Holiday spirit can be in short supply when arguing with relatives over the dinner table, fighting over Macy’s last discounted sweater, or stuck in an awkward conversation at a badly lit office party. But there are simple ways to make these months sweeter. These 11 gay overachievers offer up their suggestions for a healthier, less stressful, and more socially conscious season. (And tofurkey is mentioned only once!)
Conquering the holiday blues
Exercise is a great way to beat holiday depression! However, suggesting exercise to a friend who is down doesn’t necessarily mean he or she will be motivated enough to follow through. So be proactive and ask friends to join you for runs, hikes, lifting—whatever your choice. A holiday workout buddy makes a big difference for the down-and-out person forging through it alone. Eat healthily and drink moderately—feeling down and drinking are not a fun mix. Overeating and eating the wrong things (think of sugar highs and lows) are a major cause of those holiday blues. Limit the temptation to one cheat meal the night of the holiday. Also, have one thing at a holiday party that’s usually on the naughty list—you can indulge and keep your eating in check at the same time. If you’re single (like me!), don’t isolate! Spend time with friends, throw a party, and say yes to invitations!
Barry Jay, director of curriculum and founder of Barry’s Bootcamp exercise regime (BarrysBootcamp.net)
Talking a relative into supporting gay rights over a holiday meal—without sparking a family feud
Try to defuse it with humor. You can win a lot more hearts and minds with humor than with anything else. Of course, if someone’s being blatantly homophobic, tell them, “I’m gay.” The more of us who say that, the less of an issue it’ll be. But if all else fails—food fight.
Stephanie Miller, host of The Stephanie Miller Show, a nationally syndicated radio program (StephanieMiller.com)
Serving a fantastic vegetarian or vegan holiday meal that even meat lovers will love
There are so many amazing vegetables available—you don’t need to add ham or bacon to them to make them taste good. There are also the mock meats like tofurkey, which gives things a twist. It gets a bad rep because the name sounds funny, but if you make it the right way, it’s just terrific. One thing I like to do is make stuffing, like cornbread stuffing, into a main course. You can add veggie sausage and celery to it to make it heartier—that’s my personal favorite, and people really like it too. Also, check out VegCooking.com/Holiday-Meals.asp for recipes. If you’re going home with a partner for the first time and worried about what might ensue from the whole gay thing, there’s nothing more distracting than springing on the family that a vegan is coming to dinner.
Dan Mathews, senior vice president of campaigns for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA.org)
We really love the company Juniper Ridge. It offers unique wild-crafted products from the mountains and deserts of the American West. All of the plants used to make the products are harvested locally and sustainably. In particular, we are huge fans of the incense, soaps, and sachets. The scents are natural and authentic and truly evoke the smells and spirit of the great outdoors. The packaging is simple, rustic, and elegant, and the product range makes for fantastic gift giving.
Benjamin and Doug Burkman, founders of Burkman Bros., a men’s clothing line found in stores across the globe (BurkmanBros.com)
Extending your altruism beyond volunteering at the soup kitchen
Be creative around the holidays. Everyone is feeling generous, and most of us have more than we need. Find an organization or cause about which you feel passionate and ask what it needs. For your holiday party, rather than another set of reindeer napkin rings, ask your guests to help meet the organization’s wish list. Be sure to send your guests an update on how your contribution was put to use. On our Caribbean cruise last fall, we created a children’s library in Belize with books from our guests and replaced two computers at a children’s learning center in Honduras. Guests who participated in those projects paid it forward when they got home: One collected money to send seven more computers to the e-learning centers in Honduras, and another asked guests for children’s books to send to our library in Belize.
Shannon Wentworth, chief executive of Sweet, a lesbian travel company that offers activism-inspired trips (DiscoverSweet.com)
Great, gender stereotype–free gifts for kids
1. JumpSmart trampoline. The newest craze to hit the gyms in Chelsea (rebounding—working out on a mini trampoline) has made its way down to the tots! Now babies can work out with their daddies or mommies at David Barton or even in their living room. Get those kids camera-ready early, I say!
2. Karaoke machine with voice scrambler. Almost everyone I know already has a karaoke machine, but these new ones can slow down your voice for the ever-popular Elaine Stritch sound. Or speed it up to a Chipmunk/Liza voice. Once baby has been put to bed, daddies can take turns speeding it up to disco classics and relive their coke-fueled Studio 54 nights!
