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LGBTQ Parenting

DIY Holiday Rituals for LGBTQ+ Families

This holiday season, make old traditions work for your LGBTQ+ family, or build your own new traditions! A mom of three offers creative ways to make the season fun.

December 8th, 2023 | 10 min. read

By Lisa Rosenthal

No matter what holiday(s) your family celebrates, the season can bring heightened emotions, financial or family-related stress, worries about making it magical for your kids, and the pressure to maintain old holiday traditions that may not fit your family anymore. Here are some easy ways to navigate this time of year with maximum joy!

 

In this article:

Consider Your Holiday Rituals

If a family were a cozy blanket woven together with love, the threads would be rituals and traditions. Those traditions, especially those that involve the holiday season, are often handed down from one generation to the next.

But what happens when they no longer fit the new family you've created?  

Many holiday events are portrayed in the media as white, hetero-normative events. And this is certainly not the exclusionary picture of festive joy we’re trying to share with our children! There is so much beauty in diversity - from differences in family configurations to the way each family looks and how they choose to celebrate the holiday season. 

This year, we encourage you to be intentional about showing a diverse range of traditions, beliefs, and families to instill the value of appreciating these differences in your children.   

What makes this season magical?

Well, the holidays are special because you make them special.

The goal should simply be to make memories for yourself and your children. That may mean you choose to carry on traditions you grew up with - if they still fit in this phase of life, feel comfortable, and are a gift you want to give to your children.

Each family should celebrate the holidays in a way that reflects and represents them. Think about your existing holiday rituals and traditions. Which ones do you still enjoy?

One way to make sure that you’re keeping the traditions alive that are most meaningful and relevant is by examining long-held family rituals to see if they reflect your values and priorities now - in the family that you’ve created, rather than the one that you were born into.

How to Adapt Old Holiday Traditions 

Be courageous as you examine long-held beliefs around the holidays. Consider what part of your childhood traditions still fit your life now, and what might need adapting because it doesn’t fully reflect LGBTQ+ families like yours. 

Remember: Just because it's always been a certain way doesn't mean it can't be changed!

5 Questions to Ask Yourself

Ask yourself (and your partner or spouse, if you have one) the following questions so that you can find ways to adapt traditions and rituals you grew up with to what you want to share with your own family.

  • Are you holding on to an old family tradition that doesn’t really fit you anymore? If so, why? Just because it’s always been done that way?
  • Can you adjust this tradition or ritual to reflect your family so that it makes more sense for you and your children?
  • Are you comfortable with the religious aspects of the traditions you grew up with, or is it necessary to shift them in some way so that they reflect your current family?
  • Could you speak to your spiritual leaders and encourage them to depict more families like yours in religious services or holiday gatherings?
 

Hold Onto What’s Meaningful & Fun 

Which holiday traditions do you hold close to your heart? How can you share them in a way that will represent and celebrate your partnership and your children's life experience? What was meaningful to you during the holiday season?

Remember to consider how all five senses are affected by these celebrations.

The magic of the season may have come alive for you through the lighting of candles, cooking favorite dishes or baking with a family member, praying, decorating, opening gifts, telling stories, sharing memories of previous holiday gatherings, watching football, attending your local church, temple, or mosque.

Establishing New Traditions & Making Memories

The smells, images, tastes, and closeness of family and friends during the holidays will be unique to each of us. How you choose to share this season with your children may be vastly different than the ways your parents or caregivers shared with you. 

And if there wasn’t a lot of joy or magic present as you were growing up, here’s your chance for a redo. You can experience it now for the first time with your children.

Be open to fun! And remember that fun may be found in unexpected places. Just as you likely encourage your children to try new things, be open to doing the same. Is baking not usually your thing? Pick a cookie recipe and make a mess with your kids - you may find yourself laughing and enjoying it more than you even expected!

Holiday Books for Kids That Celebrate Diversity

Here are a few beautiful books to consider adding to your family's collection. Reading books like these throughout the holiday season will remind your children (and you) how each family is special in their own way.

The following recommendations come straight from Mombian's list of LGBTQ+ inclusive holiday books for kids - check out their full guide here!

Light the Menorah: A Hanukkah Handbook by Jacqueline Jules

Offering a holiday assortment of history, rituals, activities, songs, and recipes. Different families and historical figures are portrayed on each page. On one page, we see two women, wearing yarmulkes, standing on either side of a small table with a menorah on it. One woman is holding a baby; the other is lighting the menorah, with a small dog at her feet. Another page shows two men at a table playing dreidel with a child. 

Over the River & Through the Wood by Linda Ashman

This fun book takes the concept of the classic holiday song and gives it a new spin, showing how various couples and their kids within an extended family creatively overcome obstacles on their way to meet at Grandma’s for the holidays. The family includes a white couple with three kids; an interracial gay couple with a multiracial boy; and a white couple with twin girls who look like they might be of Asian descent - showing how much diversity can exist even within one family!

The Christmas Truck, by J. B. Blankenship

This story shows a child (whose gender is never specified and whose wavy hair could be seen as any gender), prepare for Christmas with their papa and dad, and help find and deliver a gift to the child of a family that is not able to afford gifts. The bouncy rhymes, bright illustrations, and depiction of extended family are lovely, as is the message about giving. 

