We’ve called it Veteran’s Day since 1954 — a day to honor those who have served in the military. Our allies still refer to this holiday by its original name: Armistice Day or Remembrance Day. We American’s barely study World War I in public school history classes, and when we do, it seldom includes the whole story: How did the first world war actually end?
November 11, 1918 was the day that the peace accord ending what was then called The Great War. And so each year after we set aside a day to honor those who served, to remember their sacrifices, and pledge to work to prevent wars from happening. At least that’s what we used to say. Since the U.S. came into the Great War later than the other countries, and it wasn’t fought on our country, and the number of our troops killed was a small fraction of the casualty totals of the war, we have never looked at Armistice Day quite the way our allies did. WWII was what loomed large for us, culturally.
In the U.S. this holiday is described as a day to honor and thank veterans for their military service. To me, one of the ways we ought to thank them for their service is to find ways to end wars and bring them home. Unfortunately I get the feeling from certain politicians and pundits that trying to find ways to start even more wars is what they are interested in doing.
I’ve written before about the way we tend to blend our patriotic holidays together. Specifically the misguided practice of everyone thanking people for their service on Independence Day, Memorial Day, and so on. Those holidays aren’t when we should do that. This is the day to do that.
Regardless, if you want to show support for those who served, may I humbly suggest donating to National Coalition for Homeless Veterans. There are, of course, many other fine charities that serve veterans and their families. You can find more of them here: Charity Navigator: Support Our Troops
I used to work for a man who was born on Columbus Day. He said that what he loved most about it was that where he went to school it was a day off, so he and his friends always got to go to the movies or something similar on his birthday. That was one reason that when he founded his own company as an adult that one of the benefits offered was that each employee got their own birthday as a holiday.
I wasn’t significantly younger than he was, but I don’t remember any of the school districts I lived in ever closing school for Columbus Day. Instead, at least during elementary school, it was a day that we would be given lessons that were extremely white-washed about the man who supposedly discovered America—a continent with tens of millions of inhabitants with rich cultures (and often knowing a whole lot more about agriculture the that later European invaders). But Columbus wasn’t even the first person from Europe to land on the shores of the new world!
Native American museum director: Columbus was far from the first to discover America – Scores of cities and a growing number of states are renaming Columbus Day to honor the history and cultures of America’s indigenous peoples.
Maybe since my former boss grew up in New England while my childhood was in Colorado, Nebraska, Utah, Wyoming, and the Pacific Northwest is why his school was closed on Columbus Day and none of mine were. The state-centric history classes I took in Middle School and High School spent a lot more time teaching us other myths about the colonization of the U.S. I learned, for instance, about a “massacre” which had occured in 1878 less than 100 miles from the town where I was born, but not about that fact that first a federal agent had ordered men to plow a bunch of the native american’s prime pasture land, and when they protested, it was the U.S. soldiers who fired on the Native Americans first. It was called a massacre for years because, even though more of the Natives were killed than whites, it was a very small number of those whites who lived to surrender.
Less than a year later a significantly larger army contingent marched all of the Natives at gun point out of the green and fertile region with many rivers and forced them to settle in a desolate desert area where there was virtually no water sources at all.
Funny how those details seldom made it into the textbooks.
I understand why people are reluctant to rename the holiday. It was unsettling when I learned how much I had been being taught was a lie. It is unsettling to realize that the town where I was born, and the surrounding fields and woods and nearby riverbank that I enjoyed exploring and goofing off in when we moved back when I was in Middle School was among the land stolen in that historical event mentioned about. It is unsettling to realize my entire country is built on land that was stolen from peoples that we killed, drove out, intentionally exposed to diseases, whose children we stole, whose culture we mocked and outlawed and then appropriated.
It is not a pleasant set of facts to embrace.
The neat story about brave pioneers settling an “empty” frontier is a much more romantic and uplifting idea than the very messy, bloody, and immoral truth.
