique kind of holiday glow. So it exists! Isn’t that interesting?

I wonder what has to be done to get that holiday high. I suspect you have to put some work into it, but not too much work: enough so that you are proud of the payoff, not so much that the stress overwhelms you. Having small children around has got to help. Also, apparently gay men are essential to holiday happiness. If you can’t get gay men where you live, people born before 1960 may have the same kind of good party manners and might suffice. Certainly I will be attempting to replicate these results!

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