non traditional ways to celebrate the holidays
The Holidays Are an Excellent Time to Do Whatever You Want
12.17.18

My excuse for not flying home for the holidays last year was, “Travel is expensive, and I don’t want to spend all that money for what will potentially amount to be a short and stressful trip.” The thing is, it was just that: an excuse. I could have spent the money. I simply didn’t want to. For me, holiday celebrations are never as fulfilling as the promise of holiday cheer suggests. So I made a choice: Instead of investing in complicated dynamics and being reminded of unresolved shit, I stayed in Alabama, 1,000 miles away from my real home and closest blood relative.

On December 25th, I watched Girl 6 in solitude. I spent hours taking faux locs out of my hair. I did yoga on my floor. I cried — it was cathartic.

The holiday season is upon us again, and soon I’ll have to decide how I’m going to spend mine. Alone?  With family? With chosen family? In an effort to avoid making a decision, I decided to ask other people about how they intend to spend theirs. Curious about the different shapes celebration can take, I sought out those who have found alternative ways to observe. Below, three of those people. Whether these conversations inspire you to go about things a little differently, or to fully embrace whatever it is you have, they are sure to bring another kind of cheer your way. Read on to discover the joy in both bucking traditions and building new ones, then meet me in the comments — I want to know how you celebrate, too.


The Cheer Spreader

Michelle Young, 29, is a producer, curator, and consultant in music and entertainment. She’s from Modesto, CA but has lived in Los Angeles since 2013.

non traditional ways to celebrate the holidays

How did you celebrate the holidays growing up?

My family celebrated Christmas and was always very involved in our local church when I was growing up. My holidays often included some sort of church holiday show — I sang and acted in every church play. We would usually spend Christmas morning together opening gifts (if we had gifts) and watching Christmas movies. Some years, we’d gather around the piano for a Christmas music family sing-a-long, or I’d prepare some kind of “show” with my younger brother to perform.

What is your current holiday “tradition”?

On Christmas morning, I have friends over to my apartment in Los Angeles. I make breakfast, usually fruit and avocado toast, maybe some eggs. Everyone packs sack lunches [to hand out later]. We write a note on every bag that says, “Happy holidays! You are loved!” Then we all get into cars and drive around, passing them out with water bottles and hot, fresh coffee (or iced coffee if it’s hot outside). We spend time talking and connecting with the people we feed. I’ve been feeding people with friends every Thanksgiving and Christmas for seven or eight years now, and have met some really interesting people on the streets, heard heartbreaking stories, heard inspiring stories and experienced human connection in ways that are often lost in our fast-paced, digitally-obsessed culture.

I love bringing friends from different circles together on the holiday to meet one another and spread love to people who may not be receiving much love otherwise. I also love being able to feed and spend time with people who are more often than not ignored by society. It’s a powerful and beautiful experience every time.

In recent years, I’ve often ended my Christmas day with an untraditional holiday meal at my favorite Thai food restaurant, which has really been a happy and safe space for me. I absolutely adore the staff — they help make L.A. feel like home. Introducing or including friends who are not, for various reasons, able to be with family for the holidays to a place that has brought me so much joy and comfort over the last few years is pretty special to me. Plus, they have karaoke.

I also volunteer to act and sing in a holiday show called “BOTH” that tells the nativity story through gospel-esque versions of Beatles songs. Everyone who participates comes from different backgrounds, and a number of belief systems are represented, from spiritual to Christian to Buddhist to Atheist and everything in-between. The goal is to raise money for our non-profit partner while spreading love and encouraging others to spread love as well. This year, we’re raising money for UNICEF.

What inspired you to celebrate in this way?

I initially started feeding unhomed people on the holidays before I moved to L.A. I hit the streets to find people who had given up on going to a shelter and because I noticed something that shocked me: 99% of volunteer opportunities occur on Christmas Eve, not Christmas day.

When I first moved to L.A., I couldn’t afford to go be with my family [in Texas], so I continued my tradition with friends; now it’s something we look forward to each year. Traveling during the holidays can be expensive and stressful, so I choose to spend my holidays with my chosen group of friends who are like family, and with people on the street who don’t have what I do. I go visit my family in between holidays to get some family time in and avoid the stress. The holidays can be full of a lot of (sometimes uncomfortable) obligations; I like that mine aren’t.