I have one other reason why I believe that Columbus Day should be renamed.
Columbus was wrong.
I don’t just refer to the evil things he did to the people he found living in the so-called New World, I mean that not once, even until his dying day, did he ever belief that he had found any land previously unknown to his contemporaries in Italy or Spain. Columbus insisted until the last moment of his life that the islands he had discovered where the Indies, islands off the coast of India. Because of trade routes such as the Silk Road, Europe had been in contact with east Asia including China, India, and so forth for generations before Columbus’ time. He didn’t belief he had discovered continents previously unknown to Europe, he thought he had found a shorter route to lands they already knew about.
So, in addition to being a thief, con man, and mass murderer, Christopher Columbus was an idiot who refused to accept the evidence that was brought forth by many of his contemporaries that the lands he was invading were not India and islands off its coast. For that reason alone, no one with a lick of integrity should be willing to support a holiday honoring the discovery that he denied until his dying breath.
We need to change the name of the holiday. Sooner, rather than later. We’ve started, let’s keep it up: More localities drop Columbus Day for Indigenous Peoples’ Day.
Fortunately, while my father was a horrible dad, I lucked out with two wonderful grandfathers, and one stupendous great-grandfather who played important parts in my childhood. While I’ve written about my two grandpas before, I’ve only mentioned my great-grandpa in little tidbits. So, for this Father’s Day, let’s remedy that… Read More…
Easter means many things to many people. For instance: On Easter, as on every Sunday, hats have a deep significance for black women.
Or less seriously: 5 ways Easter is much more queer-inclusive then you realize.
Whether you’re celebrating this as a holiday to eat chocolate, or a fertility rite to welcome spring, or a holy holiday, or a day to be out in your community showing your finest hat, or if you just like bunnies, I hope you have a wonderful Easter!
I’m sure it seems weird to some people that a queer man who describes himself as an ex-Christian would observe the Feast of Epiphany. But I’m not really observing it so much as using it as a cultural milestone. Many years I take down all the decorations on New Year’s Day. Some years, some of them stay up longer (usually because I’m busy or sick or otherwise swamped). I just always try to draw the absolute last line at Three Kings’ Day.
This is also the last day I let myself listen to Christmas music.
Slice the pecan pie,
And don’t be stingy with the homemade whipping cream,
Crank up the music,
We’re gonna sing and laugh to drive the darkness away!
‘Cause we need a rainbow Christmas,
Right this very minute!
Egg nog at the brunch bar
With rum and brandy in it!
Yes we need a rainbow Christmas,
Right this very minute!
My lyrics may be getting slurry,
But Santa dear, we’re in a hurry!
So fling ’round the glitter!
Put up more twinkling lights than the whole Vegas strip!
No need for fruitcake,
We’ve got a great big table of deliciousness, here!
Cause we’ve grown a little rounder,
Grown a little bolder,
Grown a little prouder,
Grown a little wiser,
And I need a toasty lover,
Snuggling by the fire,
I need a rainbow Christmas now!
Yes we need a rainbow Christmas now!
I don’t need to justify why I think a particular song is a Christmas song. As a matter of fact, you can’t justify such a thing, because we aren’t really talking about thinking here, but rather feeling. And no matter how much logic you pile up, that doesn’t change the way another person feels.
Just as an example: the exact same logical case that certain other people are making that a specific song isn’t a Christmas song applies to “Jingle Bells.” Seriously. “Jingle Bells” doesn’t mention the manger, nor the angels, nor the shepherds. Absolutely nothing in the lyrics at all about the arrival of Jesus, so not a religious Christmas song, clearly. There is also no mention of Christmas, nor a Christmas tree, nor holly, no mistletoe, not even chestnuts roasting on a fire. Yes, it mentions snow, and a sleigh is mentioned a lot of times, and then there’s all those jingling bells. But first, it’s a one horse open sleigh, not a reindeer drawn sleigh. Snow doesn’t just happen at Christmas. Bells were put on sleighs and carriages and the horses that pulled them at night and particularly in winter time as a precaution to avoid collisions in dark intersections.
