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    It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year (and the worst)

    By Dr. Tim Seelig–

    Oh, the holidays. They are like riding a roller coaster. It starts at the bottom when excited riders get all buckled in over Labor Day. Then, slowly and reluctantly, it chugs its way up the steep climb passing the gay high holy day, Halloween, and the American gorge yourself fest, Thanksgiving. Holiday music has long serenaded you and retail outlets have been decorated by that point.

    With great effort, it finally reaches the pinnacle of its climb, pauses and, voila, it’s December—finally! Everyone screams as the roller coaster plummets. And, in the twinkling of an eye, we pass Solstice, Kwanzaa, Hanukkah, and Christmas all on our way to the New Year’s. Then you find out you were actually on a log ride and you are soaked with champagne bottles exploding. Whew. It’s the best and the worst.

    OK, that’s the fantasy ride. The average roller coaster ride is actually 112 seconds. The “holiday coaster” is excruciatingly longer—three months to be exact. Would that we could cram all of that in just under two minutes!

    Are you one of those people who remembers every detail of every holiday? Are you one of the people who remembers who gave what to whom? And you never forget when a friend bought you a cheap gift—or worse—regifted and you found out about it? Mostly fruitcake.

    As we reach the end of the “holiday coaster,” let’s play a fun game. OK, here we go. It begins with a “guided” preparation. Get to a quiet place. Relax your body. Breathe deeply. Put all other thoughts aside for a moment. Imagine yourself in a peaceful, snowy setting worthy of Norman Rockwell. Focus only on answering the following questions. Make a list and check it twice.
    Fill in the blanks as you recall your own experiences:

    Best gift ______________________
    Worst gift _____________________
    Best holiday ___________________
    Worst holiday __________________
    Best holiday song _______________
    Worst holiday song ______________
    For extra credit: worst regifting experience. We’ve all done it.

    That’s a fun game! I want to play it. Who should start? I know, I’ll spin the bottle. Oh my gosh, I won, so I’ll go first.

    Best Gift

    I have a 9-year-old and a 4-year-old granddaughter. This year, the tribe doubled. Ivy Rose and Cora Hope were due on Christmas this year. They decided to arrive on October 10 instead. The Best Christmas will be visiting them as they are now double their 2 lb. birth weight! They won’t be out of the hospital by their Christmas due date, so you can bet I’ll be spending most of my time at the hospital. Yes, they are my best gift ever.

    Worst Gift

    When I was 11 and my brother 13, for some unknown reason my Father, who had no taste, purchased us matching, fire-engine red sport coats to wear to church on Christmas morning, which fell on a Sunday and, of course, there was church. We were horrified. We didn’t actually like each other, much less dress alike. But since we opened the gift that morning, there was no getting out of making a big splash at church that morning. I’m sure our faces matched the coats. We also received socks and tidy-whities more often that I care to remember.

    Best Holiday

    I have 32 of them … they are the years conducting holiday shows with the gays and lesbians. Seriously. Since leaving the church behind, I have had the most fun any human should have presenting the sublime to the ridiculous every holiday season. Not to leave anyone or anything out, we put out all our favorite Christmas and Hanukkah icons, scramble them up, and serve them to our audiences: Santa, Menorah, flying reindeer, candles, baby Jesus, and elves. It’s always a delightful cornucopia of “feels.” We select the holiday in July. We start rehearsing it in early August. You have to love it!

    Worst Holiday

    I came out in 1986. It was my first Christmas without my children. I spent it alone. As you know, I had been tossed out of the church and run over by a bus—a church bus to make it worse. I decided to go to a new movie that had just been released. I had no idea what it was about. It was The Mission. Oh boy. Summary: church crushes the downtrodden.

    Starring Jeremy Irons and Robert DeNiro, and the action takes place in South America in the 18th century. Two great colonial forces are competing for the hearts and minds of the indigenous people. On the one hand, there are the imperialist plunderers, who want to establish a trade in riches and slaves. On the other hand, there are the missionaries, who want to convert the Indians to Christ.

    Wow, that’s a lose/lose! I watched as they destroyed innocents in the name of the church. I wept. I couldn’t move when it ended. In fact, the nice lady who was trying to clean up the popcorn off the floor finally had to ask me to leave. Merry Christmas, everybody. The music, however, by Ennio Morricone is out of this world.

    Best Song

    I have so many favorites, it’s impossible to choose just one. OK, here’s just one:
    Sara Bareilles’ “Love Is Christmas.”

    I don’t care if the house is packed
    Or the strings of light are broken
    I don’t care if the gifts are wrapped
    Or there’s nothing here to open
    Love is not a toy, and no paper will conceal it
    Love is simply joy that I’m home

    I don’t care if the carpet’s stained we’ve got food upon our table
    I don’t care if it’s gonna rain, our little room is warm and stable
    Love is who we are, and no season can contain it
    Love would never fall for that
    Let love lead us, love is Christmas

    Worst Song

    SFGMC has lots of fun at the holidays. One of our favorite things to do is parodies. This year it was Hamilton and Dear Evan Hansen. Last year we melded Christmas and ABBA.
    Please feel free to sing along!

    Joseph: I was cheated by you and I think you know when. So, I made up my mind this must come to an end.
    Mary: Look at me now, will I ever learn? I don’t know how, but I suddenly lost control. There’s a savior inside my soul.
    Chorus: Just one push and all the angels will sing, one more push the baby’s head is crowning, woh, woh, woh, Mama Mary, she’s a virgin. My my immaculate conception.

    I will spare you the rest.

    Regifting at Its Worst

    As a performer, Mom was always getting corsages for performances, especially at Christmas. She would put them in the refrigerator to keep a few days or longer, for no reason other than it seemed wasteful to throw away beautiful flowers. There were no expiration dates on them, of course. It was my 4th grade Christmas Pageant at school. Mom pulled a lovely holiday corsage out from behind the milk carton and said, “Give this to Mrs. Howington as a thank you for all her work this holiday. She’ll love it.” It was made of white chrysanthemums with prickly holly leaves and red berries and some baby’s breath thrown in just because.

    That evening, I presented it to Mrs. Howington with great pomp and circumstance in front of the entire class as we gathered to put the final touches on our extravaganza, “From the North Pole to the Manger, a Holiday Montage.” She immediately put it on to wear proudly through the show as she conducted. She was truthfully overwhelmed at the thoughtfulness.

    I’ll never forget watching that corsage through the evening as, one by one, the petals dropped to the stage floor until pretty much all that remained was some florist tape and holly that doubled as a weapon.

    At the end of the evening, Mrs. Howington approached and said, “Oh, Tim, I am so very sorry about the beautiful corsage. Please ask your mother for the name of the florist so I can call them and ask for a replacement or a refund for her.”

    Well, there was no way we could tell her the corsage had been tucked between the lime Jell-O mold with cottage cheese and pineapple and the cheese ball for god knows how long.

    My mother called a florist and had a new one delivered to the school.

    Did we learn a lesson about anything from that saga? No, we did not.

    In the end, holidays are what they are … sometimes “perfect” and sometimes messy—like us. If they were all perfect, it would be so very boring. Each one takes on its own life and invites us along. Sometimes it competes for the worst. More often, when filled with the love and joy of the season, they land on our “Best” list.

    The interesting thing about the “Worst” list is that, in hindsight, we laugh about them and they become family legends, entered into the annals of history. Only in the midst of them were we horrified.

    My hope for you this year is that all of your holiday experiences land on your “Best” list. A lot of it depends on us, you know. In most instances, regardless of circumstances, we create our own magic along the way.

    May your holiday magic be bright!

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

    Published on December 19, 2019