3. Globes. A child is never too young to start learning geography! You can even use pushpins (OK, so what do I know about child safety?) to mark P-Town, Ibiza, New Hope, Pa.—all the international gay destinations.
4. For you name-dropping gays, Ralph Lauren has created a new paint kit for children with his signature colors. Now your 5-year-old can do mock-ups for your apartment. “Junior, do you think Daddy and Daddy should paint the living room Amalfi Red or Monticello Yellow? You’re not leaving your room until both mock-ups are done!”
Sherry Vine, star of Gay.com’s series The Queens of Drag: NYC (SherryVine.com)
Suggesting a donation to charity rather than a gift
You should never assume that you’re owed a gift. The best-case scenario is when someone asks you directly, “Is there anything in particular that you’d like for…?” Then, feel free to mention your favorite charity like this: “It would mean a lot to me—and the nonprofit—if you could help out with a donation this year. And it’s tax-deductible!” I have broken the “no assumption” rule in years past when I was expecting a gift from my partner or my family by asking them to support a nonprofit that I’ve been involved with. I plan to do that this year again. With the economy still a mess, nonprofits need as much help as we can give them. If you’re planning to have a holiday party, let your guests know in the invitation that in lieu of taking a bottle, you’re taking up a collection for a particular organization and why you support it. Then, have a basket out in plain view for your guests to leave their donations (checks and cash are fine). Your nonprofit friends will thank you sincerely—and so too will the folks they serve.
Steven Petrow, author of The Essential Book of Gay Manners and Etiquette (GayAndLesbianManners.com)
A locavore holiday dinner
I’m lucky to be in Southern California, where I have access to year-round farmers’ markets. But if you’re in an area where it’s getting colder, you can likely get apples for applesauce and possibly winter beets, rutabagas, celery roots, sweet potatoes, and parsnips—maybe even kale—that hold up and may have been grown in the vicinity. In winter that’s what people really want to eat anyway. If you try and stay seasonal—looking at what’s in season, cooking what is potentially in season, seeing what can be stored from your area—you’ll get as close to locavore as possible. It’s one thing to get produce from New Zealand but another thing to get food from closer to home.
Feniger’s favorite holiday vegetable pairings
• Celery root puree, topped with hard-boiled eggs
• Fennel braised in orange juice
• Green beans marinated in sesame vinaigrette
• Roasted golden beets tossed with olive oil
• Spinach salad with maple mustard vinaigrette, candied pecans, and goat cheese
• Yams with honey and lime
Restaurateur and chef Susan Feniger, whose latest Border Grill restaurant opened in October in downtown Los Angeles
Finding a gay-friendly getaway
I look for aesthetics and attention to detail when selecting an off-the-beaten-path vacation getaway. Aesthetics and gay-friendly are synonymous to me. If the website and the photos convey that impressive quality that I’m always looking for, I know its proprietors have the same sensibilities that are in line with my own. The Cedar Crest Inn (CedarCrestInn.com) in Asheville, N.C., is a favorite of mine. Stylistically eloquent, comfortable, and one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever found on earth.
Fashion designer Santino Rice, star of Lifetime Television’s On the Road With Austin & Santino and a judge on RuPaul’s Drag Race, premiering in January on Logo
Expanding your social circle
The holidays are a good time to think about LGBT older adults, who often live alone, are disconnected from families of origin, and feel unwelcome in community centers and programs. Reach out to LGBT organizations in your area to find out if they have holiday activities for older adults and how you can help. In addition, think beyond the holidays. SAGE runs a friendly visitor program that matches volunteers to older adults, building mutually rewarding relationships. Participating in a program like this in your community is a great way to extend the holiday spirit throughout the year.
Michael Adams, executive director of Services and Advocacy for GLBT Elders (SAGEUSA.org)
Gifts suitable for anyone
I like to give either homemade cookies—which are pretty kick-ass, if I say so myself—or paperwhite bulbs, artfully wrapped. If that isn’t cutting it, I either bump it up with a donation to Heifer.org, the charity that gives agricultural and livestock gifts in the developing world, or the Bellevue/NYU Program for Survivors of Torture or the Southern Poverty Law Center. I’ve been incredibly lax in the past few years, charitable giving–wise, so I think, given the terrifying, repellent, hateful, racist Islamophobia afoot, I should probably give to the SPLC, as it deals with combating hate crimes.
David Rakoff, author of Half Empty