They’ve been inviting me for years.
I always say no. Two Christmases: who needs that? And anyways, I usually organize my own polyglot queer-straight-bi-Ukrainian-Jewish-Ukrainian-potluck-Christmas-Chanukah feast.
But this year, this new, fresh year, there was no time or energy to do the big traditional shindig. And,I was going through some heartache. It took me by surprise. I’m OK, and I’m growing and learning from it – but this year, somehow, I went.
A cab, a subway, and a bus through mysterious neighbourhoods. A 70’s high-rise somewhere north of downtown. An apartment full of cousins from Ottawa and Toronto, and an ancient aunt, the group ranging in age from mid-twenties to mid-nineties. Some of these cousins, I haven’t seen since I was little. They were better at being Ukrainian than I; they terrified me.
I was wary. I sat quietly and watched as my older cousin The Bank Guy passed around traditional unleavened bread and spoke quietly to each person in the room, wishing them health and prosperity and the fulfillment of their dreams.
By the end of the evening, after the traditional twelve courses and countless glasses of fine wine, I was laughing uncontrollably with my younger cousins. The stories and the jokes, were all so familiar, like a sweater you’ve had forever at the bottom of your drawer. You never wear it, and you’ll never throw it away. You might need it, someday.
I’m. So. Glad. You’re. Here. said my cousin The Retired Schoolteacher. Her pale small face was scrunched into a smile. I could tell she meant it.
None of this is straightforward. These distances have so much to do with being queer. It’s not as though anyone’s ever been outright homophobic. It’s just that, knowing how much you’ll have to censor, you just can’t quite get on that bus.
But there’s a new generation: the soft, wry faces of the twenty-somethings, who know so much more than we did at their age. And they know it in part because of what we did, our marches, our films, our books.
I. Read. Your. Novel. said the young cousin, The Translator Dude. I. Liked. It.
As always, food and hospitality spoke where words couldn’t. The Retired Schoolteacher’s borscht with mushroom-stuffed dumplings. My cousin The Other Librarian’s Greek fish and perogies. My wild mushroom sauce, and the rugaleh I bought at Harbord Bakery. A language of generosity; the tentative mingling of cultures.
The Toronto cousins drove me home. In the car, their mother put on one of those plastic kerchiefs that older women wear to protect their hairdos. We call it the condom hat, said one of the cousins, The Jazz Singer. I laughed my head off, I was twelve. I. Had. A. Crap. Day. I said to her. It just feels good to laugh.
I guess I needed it, that day.
Veselyx Sviat i Schaslevoho Novoho Roky.