‘Tis the Season for Burl Ives’ Weapons-Grade Earworm

By Maria Padhila

I’ve been lucky when it comes to holidays. For most of my life, I could ignore them.

Poly Paradise at Burning Man. Photo by Eric.
Poly Paradise at Burning Man. Photo by Eric.

Until the past few years, I worked in a field that never shut down, so I had the ready-made excuse of having to work on Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s. I’m a pagan, so my holiday is the Solstice. (One of my friends has an annual joke: It’s the pagan Christmas!) Sometimes I stay up all night for a ritual; a few years ago, Isaac took our daughter for a week with the grandparents and I had a five-night ritual that probably led to some of the biggest changes in my life so far.

But as sacred as these occasions might be, they don’t involve sitting in overheated rooms with people who don’t really want to talk to me and are wishing they could just watch football and eating too much of food that could be toxic with hormones and additives. If I do happen to get a few days to myself without work or child, I gorge myself, all right — on theater, every show I can get a discount ticket to.

Isaac was raised a Jewish atheist, and his family never felt the least obligation to do a thing around Saturnalia. It was beautifully freeing. We worked on Christmas (he has a job that goes 24/7/365), everyone felt sorry for us, and we felt smug and got extra days off when we really wanted them, instead. I could ignore New Year’s — a night I guess you’re supposed to spend in an overpriced reek of bad sparkling wine and dull music, honoring a turn in a calendar that bears no resemblance to the Earth’s seasons — by babysitting. All taken care of.

But then Isaac’s sister, who’s a pagan too, decided to start celebrating a Real Pagan Christmas. To make things work for her family by marriage, she accomplished a remarkable feat of diplomacy, crafting a holiday that has all the good stuff from every culture she’s part of — organic food, fantastic wine, a live pine, lots of presents (such as the We-Moon calendar every year for me, and always one piece of delightful consumer crap for Tobi, such as the remote control tarantula), a reading of a Solstice story by candlelight, carrot slices tossed on the lawn for the reindeer, stockings by the fireplace (which I fill with junk I would never, ever buy them, so they must be from Santa: garish nail polish and eyeshadow, light-up superballs, sparkly hairbands, temporary tattoos, Sour Patch candy, mini-Sharpies…). And late on Christmas day, we do Chinese food and a movie. It has something for everybody. I would never do it, but I’m happy to be an enabler, I mean helper.

We feast and drink and cuddle and have fun with the adults and with the kids, except for that one year that I drank too much wine and spent Baby Jesus’ Birthday lying on the cool bathroom floor tiles, admiring my in-law’s renovating handiwork. It proved an instructive example to Tobi — this is what happens if you drink red wine during certain times in your cycle, so stay aware of your body or you risk puking through Christmas!

I have tried to explain to Tobi what Christmas means, by the way, but she doesn’t really get it. To her it means cousins and presents. Since she was two, we’ve gone out to our neighborhood woods on Solstice night at sundown and tossed organic Cheerios and sunflower seeds to the birds and squirrels to give them hope on the longest night. The woods are part of a military installation and very well guarded. One memorable Solstice, when she was four, a sudden wind brought the sound of the loudspeaker blasting “Taps” at sundown in our direction, and she was convinced for years that it was the setting sun singing to her.

But where is Chris when all this feasting and cuddling is going on?

He will probably be doing a combination of volunteering and hanging with friends and seeing at least one relative. Like so many people, he has a family that is torn — some of them cause such pain that it’s an affirmation of health and sanity to avoid them — and many of his family of choice (i.e., close friends) are with others, fulfilling their family obligations. As I will be.

After years of getting a pass on the emotional pain and difficulties of the yearly holidays as America knows them, it is all catching up with me. Now that I’m a poly freak, I will experience the kind of holidays those in religious, nuclear families, from their accounts, know very well: I will feel lonely and heart-torn for the holidays. I care for him, and I don’t want him to be sad.

Last year, I didn’t feel it much. I don’t care about the holidays, so why should anyone else? Can’t they just get over this silly fake-calendar, pseudo-religious construct? I would gladly trade places with Chris, would welcome a day when I can be alone if I like, hide inside in bed, do nothing and have no one bother me. This year, I realize that even though these are days I could take or leave, I still want him to be part of much more of my life.

But no one is ready for that, yet. I hope we all will be, someday. It all goes so slowly, and we are all getting older, and no one knows how much time we may have left. To me, it feels easy to open up for one more, two more; there is always more, the more you give away. But not everyone feels like that, and they have their reasons, and I won’t push to change them.

I’ll be patient. These are the choices we make.

To try to get some insight into how polyamorists deal with the holiday season, I poked around and asked for stories. I got an email with a treasure trove from Alan (no last name), who puts out Polyamory in the Media, a blog aggregating and commenting on polyamory stories in the news media and in blogs. He may be the hardest-working man in poly business. Last December, just in time for Solstice, he published a wrap-up of the best in holiday advice and experiences from around the polyamory stratosphere.

He also coined the term NSFVG (Not Safe For Visiting Grandmas). He’ll have a wrap-up column for this year coming in the next few weeks, so check him out if you want more information.