Perspectives From LGBTQ+ Parents

In many holiday books, movies, stories, and traditions, what we see are typically heteronormative families (featuring one daddy and one mommy). Thankfully, there are an ever-increasing number of resources that celebrate the whole spectrum of LGBTQ+ families.

Here’s what moms Elyse Quail and Lauren Lim had to say:

"The typical picture of the holiday season is two parents — a heterosexual couple — who are still together, and the kids, and everyone does Christmas morning together, Christmas dinner together," Quail said. "We know that that's not the reality for most people now, but that is still the picture of Christmas we get on commercials."

Mother of five Katherine North shared how her family finds joy in the holiday season:

"Our challenge was to bring a lot of magic, and a sense of something almost sacred, to a celebration that wasn't tied to a particular religious story. We talk a lot about what cultures around the world have these celebrations of the light in such a dark time of year," she said.

'Tis the season...

...for invasive questions? For many LGBTQ+ parents and parents-to-be, this is also the time of year we brace ourselves for dealing with ignorance and intrusive questions. 

Get Our Tips

Healing Your Own Inner Child 

For those who may have had a difficult childhood without much holiday magic, creating traditions and rituals for your own children can be a truly healing experience. What do you always wish you had gotten to do as a kid? It’s your turn now, so go ahead and do it! 

  • Include your children in this brainstorming process, if they are old enough. They may hear their friends talking about traditions that are intriguing to them - see how you can include those ideas in your celebrations.
  • Discuss what’s been meaningful for them in the past - you don’t want to toss out a fun activity or holiday memory that they enjoyed.
  • Talk to your friends with kids and steal their good ideas! 

A Quick Introduction to Elf On the Shelf

One popular modern holiday tradition for kids is Elf On the Shelf, which involves a little elf doll that arrives in late November or early December to sprinkle Christmas magic around the house (and "report back" to Santa about whether kids are being naughty or nice - you can eliminate this part of the lore if you wish).

Pro tip: If you're a busy/tired parent who wants some help making elf season more creative, check out the various Elf On the Shelf kits, which provide fun ideas and supplies for what to do all month long.

Is it all about the presents?  

If gift giving is important in your family, embrace it! There’s no judgment here. You may love the tradition of giving lots of exciting gifts to rip open, and getting to witness the amazement in your child’s eyes can be truly joyful.

Feeling creative? Consider making some homemade gifts! Your relatives will enjoy receiving that hand painted or colored card as much as your child will making it. It’s fun for the kids to make a card, put it in an envelope, place a stamp on and mail it. Immerse yourself in their wonder, how it is brand new to them.

Pro tip: For older children and teenagers, using a resource like Shutterfly or Mixbook to create something more professional and personalized can be a fun project - like a photobook, framed print, or photo album. 

Get the Kids Involved

Show kids that gift giving goes both ways! Enlist their help in choosing presents for their family and friends, and help them make or buy something for their parents! They will love seeing each person's reaction to their gifts.

Santa Gifts vs Parent Gifts

Decide which gifts your kids will get from Santa and which will be from you. Children do compare the gifts they get from Santa with their friends, and not every family can afford to buy expensive gifts. 

The concept that Santa gives more (or better) gifts to children who are "good" may lead to comparison and disappointment, making other kids feel ashamed or wondering if they're "bad" because they didn't get as much as their friends.

Pro tip: Let the more extravagant gifts come from parents or other family members, so that no one is left wondering if they were on the naughty list! 

Cooking & Baking with Kids

The holidays don’t have to be all about tasty treats, but cooking together is a great way to enjoy your heritage, create a shared memory, and have something satisfying and delicious to eat afterwards. It is also something you can share with family and friends!

Now is a great time to either share something you grew up with or spend time looking for a new, appetizing looking dish you want to cook together. If there isn’t one specific food that screams "holidays" to you, consider making dishes that are specific to your heritage. 

Children as young as 2 or 3 years old can help prepare food - you can look for "no cook" recipes to avoid a hot stove or oven. They love to help - and they love to eat what they prepare!

Focus on Connection

As writer Teresa Smith notes in her Huffington Post article, "The Perfect Christmas Gift For Your Kid Might Be…Nothing," what your kids really want is your time and attention. As much joy as holiday gifts can bring, we all know that that it's usually short-lived.

What lasts are the memories your children have of you - how you spent time as a family, your energy and excitement around the season, and how you made it magic for them in tiny ways. 

"Maybe you'll decide it's not about what's under the tree, but rather about how you spend this fleeting time with your little people," she adds. 

The bottom line? You deserve to enjoy the holiday season with your family in a way that fits your family and honors the traditions and values you hold dear.

From our family to yours, happy holidays.

Lisa Rosenthal

Working with Gay Parents To Be and our partner fertility clinic, Illume Fertility, as a dedicated Patient Advocate gives Lisa Rosenthal an opportunity to expand her passion and commitment to reproductive health and family building. Lisa is committed to supporting all families in having the families that they desire, in the ways that work best for them.