Guest Post by Jeff Erno
Growing up in a small, northern Michigan town, holiday celebrations became like thread that knit family, friends, and community together. Not just Christmas, Thanksgiving and New Year, but all holidays year-round.
Easter meant gathering at Sunset Park for the annual Easter Egg hunt, then dressing in our new Sunday finest for worship services at church.
On Memorial Day the entire town lined the two-lane street that was our town’s thoroughfare to honor the veterans who marched in uniform to the local cemetery. As a child I remember waiting, shoulders scrunched and eyes squeezed tightly closed, for the blasts of revelry when the soldiers fired their weapons into the air. I remember kneeling with my Gram at the gravesites of departed loved ones, family members I’d never met but knew quite well from the stories Gram had told me. We decorated the graves with flowers.
July 4th, Independence Day, though not celebrated with gift-giving, truly became one of my favorite holidays. Everything happened outdoors. Sunshine, swimming, barbeques…and of course: fireworks. We always went camping, and I always got sunburned. And Mom made her famous potato salad, the best in the world. We devoured big, juicy, red watermelon, the kind with seeds, which we kids giddily spit at each other.
Labor Day marked the beginning of a new school year, and more importantly, a whole new wardrobe. The holiday was and ever will be the most bitter-sweet. I knew it would be the last big picnic of the year, but also the beginning of something exciting.
And isn’t Halloween every kid’s favorite? In second grade I surprised my classmates by dressing as a girl. My first time in drag, and I was a smashing success. Although the year before I’d gone as Raggedy Ann, so maybe that also counted as cross-dressing. Mom always had huge Halloween parties, hosting all the neighborhood kids. We filled the bathtub and bobbed for apples, and one year even cordoned off the entire back three bedrooms of the house to create a spook house. My brother designed a coffin, and my sister dressed as Dracula. As our guests stepped into the room and peered into the casket, she sat up and scared the bejesus out of ‘em.
Thanksgiving meant food. Lots and lots of food inhaled by lots and lots of family. Mom and Gram cooked for days leading up to the event, and no matter what, all the family gathered. And by family I don’t just mean Mom, Dad, and kids. I’m talking neighbors who were like family. Close friends, classmates from school, even homeless people. I don’t ever remember a small Thanksgiving dinner. And God…the pies! Apple, cherry, lemon meringue, chocolate cream, mincemeat, pecan, and of course, pumpkin.
The day after Thanksgiving we didn’t get up at 3am to go wait in line at Wal-mart for Black Friday sales. No, we’d never heard of such a thing. Instead, it was the day we went to pick out our Christmas tree, which we then brought home to trim before decorating the rest of the house. The tree always went up that special Friday, and by the time Christmas arrived, a month later, the gifts extended from beneath the tree into the center of the room.
We kids woke up early. No, that’s too much of an understatement. We were pounding on Mom and Dad’s bedroom door in the middle of the night only to be yelled at, “Go back to bed!” My brother and I would moan, and I’d crawl back in bed and stare up at the ceiling wide-eyed, my heart pounding with excitement as the seconds ticked by one at a time until finally the little hand on the clock lined up with “5”.
Of course we got to stay up till midnight on New Year’s Eve. And yes, every year it was a pizza party with soda pop, chips, and fake champagne (juice). We always watched the ball drop in Times Square on the console TV and blew into those noisemakers that sounded like honking geese.
Holidays equal memories for me. They connect me to my family, many of whom have departed. Mom, Dad, and Gram are no longer here to celebrate, and sadly the holidays no longer thread our family together except for maybe in spirit.
For the past few years, during the holiday season, we’ve heard a lot of noise from people claiming there’s a war on Christmas. I think I understand where they’re coming from, what it is they fear. Growing up in that small town, things remained constant. The holidays, though always special, were quite predictable. And as I got older, I clung to these memories. I associate each holiday with something significant to me. With people I love.
But as I grew older I realized that my special memories of the holidays we celebrated were important to me because of the unique person that I am, and because of the specific way I was raised. But so many people celebrate holidays in different ways, in manners I’d never known about. They’ve celebrated religious holidays I’d never heard of.
The family that celebrates Hanukah or Ramadan or Kwanza certainly holds special memories of their own. Those who honor Solstice and Yule, and those who have no particular religious tradition but still participate in the spirit of generosity and gratitude, all choose to celebrate for their own special reasons which are important to them.
I think many people like me, who came of age in rural communities that didn’t particularly represent a diversity of people, fear that when we become willing to be more inclusive, the special memories and traditions we hold dear are going to somehow change or vanish altogether. Those who fear there is a war on Christmas, I think are really afraid there’s a war on the things they’re used to, the memories they have.
In my heart, I’ll forever hold the fond memories of my childhood holidays, but now I recognize that new, different experiences do not ever have to threaten cherished tradition. I don’t have my family surrounding me anymore, so I have a new family…not one of blood, but of love and of choice. I don’t have a real Christmas tree, but a small (cute) little tree I adorn with nostalgic ornaments that honor the people and events in my life that have meant the most to me. And I don’t wake up at three in the morning anxiously awaiting the crack of dawn to open gifts, but sometimes I’m awake at that time anyway, writing or editing my next novel while I bake my pumpkin pie.
Whatever holidays you may celebrate, and whatever fond memories you associate with them, may they be special and meaningful to you this year. And with all my heart I wish you…Happy Holidays.
Jeff Erno began writing LGBT fiction in the late 1990s. Although an avid reader and amateur writer from a very young age, Jeff pursued a career as a retail store manager in Northern Michigan. When his first gay-themed novel was published, he was shocked that anyone would even want to read it. Four years later, he writes full time and has published fifteen novels. Jeff now lives in Southern Michigan, where he resides with his pure-white cat, Gandalf.
Jeff's writing credits include a variety of themes and sub-genres including male romance, Young Adult, Science Fiction, erotica, and BDSM. He is the winner of a 2012 Rainbow Award and an Honorable Mention in 2011. His style is unpretentious and focused upon emotionally-driven, character-based stories that touch the heart. Jeff is especially passionate about young adult literature and combating teen bullying and youth suicide.
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In many ways, Kyle Evans is living his dream. He’s got a job he loves as a music teacher, working with elementary school students. He’s a bit of an introvert, though, and hasn’t had much of a social life since college. When he literally runs into his neighbor one day, all of that changes. Dan Richards is tall, dark, and handsome, and it soon becomes apparent that he’s interested in Kyle. After a rocky start, they hit it off, and within three years they’ve bought a home together and are engaged to be married. But Kyle now faces a dilemma. He wants to get his fiancé the perfect Christmas gift, but he has very little money. He puts on his thinking cap and devises a plan to deliver a spectacular surprise, but it’s going to take a little bit of ingenuity, a big sacrifice on his part, and a whole lot of luck.