In looking over the wrap-up, I saw a couple of themes that surfaced often. The most striking was that everyone seems to think it necessary to have “poly jolly Christmas” in headlines. I would rather be lying on the cold bathroom tiles with Root Boy Slim’s “Christmas at K-Mart” playing over and over than to ever have to hear “Have a Holly Jolly Christmas” again, but there it is, an earworm that may not crawl out until New Year’s Day.

Another theme: The tendency to make the big coming-out announcement during the holidays, when everyone’s there in one place, many of them are toasted, and emotions are roasted. That’s on an open fire, by the way, that very same open fire you’ll be told you’re going to spend eternity on if you come out as poly. But there’s this compulsion to just spill it on these kinds of occasions, isn’t there?

I have a little preview of coming attractions on this one, and the news is good, really! Isaac, who is always ahead of the curve, came out to his brother last week, when the two met while both were doing work travel in the same city and decided to spend a few days together. I’ve since seen his brother at a family dinner. He was very tactful and acted just like normal. He didn’t ask any questions or talk about our design for living. Plus, he completely ignored that pink-and-green neon sign with cursive script spelling out EVIL SEX-CRAZED COCKMONSTER that was blinking over my head the whole time.

Alan’s blog has a link to an advice columnist/blogger I enjoy, the Polyamorous Misanthrope, who has more to say on the topic of coming out for the holidays.

He also suggests the book Sex at Dawn: How We Mate, Why We Stray, and What It Means for Modern Relationships by Christopher Ryan and Calcida Jetha, as a holiday present for family members. It certainly would appeal to the science-minded. This look at anthropology and relationships has become a rallying text for many polyamorists, and even though I have my quibbles with evolutionary psychology, I’m not averse to using it to prove a point. (And it would be less of an eye-opener than Tristan Taormino’s Ultimate Guide to Anal Sex for Women. NSFVG!) The danger is that the recipient might be on the down low in one way or another, and take the gift as a signal that you know what’s going on, which could spark a family blow-up in a whole other direction.

Other holiday issues referenced in the wrap-up are ones my gay friends used to have to wrestle with decades ago, until, yay!, things got much more casual. Like: what do you say when someone asks what you’re doing for the holidays? Whose names go on the holiday cards?

Poly folks who are out or who celebrate mostly with families of choice have the same mess of confusion that at least half the families in America have. Because there are so many divorces and remarriages and blended families, it sounds like most of us are spending holidays on the road, traveling from family to family, eating dinner after dinner, opening present after present — and poly families, it appears, are no exception.

Can’t we all just get along? Isn’t love supposed to be the meaning of the holidays? My friends who are gay, who have changed religions, who have married a person from another culture or race, who aren’t doing what their parents or grandparents would like them to do — they’ve been asking these questions year after year. They’ve set a good example, one that gives me hope. Like them, I’ll just have to be patient and try not to let any of this get in the way of what’s important: love.

5 thoughts on “‘Tis the Season for Burl Ives’ Weapons-Grade Earworm”

  1. Maria, I truly enjoyed your post this week. Rich with description, I momentarily had a view of your world in a way I have not yet achieved; good writing!

    I wonder what the energy field looks like this time of year as we all delve into the emotional aspects of the modern day holiday season. Do we ever sit and think of why we create it?

    What a perfect world we would make if the simple words, “I prefer to do something else.” was honored and accepted without drama.

    Seems like a another lifetime, but I remember telling my stepson that one nice thing about being an adult is you get to make your own family. A “family” meaning people of similar mindfulness, not necessarily of genetics.

    This time of year, I like to pull out the movie, “Pieces of April.”

  2. Thank you, Maria!

    For the first time in perhaps ten years or more, my brother, sister and I, and our kids, will be joining my mother, and her husband, for Christmas. We were a pretty dysfunctional family, but somehow we all pull together, and we love each other dearly. It feels healing, even though old wounds will never disappear. Nor would I want them to.

  3. Thanks, y’all. I actually think Chris is going to have the best time this year, with his family of choice types. No fair; my lovers should suffer along with me! 😉 Isaac and I are in an odd in-between space…I’m slowly revealing my real self over a few years, and watching out for and appreciating the bits of real selves I get from family of origin…whether these are hurtful or beautiful, they are something to work with.

  4. Thanks Maria. Yep, the American Christmas Holiday/s are always difficult at best. I stopped visiting my bio-family about 10 years ago – after a family Chirstmas wherein both of my children were treated by my parents and silbing – and his family – just as I have always been treated by all of them. (‘Disrespectfully’ would be a very polite way to describe.)

    And so, perhaps in some ways the blanket “no more visits” makes things easier? …..and certainly I’m wise enough never to presume anyone in my family is even mildly interested in my real life, let alone possible accepting of me.

    So I embrace your story; I know I am NOT alone during this season – rather, I am together with many others, like myself, who have chosen a life-path different than those who reared them.

    God/dess Bless us, One and All.


    :::::Laughing::::: Oh Maria. You are amazing. There isn’t a sign over your head but if there were then there must be one over my head too.

    There is a heartfelt bit of sadness that you have managed to capture despite the funny parts. It is really unfair that you and your unique family cannot be who you are without fear of loss.

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