This Is How One Gay Couple Reinvented the Holidays

Written by | Gay Voices

How does a gay couple reinvent their first holiday season far from the frosty forests and family that they love?

Hot for the Holidays

“What if we lit a cactus?”  With that, Gary nearly began to cry.

For the first time in our adult lives, my husband and I had made the monumental decision to spend Christmas together, just the two us. Moreover, Gary and I – two born and bred Midwestern boys – had decided to spend it in our new home in Palm Springs. But we were consumed with guilt. Our families were making us feel off-kilter for not traveling back to see them — although no one ever came to visit us for the holidays. We were also feeling guilty about giving up, quite literally, our holiday roots. These included decorating seven live trees in our Michigan cottage, decking mantels in garland and lighting every snowy, showy pine in our woods. Our beloved boxes of pinecone lights, snowshoeing Santas, and lake-themed ornaments were a world away.

“What do you decorate in the desert?” Gary asked, pretending to touch a needle on the cactus. “Ouch.”

“At least it’s green,” I said.

Gary looked at me. “I’ve got an idea.” I brightened at his hopeful tone. “Why don’t we go to the cactus tree farm and cut down our own cactus and put in on top of our car, just like we did in Michigan?”

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“Ouch,” I said this time.

Gary was right, though. How did one recreate a beloved tradition in a new way and place that would honor what we cherished most about the holidays?

“Why don’t we bake and decorate cookies?” I suggested.

Gary looked at me. “It’s eighty degrees. We won’t even need to turn on the oven.”

Reinventing with the Rat Pack

The sun was shimmering through olive trees, and the smell of freshly mowed grass recalled summer. I knew I’d have to set a different mood.

“Alexa,” I called. “Play… ” I stopped, thinking of just the right thing. “Rat Pack Christmas.”

As Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra began to croon, I was transported back in time to holidays with my family. My grandparents and great aunts and uncles played this music as they made martinis and decorated silver trees with beautiful, colorful glass ornaments. Those were magical memories that I’d always held dear.

“We’re going to get a tree,” I said to Gary.

“Where’s the tree farm around here?” he asked sarcastically.

I drove Gary to our local hardware store, which I’d heard had the hippest holiday décor. It was like walking into Santa’s workshop circa mod mid-century. There were aluminum and tinsel trees in a rainbow of colors – pink and aqua, silver and white. Their limbs were draped in brightly-hued, geometrically-shaped ornaments and vintage-looking bulbs. Color wheels spun underneath some, creating a retro rainbow effect.

Gary’s eyes got as big as the bulbs. He walked over to a massive silver tree. “This one,” he said.

“Just one?” I asked.

His face lit up more brightly than the trees.

The Holidays, Reinvented

We bought four, in every size and color. Our grandparents’ ornaments, which we’d brought with us but never unearthed, soon adorned them. We set up vintage bottle brush villages, hung felt stockings and tinsel wreaths. Here, decorations that had never worked in our Michigan country Christmases, somehow did.

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We even lit up that big cactus. And, yes, Gary got pricked while wrapping it in twinkling lights. But it was worth the effort.

When we were done, Gary poured himself some sparkling water, and I made myself a martini. “Rat Pack Christmas” music played as we admired our trees. We even ended up sharing holiday memories we’d never shared before. We reminisced about our grandparents, and it was like our family was surrounding us again.

That Christmas turned out to be mid-century instead of Midwestern. But most importantly, it was all ours.

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Last modified: February 28, 2020