The Quality-Time Spender

Ashley Durkin-Rixey, 37, is a Communications Director for a technology policy organization in Washington, DC.

non traditional ways to celebrate the holidays

How did you celebrate the holidays growing up?

I grew up with pretty normal holiday traditions until my parents had a pretty acrimonious divorce that turned the holidays into a constant contest to buy “favored parent” status with me and my sister. It soon became the mind-numbing shuffle between parents, grandparents, and step-families. By the time I graduated high school, I was living with my mother and stepdad and I thought we were long done with “traditional Christmas” in favor of a family trip or something. Then my mother got pregnant with my brother. So at age 20, I suddenly went back to celebrating kid-focused Christmas again once he was born.

I entertained this until I moved to DC after college. Then, going “home” to Maine in December felt more like going to the Overlook Hotel in The Shining every year — always a chance of being trapped with my family due to a blizzard. I do miss a postcard-perfect snowfall on Christmas day, but I gave up on it, and as the years went by, “home” wasn’t Maine anymore. Home was where I lived, with my now-husband and our friends.

What is your current holiday “tradition”?

Currently, my husband and I celebrate by treating Christmas like a day to do whatever we want — but together. We do gifts, but honestly, most of them end up opened before Christmas Day because I can’t keep secrets. After that we may go to a movie (one of my favorite years was when we saw Hateful Eight at the American Film Institute’s art deco 70mm screening room), play video games, see friends, and eat anything that strikes our fancy. We take the rest of the week to finally have time together undistracted by phones, work demands, etc., and do household projects or play board games. There are zero expectations.

We usually eat a super elaborate breakfast and then we experiment with dinner. One year we made a true British Sunday roast, another we had a feast with friends around a Peking Duck, another an insanely elaborate swanky hotel buffet.

What inspired you to celebrate in this way?

As someone who also suffers from anxiety due to a rough childhood, it’s really nice to not have to get those emotions spun up and therapy-mandated boundaries pushed around. It is the ultimate self-care to not have to re-enact crappy family dynamics, answer questions about when we will have kids, and be tempted to self-medicate with food or booze.


The Tradition Forger

Sacha Raps, 30, is a production manager and dog walker who lives in Brooklyn. She’s from the Philippines and moved to New York in 2010.

non traditional ways to celebrate the holidays

How did you celebrate the holidays growing up?

Coming from a mostly Catholic country (and being brought up by religious parents), the holidays were very heavy on religion. At home, it’s not surprising to see holiday decorations go up in September. Holiday celebrations include a lot of hearing mass and going to parties but, for me, they were mostly about being around people who knew my history and had seen me grow up.

What is your current holiday “tradition”?

“Ludacrismas” has been going strong for about five years and counting. I got the name from a holiday episode of my favorite show — 30 Rock. They spelled it “Ludachristmas,” but who doesn’t want Ludacris [the rapper] in the name of their party?

It’s a pet-friendly gathering where every participant is encouraged to bring their favorite food and beverage. Dinner becomes a tableau of gastronomic hedonism that comes from a special and personal place. We eat a plethora of the most absurd food combinations since everyone is bringing their favorite dish. A disjointed pairing of crab and shrimp boil, Domino’s garlic bread, barbecue, chow mein, stinky cheeses, Momofuku birthday cake, etc. You don’t participate in Ludacrismas without a bathroom strategy for the next day.

The main activity is usually of charitable nature. This year we started a coat drive for NY Cares and plan on sorting the items before the food coma sets in. Sometimes there’s a gift exchange, but sometimes there isn’t. Everyone gets to deejay, wear whatever they want, and the only rule is that there are no rules.

It’s fun because everyone who joins wants to be there — no one retires to their bedroom or just plays on their phone. No one is there because of a sense of obligation, so the stress, expectation and disappointment that usually come with a “family gathering” is nonexistent. The only thing I miss about a more traditional way to celebrate is being in a room with my family, which hasn’t happened since 2006 because of my family’s immigration journey.

What inspired you to celebrate in this way?

Most immigrants feel that they are in limbo — never at home in their new country or in their motherland. When I first moved to NY, I didn’t have a single blood relative living on the East Coast. I found it hard to go to Queens because it reminded me so much of home. It was actually not having any affinity to American holidays or traditions that made things easier. For me, forging a new tradition is a way to feel more in control and take a significant step in making that limbo a more comfortable and tolerable place, and being surprised by the people who are willing to join you in it.

Illustrations by Emily Zirimis.

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