In fact, the original author of the song back in 1822, wrote it as a party song. We’re so used to children singing the song that we don’t notice how racy the song is. A couple being out in a one horse sleigh meant no chaperone, after all, and that means all sorts of naughty things could occur. The word jingle, by the way, is meant to be a verb, not an adjective. Jingle those bells, because you’re driving fast! And there’s also some innuendo that.
And then there’s that line “He got into a drifted bank And then we got upsot.” Most people assume it’s away to make “upset” as in overturned or fallen over, to rhyme with lot. Not so fast! The word appears in a number of 18th and 19th Century songs, where it does seem to refer to something fallen over and such, but not just fallen, but in fallen in a drunken manner. Yes, other uses of the word seem to be referring to a more stumbling and raucous situation amplified by the liberal application of alcohol.
So not only isn’t “Jingle Bells” not a Christmas song, it’s not a wholesome children’s song either.
Except, of course, that for most of its history, Christmas hasn’t been a wholesome children’s holiday either. There are reasons the puritans banned the celebration of Christmas entirely in the old Massachusetts colony, and not because Christmas trees were pagan symbols. In point of fact the decorated evergreen tree wasn’t associated with Christmas in English-speaking countries at the time of the Puritans. But untangling the tree’s origin is way more complicated than I want to be here.
But, everybody knows that “Jingle Bells” is a Christmas song. And I think a case could be made that other Christmas songs mention sleigh rides and jingling bells at least as much because the modern celebration of Christmas appropriated “Jingle Bells” in the 1860s as the fact that those things are associated with winter.
I’m a Christmas music addict. And yes, there are some Christmas songs that I absolutely hate. I have walked out of people’s houses when certain songs come up. So I understand that someone can have strong negative feelings about a song or a movie. Let me like my songs and movies, and I’ll let you like yours.
And if you happen to stop by my place, I will offer you some eggnog. With the rum and brandy if you like, or without. Let’s just all have a cheery, jingly, non-judgmental holiday!
Khruangbin – Christmas Time Is Here:
(If embedding doesn’t work, click here.)
Big Freedia – Make It Jingle:
(If embedding doesn’t work, click here.)
My childhood Christmas memories are divided into several sections. There were about six years where Christmas consisted of Dad, Mom, my sister, and I cramming into either the four-wheel-drive pickup (because the roads would be icy at some point of the journey) either early morning Christmas Eve or sometimes at the end of Dad’s work-shift, and drive hundreds of miles from wherever we were living at the time to my paternal Grandparents’ house. My maternal grandmother (aka Nice Grandma) and one set of great-grandparents on that side happened to live in the same small town as my paternal grandparents (aka Grandpa and Evil Grandma), so we would get to see them at least briefly during the trip, but it was always clear that we were there to spend Christmas with Evil Grandma, and everyone else was secondary.
I was aware, during this time, that Mom’s side of the family liked to get together on Christmas Eve, and again for Christmas dinner the next afternoon, but Christmas morning was generally for each family unit at home. Because we often were arriving at Evil Grandma’s house late in the evening, I very seldom got to attend the other family Christmas Eve.
Then there was a period of three Christmases in a row where we lived just an hour’s drive from Evil Grandma, which meant getting to see everyone for a bit longer at the holiday. That is, until Nice Grandma re-married my Mom’s adoptive father, and she moved out to Washington state to live with him.
Then there were three Christmases we lived in the same small town as my paternal grandparents and my maternal great-grandparents (and only a couple hours drive from a bunch of other relatives). The tradition then became that we would spent a chunk of Christmas Eve with my Great-grandparents, then Christmas morning and Christmas dinner at Evil Grandma’s.
