with Hot Rod
Hot Rod is my 93-year-old Danish grandma and she loves her some Christmas.
Or, as she says it, “Cwissmas.” She came to the states when
she was 14, back in 1926, but Christmas to her still conjures memories
of deep snowdrifts, church bells ringing all across the Danish countryside,
trees decorated with real wax candles and heart-shaped woven paper goody
bags. In Denmark of the 1920s children weren’t allowed to see holiday
decorations until the Christmas Eve dinner had been eaten and the family
went into the living room to open presents.
My grandma shakes her head at today’s last-minute shoppers and says “no
one would dream of shopping on Cwissmas Eve in Denmark.” At least
not in the Denmark of her memories.
For me, it’s been an on-and-off kind of thing. Of course, when I
was a kid, it was all about the presents. I think it was 1970, when I was
six, that I had my heart set on a paisley pop art kiddie suitcase and a
pair of white patent-leather go-go boots. I yes-ma’amed and no-sirred
my little butt off for at least a month to make sure I’d get those
two coveted items (it worked). In 1971, my parents tried a novel gift-distributing
tactic and just piled all the presents for me and my kid sister into two
big boxes decorated with gift-wrapping paper and with our names drawn on
each box in bold black letters. I was stunned at the change in gift display,
and ungratefully announced that I hated it. After all, it looked like there
was so much more when it was all scattered under the tree.
In ’72, the family decided to take advantage of my dad’s military “space
available” travel options. He told us to pack for any kind of weather
and go with him to the airport: for the two days we spent there waiting
for our name to be called, he took us around with the new cassette tape
recorder he’d bought just for the occasion, creating a sound documentary
of our trip. I held the microphone up to the hinges of creaking doors,
people’s shoes clicking by on the tiled floor, cans of TAB dropping
out of the vending machine, and who knows what else. I still have the tape:
maybe I’ll listen to it this year. Once we finally got a flight,
we ended up in Hawaii, in some surprisingly decent military quarters. I’ll
never forget the tropical evergreen we used for a tree that year. It looked
like it was made out of big fat extra hairy pipe cleaners: I loved it.
Then I grew up, moved away from home, and went to Manhattan for art school.
For the 17 years I lived there, I barely celebrated Christmas. Wasn’t
really interested. But coming to live with Hot Rod has me appreciating
the tradition again. Baking’s already begun: she makes a mean Danish
pastry, and we’re on the lookout for Long Island duck, which she
cooks with apples and prunes. She’s got a bag full of hand-knit hats
and dish cloths to give out as presents, and a week or so before the main
event, we’ll set up the little silver tree I bought at Mike McGuire’s
funky NoDa vintage shop, New Waves of Joy. My tranny wife Jenn will get
a present from her mom which silently acknowledges what mom can’t
bring herself to confront in daily life: the fact that her firstborn son
wants to be a girl. Maybe it’ll be hoop earrings this time, or a
dainty silver bracelet. Of course, Jenn can always count on Hot Rod to
give her panties.
by Allen Sendler
In December of 2003, we held a multi-cultural holiday celebration at Charlotte’s
LGBT Community Center. As a Jewish man, I was asked to speak about Chanukah,
the Festival of Lights. This is the story I told:
A long time ago, in a land far, far away, the Syrian-Greek regime of
King Antiochus sought to pull it’s Jewish citizens away from Judaism.
He wanted to assimilate the Jews into Hellenism, or Greek culture. Antiochus
outlawed all aspects of Jewish observance, including the study of Torah.
During this period, many Jews assimilated into Greek culture, taking on
Greek names and marrying non-Jews. A small band of Jews took to the hills
of Judea in open revolt against this threat to Jewish life. Led by Judah,
the Maccabees waged guerilla warfare against the much larger Syrian army
for three years. These courageous rebels won the battle and drove the foreigners
from their land. When they reclaimed the holy temple in Jerusalem, in December
of 164BC, they found it in shambles. It had been defiled and desecrated
by foreign soldiers. They cleansed the temple and rededicated it. When
it came time to relight the Menorah, only one small jar of blessed oil
could be found, enough for just one day of light. But that small amount
of oil burned for eight days, until a new supply could be obtained. From
then on, Jews all over the world have celebrated Chanukah for eight days
in honor of that historic victory, and the miracle of the oil.
In my own life, Chanukah reminds me of my reconnection with the faith of
my ancestors. I was born and raised in a Jewish family in New York City.
My grandparents were Orthodox, my parents were not, and they raised me
with a nominal connection to Judaism. When I left New York to go to college,
I left Judaism behind and I have lived most of my life in a predominantly
Christian world, with no connection to any religion. In 2002, I became
aware of a spiritual void in my life and I started attending services at
Temple Beth El. I was made to feel most welcome as a Jew who is also gay.
Reform Judaism encourages us to be the best humans we are capable of being
and to do whatever we can for others. This is the way I am shaping my life.
Every year at this time I now join my Christian and African-American friends
in commemorating Christmas, Chanukah and Kwanzaa.