By Emily Joy Allison-Hearn
We’re having Christmas in our tiny one-bedroom apartment this year. Oh, Billy and I are still driving to my parents’ house on the 25th to spend Christmas Day with them and open presents and participate in my mother’s love language, otherwise known as eating all the food she puts in front of you or else. But on the 22nd, we will be having an entirely different kind of Christmas. #friendsxmas.
My two best friends in the entire world, the women I would literally die for, and their partners, are all coming over, and the six of us will gather around the Beyoncé-topped tree in my living room and give each other gifts and wear ugly Christmas sweaters and drink mulled wine and mimosas and eat cinnamon rolls and listen to the Ru Paul’s Drag Race Christmas Queens album and be the family we have all chosen in some way or another.
We’re doing this because we all need it. We’re doing this because even though most of us have a college degree and work full time, saving our pennies year round and paying off debt and being generally responsible adults, we still can’t afford holiday-priced plane tickets to the places we might want to go. We’re doing this because not all of our family members have been able to treat us as though we are bearers of the imago dei because they disagree with our “lifestyle choices,” and this time of the year it hurts even worse than it normally does. We’re doing this because sitting around with a bunch of people who think “love the sinner, hate the sin” is a legitimate way to interact with the world makes for a very awkward Christmas dinner. And I say “us,” not because all of these things have happened to me individually but because these are my people, and because I am a 6 wing 5 on the Enneagram, that which is done unto them is done unto me. I am the Loyalist. The Defender. We’re doing this because we are our own oasis from the onslaught of the world, from the tide of injustice, from the pain of rejection.
So I’ve been decorating for weeks, hanging elaborate paper snowflakes and mistletoe, scouring thrift stores for used wreaths and nativity figurines. I bought the kittens “Santa” and “Elf” costumes, and hung six perfectly fluffy and perfectly kitschy stockings on the wall behind the sofa. The carefully wrapped presents have already begun to pile up, and I love looking over and seeing a mountain of physical things that represent how much we all want each other to be happy. I don’t think that’s materialistic. I think it’s being a good friend.
This is my third Advent as an incidental Episcopalian. I have a small Advent wreath on the table with three purple candles and one pink one and an enormous gold glitter one in the middle, and on Sundays after Billy goes to work, I have been lighting the candles and sitting on the floor and weeping and praying, which is something I almost never do anymore if it’s not out of the Book of Common Prayer because I am never sure what to say to God that hasn’t already been said. But in these Advent weeks the words and the tears flow freely, and I ask God to make Christians not-assholes and bring justice and cause Franklin Graham to forget his Facebook password. I play “O Come O Come Emanuel” on repeat because the only carols I like are the ones in minor keys and that one is my favorite, because it makes me feel like maybe God is as brokenhearted as I am.
I keep twinkle lights up in my living room year-round, hung meticulously around the borders of the room with clear plastic 3M hooks. When we moved in almost a year ago to the day, this was the first thing I did. Then I insisted that we buy a Christmas tree, before we even had a couch or a kitchen table or bookshelves. It was the first thing that made it feel like a home. For the last year we’ve been purchasing used furniture on Craigslist, hanging thrift store iconography on the walls, filling this tiny one-bedroom apartment with love and memories and kittens. I want it to be an oasis for us and for our friends and for the road-weary, a place where all are welcome to curl up on the couch and have a glass of wine or a cup of coffee and be themselves without fear of rejection. I think we’ve done a pretty good job of making it that.
But not everyone has that at Christmas, or any other time of the year. Norman Rockwell paintings would have us believe that you are supposed to be able to find that automatically with the people with whom you share genetic material, but that’s not always (often?) the case. Sometimes you have to find it for yourself, and choose those people, and hang on to them and have Christmas with them.
So we are having Christmas at my house this year, and every single person will know they are valuable and loved exactly as they are, no strings attached, no bait-and-switch. I will do my best to give everybody the holiday they unequivocally deserve. We will bake and eat and sip and savor. I will make sure to light the Advent candles, and when the weight of the world feels too much we will pour another glass and break out the guitar, and probably play Cards Against Humanity, for which we will feel dutifully guilty in between raucous peals of laughter. We will create shalom for ourselves.
Kitsch is kind of my thing anyway.