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The Real Meaning of Christmas

I was trying to ignore Ryan. He knew it. So he kept decorating the tree, acting as if he was oblivious to my nose buried in The New York Times. A bulb would go up, Ryan would back up, look at it, and adjust accordingly. All the while he sang quietly, almost whispering, along to a CD.


OK, I admit it. His musical choices this holiday season were driving me crazy. While I tried to concentrate on the paper, Ryan was decorating to A Disco Christmas. In my humble opinion, you shouldn’t be able to get down to “The First Noel”.

Earlier in the week, we had had an argument about Barbra Streisand’s A Christmas Album.

“Seriously, Tommy, have you ever heard such heart-felt lyrics in your life”? Ryan asked innocently one evening as Babs belted out “Have Yourself a Very Merry Christmas”.

“Well, of course she can deliver the message, she’s an actress,” I replied.

“No, she really relates to what she’s singing. You can tell.”

“Ryan,” I reasoned, “You really think she relates to lyrics about the Virgin Mary giving birth to the Savior? She’s Jewish!”

“That’s just anti-Semitic,” he argued.

Because I dared to commit one of the greatest of all gay sins, questioning the brilliance of Barbra Streisand, I now was being punished with classic holiday songs set to frenetic disco beats.

Ryan stood back and admired the tree. “You know, Tommy, I’ve been thinking.”

“Oh, oh.” I peered over the paper, laughing.

“I’m serious,” he continued, ignoring me. “We should try to do more queer activist things.”

“Queer activist things? Like what?”

“You remember ACT UP,” he said sitting on my lap, “stuff like that.”

I laughed and pushed him off of me, “You want to throw condoms at Rev. Mike on Sunday? That sort of thing?”

“Hell no! He’d come out to the pews, hug us and then drag our asses up to the altar so we could lead a discussion about safer sex. Not that out there, but something.”

“Well, when you figure something out, let me know,” and I folded the paper in half and tossed it onto the ottoman safe in the knowledge that Ryan’s calls for activism would go nowhere.

That afternoon we were out running some errands, when we stopped at a red light in front of Wal-Mart. Ryan looked out the window and then said,“ Hey, let’s stop in there, for a minute”.

We’re not your usual Wal-Mart shoppers, but I obediently pulled into the parking lot and we started looking for a spot. The place was packed. This was not going to be a pleasant experience, I could tell.
After what seemed to be an eternity of circling the parking lot, we finally found a spot and headed into the store. Immediately, I started getting a bad feeling about this trip.

Wal-Mart was a zoo. People were pushing carts piled with toys and clothes. Kids were screaming. The workers looked as if they’d recently been lobotomized, feigning merriment as they rang up purchases or accosted unsuspecting customers.

“Let’s just get out of here,” I said. “Why’d you want to come here anyway?”

“Just a minute,” Ryan protested, tugging on me to follow.

As we entered the main Christmas aisle, a plump Wal-Mart associate, wearing a flaccid Santa’s hat and sporting a too-large sprig of plastic mistletoe at her collar bone, smiled broadly at us and asked if we needed any help.

We shook our heads and as we passed her Ryan asked me, “What was that all about? You think she’s hoping someone’s going to kiss her tits?”

The woman pivoted around on her heels, pointed a stubby finger at us like an angry schoolteacher and barked, “Watch it you two!” before picking up the intercom phone and announcing in a sweet singsong voice that the wrapping paper had just been restocked.

The Christmas aisle looked like a tornado had hit. There were singing Santas tipped on their sides, their jiggling hips making it look as if old St. Nick was having a seizure. Boxes of half-opened decorations and tinsel littered the floor. And light-up yard signs blinked slogans at us like “Reindeer Crossing”, “Let it Snow!” and “Jesus IS the Reason for the Season!” in red, green and gold lights, making the whole place pulse like Christmas in Vegas.

But one small area of the Christmas aisle sat in relative calm. A half a dozen Nativity scenes perched serenely on a shelf. They ran the gamut from high-end baroque styles with long blonde hair flowing off of Mary like a Dallas Cowboys cheerleader to Amish-inspired simplicity.

“Look,” I said as I picked up one of the figurines, its painted eye drooping to the left, “This Joseph has a lazy eye!”

“My God, who would ever buy that?” Ryan said laughing as he took the figurine from my hand. “Hmmm, I wonder,” his voice trailing off.

I watched him place the Joseph in a different crèche, next to the Amish Joseph. He then plucked Amish Mary up and placed her next to Lazy Eye Joseph’s Mary. Pretty soon every manger was populated by a same-gender Holy Family.

Ryan stepped back to look at his brand of queer activism. I shook my head in disbelief.

What he did next simply stunned me. Ryan walked to the intercom phone, pressed a button and the next thing I heard was his own singsong voice announcing, “Attention Wal-Mart guests! The true meaning of Christmas can now be seen in our newly displayed mangers located in the Christmas aisle!”
I was mortified.

“What the hell do you think you’re doing?” I yelled in a whisper. “They’re going to know it was us!”
“Relax, Tommy. It’s funny. Besides they’ll never know it was us.” Ryan countered, as several groups of people made their way towards the crèches.

“They’ll never know it was us? Do you see any other men shopping together here?” My voice was on the verge of just below an outright scream.

Ryan looked around quickly, pointing with his chin just over my shoulder. I turned to see a father with his young son walking our direction.

“Do you see any other men together with stylish hair cuts and tribal tattoos? Of course they’re going to know it’s us! We’re going to get thrown out!”

Ryan looked at me, his eyebrow raised, and he started to laugh. “You’re worried about getting thrown out… of Wal-Mart?” I hated him when his eye sparkled like that. He knew it’s why I love him.

I was pleading with him, but I also knew that it was too late. There were far too many shoppers congregating in front of the Nativity scenes. I heard gasps, a couple of “disgustings”, and even a few “oh my Gods!” But there were also a few giggles and one teenage girl admitted she thought it was cool. For a moment there, I thought we just might be ok.

That’s when I heard the little kid ask, “Daddy, what’s that wise man doing to the sheep?”

At precisely the same time, the flaccid Santa hat / kiss my boobs mistletoe lady arrived on the scene.

She elbowed her way past the crowd clustered to get a view of the queerly untraditional Holy Families. She shook her head in disgust, grabbed all the Marys and put them with their appropriate Josephs.

“You two!” she said accusingly, pointing another stubby finger at us.

And that’s when it happened. I burst into uncontrollable laughter. Ryan was right. It was funny. It was brilliant, queer activist humor.

“I think you’d better leave,” she demanded, without even a hint of holiday spirit.

We turned and started walking away. The crowd had begun to disperse. A few people shook their heads as they passed us, but the teenager girl gave us thumbs up!

Just before we reached the exit  something caught my eye. There innocently sitting on a rack with the other holiday cards was one with a shirtless, hairy muscle daddy wearing an erect Santa hat. I walked over to the rack, searched the placards identifying for whom the cards were intended, and found what I was looking for. I grabbed the muscle daddy cards, and shoved them in front of the placard that read, Especially for Him.

Ryan smiled at me, grabbed my hand as we walked out of Wal-Mart and said, “That’s my boy.”

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