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    Home for the Holidays

    By Dr. Tim Seelig–

    Home for the holidays—these four words conjure up a variety of thoughts, different for everyone. Maybe for you they conjure up a movie, a television show, a song, or a concert. More on that last one in a bit.

    This past holiday season, those four words certainly brought new meaning to the holiday table. Why? Because we were all just that: home for last season’s holidays. I’m not talking about our “BP” homes, Before the Pandemic. No. Our SIP (shelter in place) home.

    For the most part, we were also home alone! We made the best of it. We are a resourceful people, after all. Everything “December” was wildly different. Family celebrations and holidays via Zoom are not really celebrations at all. Whoever had a holiday gathering with family and friends where only one person could talk at a time? At least half the fun is sharing food and drink together. Zoom tipsy is just tacky. We depended on the meme “Home is Where the Heart Is.” It was everywhere. Yes, it was nice to have my heart with me at home, but I wanted people!

    Back to AP time—After the Pandemic. The San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus is back, live, and singing on stage. We’ve been rehearsing every week since the beginning of September—vaccinated, masked, and distanced. It is very different rehearsing for three hours in masks, but if that’s what it takes, we’re there for it!

    We’ll be performing ten times over the holidays. Our three “big shows” are at the Sydney Goldstein Theater in the arts district. They kick off our 44th Season! As you may know, this is my 10th and final season conducting SFGMC. It is estimated I will have conducted 100 holiday shows. And, we are not even going to estimate how many there were over my 35 years with LGBTQ choruses since from when I was conducting two or three at a time. It’s a lot of holiday cheer.

    We are also celebrating our 32nd Annual Home for the Holidays concerts at the Castro Theater on Christmas Eve! Those three shows at 5 pm, 7 pm, and 9 pm are almost as iconic as the theater itself.

    It’s not just the Castro Theater shows that are celebrating a 32nd Anniversary. It is also the same anniversary of the chorus’ trek to the north benefiting Face 2 Face, ending AIDS in Sonoma County. Again, this year, that concert will be at the jaw-dropping Green Music Center at Sonoma State University.

    Each of these has been an annual event since 1990, with only one exception: 2020. We are thrilled to be bringing Home for The Holidays back to the stage with live performances.

    How did the concerts at the Castro begin, you ask? The year was 1990. It was during the apex of the AIDS pandemic—the first we have now survived. The Castro looked very different in those days. The number suffering from the ravages of AIDS was staggering. Many were unable to go home. Many were not welcome at home. The chorus decided to rent the Castro Theatre on Christmas Eve as a gift to the community and open the doors to those who did not have a home. They had no idea what the response would be. It was packed. Those who were there describe it as one of the most moving experiences of their lives. Not long after, they were forced to add a second show and then a third. That’s where it stopped, although they are all sold out every year.

    This season, you can gather as many people in your home as you can fit. You can gather around the fireplace, table, tree, Menorah, or cat and sing along with this famous song (you may only know the chorus!):

    Verse:

    “I met a man who lives in Tennessee,
    He was headin’ for
    Pennsylvania, and some home-made pumpkin pie.
    From Pennsylvania, folks are travelin’
    Down to Dixie’s sunny shore,
    From Atlantic to Pacific,
    Gee, the traffic is terrific.

    Chorus:

    Oh, there’s no place like home for the holidays,
    ‘Cause no matter how far away you roam,
    If you want to be happy in a million ways,
    For the holidays, you can’t beat home, sweet home.”

    Since our Castro concerts have had the title Home for the Holidays, we sing some version of the song every year. This year, one of our star arrangers, Paul Saccone, and group of wanna-be lyricists altered the words a bit! Here’s just a taste of what you’ll hear:

    “I met a man who lives in San Jose
    And he was heading for
    San Francisco and the Gay Men’s Chorus Show.
    From Napa Valley folks are trav’lin’ down the Castro for the toys,
    From the East Bay to the city, gee the traffic isn’t pretty.
    Still, there’s no place like home for the holidays.”

    Writing about this led me to do a little research on the song (There’s No Place Like) Home for the Holidays. It was composed by Robert Allen. Register my shocked face (not); he was Jewish. Who wrote the lyrics, I asked myself? The lyrics were by Albert Irving Silverman. Also, Jewish.

    I had heard people having a little chuckle at the irony that “the best Christmas songs were written by Jewish composers.” Of course, we all know Irving Berlin penned “White Christmas.” But the list is staggering. The following Christmas songs were also composed by Jewish composers: “Christmas Song” (chestnuts roasting on an open fire), “Let It Snow,” “Santa Baby,” “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year,” “Silver Bells,” “White Christmas,” “Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer,” “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree,” “A Holly Jolly Christmas,” and (Walkin’ in a) “Winter Wonderland.”

    What would we do without these Christmas songs? We are also doing a Hanukkah song. I wondered if perhaps it had been composed by a gentile? Nope. Tom Lehrer is Jewish, too! And, if you know his work, it will not surprise you that the title is “I’m Spending Hanukkah in Santa Monica”!

    The little man on my shoulder just said, “OK, Tim, time to bring it home.” Which then made me wonder what that saying really means. I looked it up, of course. It means:

    1. A positive motivating phrase to get to the punch line.
    2. Encouraging one to state the point.
    3. “Please get to the climax.”

    OK, that was hilarious. It also hurt a little. I have no doubt the Bay Times editors have had that feeling often when reading my submissions! There is a well-known Seelig trait: We can talk until we think of something to say.

    I do feel positive, motivated, and encouraged, however, to bring it home at this point.

    If I’m going to bring it home, then it has to be about home. Living in San Francisco is an absolute dream. Making a home down by the Bay with Bobby Jo and Tater Tot is wonderful. I also have two homes available to me with my kids and grand girls and countless homes of chosen family open to me. I must also say that my gratitude deepens with every drive or walk through our beautiful city as the number of people who have no home for the holidays grows every day, it seems.

    Most of all, I am blessed with this city, this chorus, and my biological and logical families far and wide. My holidays actually start on December 25th after our concerts are finished. I will spend that day and the ones that follow counting my blessings. May your home for the holidays be bright and gay, and hopefully, your heart will be there with you! Happy Holidays.

    Dr. Tim Seelig is the Artistic Director of the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus.

    Published on October 18, 2021