How LGBTQ Families Make Christmas Their Own

Celebrations that affirm diversity are so important.
Katherine North (bottom left) of Calgary, Alta., with her husband Nick McArthur (taking the photo) and their five children.
Katherine North (bottom left) of Calgary, Alta., with her husband Nick McArthur (taking the photo) and their five children.

Katherine North is passionate about creating a very special holiday season for her family.

North and her husband Nick McArthur, who she said "also happens to have a history of living as a woman," married five years ago; both brought children of their own into the partnership. The Calgary-based mother of five, life coach and self-described "happy heathen mystic" told HuffPost Canada that she puts a lot of thought into how to celebrate the December festivities as a blended LGBTQ2S+ family

"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," North said.

The holidays can be challenging for some LGBTQ2S+ families

The need to find light in the darkness is a theme that resonates for many in the LGBTQ2S+ community. These families celebrate the holidays — or don't — just like everyone else.

But there can also be added hardships and challenges between complex family dynamics and a culture of gender conformity and heteronormativity.

There's not a lot of LGBTQ representation in holiday pop culture.
There's not a lot of LGBTQ representation in holiday pop culture.

"While the holidays are often thought of as the most wonderful time of the year, they can also be a significantly painful and stressful time for many LGBTQ2S+ individuals," Ashleigh Yule, a child and adolescent psychologist specializing in LGBTQ+ health, told HuffPost Canada.

"Holiday time with extended family, particularly if family members are unaware or unsupportive of a person's gender identity, gender expression, or sexual orientation can be unaffirming, dismissive, and painful."

Celebrations may look different than what's shown in pop culture

Elyse Quail lives in Edmonton with her fiance, Lauren Lim, and their two young children. Lim recently separated from the children's father; although they're on good terms, the family is still figuring out how Christmas will look.

"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."

Although Quail said that it's special to her that she can openly enjoy the holidays as a lesbian couple and "go Christmas shopping and hold hands," she wants to see more LGBTQ2S+ representation in holiday pop culture and media.

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The Quail-Lim family includes their daughter, Max, who is transgender, which brings a different holiday perspective.

"Christmas time can be especially confusing. Not for Max, who luckily just knows what she likes, but ... in the toy catalogues, out shopping, a lot of it is geared towards boys or girls," Quail said.

"That would be really confusing for gender-questioning kids, who might think, 'Am I pink or blue?'"

Celebrations that affirm diversity are crucial

Setting up new ways to honour traditions while also affirming and acknowledging diversity is one way of helping the holidays to feel special and gentle for many LGBTQ2S+ families, Yule noted.

For example, North's family's advent calendar contains slips of paper instead of chocolate, each describing a delightful experience for the day. Ranging from carol-singing to family pyjamas, this ritual is the heartbeat of their holiday traditions.

"As a blended family, that's really important because it helps us make a space for everybody's special thing," North said.

Whether at home, or amongst a larger community, coming together in inclusive celebration is crucial for many LGBTQ2S+ individuals and families.

Some local organizations choose to host special events for those who might feel isolated at this time of year. Spectrum, Waterloo Region's Rainbow Community Space in Waterloo, Ont., is holding a "Celebration of Chosen Families" on Christmas Day, for example.

"We believe that everyone should have the choice of spending time in a friendly and welcoming environment on a day when all too many folks feel isolated and in need of company," the group's Facebook invitation says.