Then after my parents divorced, Mom, my full sister, and I moved up to the same town in Washington state where Grandpa and Nice Grandma lived, and that first Christmas Eve was a revelation. When Grandma lived in Colorado, Christmas Eve involved my Great-grandparents and a few of Grandma’s friends, because there weren’t many of her non-in-law relatives there. In Washington, there were Grandpa’s siblings and their children and grandchildren, my Mom’s six half-brothers (and for some of them wives and children), plus a bewildering number of cousins, demi-cousins, shirt-tail relatives of many other sorts, plus the people that Nice Grandma always seemed to adopt.
Not every single one of that vast constellation of Grandma’s “folks” made it every year, but a lot of them managed to drop in for at least a little bit. As my Aunt Theresa (who was the ex-wife of one of my Mom’s brothers) was fond of saying, “You never knew who you would see at Gert’s Christmas Eve!”
Aunt Theresa was a great example. She had only been married to my Uncle Randy for three years. They divorced when I was about 14 years old. Theresa and Grandma had got along really well from the first time they met, so she was the one who came to Grandma the tell her the she was divorcing Randy. Theresa told the story later that, “Gert looked at me and said, ‘You can divorce my son, if that’s what you have to do, but you are not divorcing me! You’re part of my family forever, you understand?’”
And for the next 30-some years of Grandma’s life, Aunt Theresa came by frequently to visit, check on Grandma, and keep her up-to-date on the well-being of Theresa’s relatives—because Grandma still considered them all in-laws.
Two: I only got to see another one of my Mom’s half-brothers at a couple of those Christmas Eves, once I was living nearby and able to attend. Uncle Brad never quite got his life together. He spent a lot of time in jail. He was never convicted of anything serious—I think the longest sentence he ever got was six months—but, between being addicted to a couple of illegal substances, and having to sell said substances to support himself at times, he just couldn’t stay out of trouble. So sometimes Uncle Brad missed Christmas Eve because he was in jail, and sometimes because he was in some other trouble.
And then he got sick. Everytime Grandma called him, he said he hadn’t been coming to visit because he was sick again, and figured he was contagious with whichever illness he thought he had.
Christmas Eve 1982 was the first time we had seen him in months, and he looked awful. Of Mom’s brothers, Brad had been the shortest, and he had never been what anyone would call fat, but that night, he looked like he hadn’t eaten in weeks. Grandma thought that he was using more serious drugs, and confronted him a few times. He insisted that he wasn’t, that he’d just kept catching things that he couldn’t seem to shake.
Then one day a few months later, Aunt Theresa showed up at Grandma’s and said, “I have some very bad news. Have you heard of this new disease they call AIDS? Well, Brad has it. He thinks he got in it one of the times he was in jail…”
My Uncle Brad wasn’t a really early case, but when he was diagnosed in early 1983 it was only months after the Center for Disease Control gave the illness that name, Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome.
Uncle Brad didn’t live to see Christmas Eve of 1983.
My Uncle Brad was hardly the only person that I knew that would be taken by AIDS. I’ve written before of the winter when so many friends and acquaintances of Ray and I died in the same six-week period that we couldn’t attend some of the memorial services because they were happening at the same time.
The disease didn’t get its name until September of 1982, but it had been recognized as an epidemic that ought to be taken seriously since 1981. Unfortunately, no one in either party on the national level was willing to even talk about it, let alone allocate funds to the CDC and other agencies to address it properly. The very first politician at a national level to call for the government to address the crisis was a woman from California who was elected to Congress in a special election in June of 1987 to fill a seat that was vacated with the previous Congresswoman died due to cancer.
That new Congresswoman, after being sworn in, was allowed to make a short introductory address to Congress as was traditional. Usually these comments are a brief thank you to family and supporters. And the new Congresswoman did that, but she ended her remarks with this statement that surprised her colleagues, “Now we must take leadership, of course, in the crisis of AIDS. And I look forward to working with you on that.”
The Congresswoman was Nancy Pelosi. And Pelosi became a tireless campaigner on the issue, bucking both her own party’s leadership, as well as taking on the Reagan administration’s (and subsequent Bush admin’s) bigoted opposition. During those early years, reporters and others kept asking how could she, as a Catholic, support what was perceived as a gay cause. Her answer was simple and consistent: “We are all God’s children, and that includes gay people.”
While people think of her as part of the establishment and middle-of-the-road, that is a gross mischaracterization. Not just then, but now. So in case it isn’t clear: I frequently describe myself as being far more liberal and progressive (radically so on many topics) than the Democratic Party, but this is one queer man who considers Minority Leader Pelosi’s current trajectory to become Speaker of the House as a big Christmas present to the forces of justice, mercy, and compassion.
Third: My Nice Grandma didn’t always live up to my idealized vision of her. Because of how negatively she (and other relatives) reacted to my coming out of the closet in 1991, I had to boycott all family events for six years. Not just Christmas Eve: everything. If my husband wasn’t welcome as my husband, then I wasn’t. It was years later that I would first read Dan Savage’s version of the epiphany that led to the boycott: “The only leverage adult queer people have over parents and other family members is our presence in their lives. We shouldn’t fear losing them, they should fear losing us.” Because of the many times over a couple of months I had been told by multiple relatives that I was going to hell and deserved it, that sure I could live my life as I chose but any time I was in there home… I had had to tell them I would not visit them, ever, but if they liked they could come visit me. Though, any time they were in my home…
(Those ellipses can imply so much, no?)
After six years, it was Grandma who reached out shortly before my birthday in 1997 and asked if she and my step-grandpa could drive Mom (who doesn’t do freeways) to see me on my birthday. I said of course. It was awkward for about an hour, but the ice finally melted, and the next thing we know they were inviting us to come down to a picnic and the meet my sister’s new daughter (my sister and her now-fifth-ex-husband were coming for a visit), and suddenly they started treating Ray like a person, instead of a symbol of whatever their feelings about my queerness were.
The change in attitude (including apologies) was topped off by a request that we come visit for Christmas, where, yes, Ray was welcome, and none of the weird conditions previously alluded to were expected.
I really wish I could end this by talking about Ray’s first Christmas Eve at Grandma’s. The problem was, Ray was very sick (he did not, by the way, have AIDS; that picnic had been a bit difficult for us to juggle because Ray’s second round of chemotherapy was underway, but we managed). In November he had a seizure, went into a coma for several days, and then died.
Michael’s first Christmas Eve with Grandma happened in 1999. It wasn’t the first time he and Grandma met. That had been at a different trip, where I decided it would be better not to have the first meeting tied to a major holiday. We had been on our way to Mom’s (she lived an hour south of Grandma back then), and we stopped in for what was supposed to be a short visit (just in case). Michael had hardly spoken a couple of sentences when Grandma gave him a look and asked, “Is that a Missouri accent I hear?”
Soon the two of them were talking about all these places in Missouri and Oklahoma where Michael had grown up, and where coincidentally Grandma had lived for a number of years. You want to talk about coincidences? The hospital listed on Michael’s birth certificate, is the same hospital listed on Mom’s birth certificate.
Anyway, they just kept talking. At one point, my step-grandpa leaned over and said quietly to me, “If you wanna get a burger or something, I think the two of us could slip out and they wouldn’t even notice.”
I was very happy. Grandma liked Michael. That meant if anyone else in the family didn’t, well, they have to keep it to themselves.
Despite the warm fuzzies of that encounter, all of the things I said yesterday about why we avoid the big family gathering apply. This Christmas Eve, it will just be Michael and I. We usually cook a sort of romantic dinner. I’ll watch some Christmas movies. We’ll probably stay up until midnight to say “Merry Christmas” and have a kiss under the mistletoe. But we have to get to bed soon after, because first thing in the morning, we always check our stockings to see what Santa brought.