Most of us need traditions and rituals, secular or not, to commemorate achievements, growth, or time. After 28 years of celebrations and holidays, I’ve been grateful enough to experience all kinds of traditions with family members and partners. Throughout the many, many, many cities I’ve lived, I’ve cultivated a chosen family in places where I couldn’t access friends and family or during periods of my life when my family wasn’t around. I’m lucky to have family members now who love and accept me, but that hasn’t always felt like the case.
Once I moved away for college and naturally forgot about various traditions, I realized how much I missed them. As I figured out who my friends were, I connected with folks who shared a similar sense of nostalgia. It was usually my way of coping with being away from the familiar so I found people who felt like home. My now-very-best-friend and I connected over a few nostalgic memories we both still cling to as Midwesterners in a big(ger) city.
The very first tradition we celebrated together was actually a Valentine’s Day activity. This is my all time favorite holiday, and being far away from people I knew felt strange and lonely, especially for someone who was so extremely single and in the middle of a sexuality crisis. Sophomore year of college, my best friend and I started reminiscing about the Teletubbies and arguing about which ones were better (Po). We soon realized this was a weird, shared, nostalgic thing we could do, especially as two single people who loved the day of love. That Valentine’s Day, we gathered all the ingredients to make tubby custard and also picked up a microwaveable roast from Shnuk’s to feast on on the futon in our closet-sized dorm room. We spent the whole evening streaming endless teletubbies episodes and eating questionable pudding, laughing and crying out of joy and hopeless romantic sadness.
We did this every year we lived near each other and still adapted it in our own homes when we lived far apart. It became such a sentimental tradition that I genuinely didn’t want either of us to date anyone out of fear they would take this precious and strange tradition away from us. She’s now married, and while I always give her shit about spending it with her own family instead of me, it warms my heart to think that every Valentine’s Day, no matter what my chaotic dating situation is, I’ll always have her and tubby custard.
In the coming years of sharing nostalgic hobbies, we both figured out the film Arthur’s Perfect Christmas was a foundational piece of the holiday season. In my younger twenties, I carried my love for this film (and knowledge of every lyric in the songs) with shame. This random PBS special for nerdy kids wasn’t anything a fellow 20 year old would want to talk about. Like most things from my early twenties, I don’t quite remember how we discovered our mutual love for and slight obsession with this holiday movie. It was probably somewhere on that same futon where we studied, cried, and watched Frozen for the very first time.
The thing about Arthur’s Perfect Christmas that makes it near perfect is that it was truly radical (and subtextually gay) for its time. It’s a musical spectacular about a young aardvark’s perfectionistic tendencies with subplots following his friends’ celebrations of other non-Christian holidays. Sure, the title pulls you in with Christmas, but you learn — through a child’s eyes — about many different holidays and traditions that exist outside of Christianity. Francine, future (nonconfirmed) queer, celebrates Hanukkah and teaches us about her family’s traditions. Buster is dealing with his parent’s divorce and creates his own holiday, Baxter Day, to cope with the stress of the holidays in a non-traditional family. We get to see Brian’s family celebrate Kwanzaa, George’s family celebrate Saint Lucia Day, and Binky’s family tradition of volunteering at a homeless shelter. It’s surprisingly inclusive for the year 2000.
Like most traditional Christmas movies, the characters learn the true meaning and spirit of the holidays in the ways we need them to. Muffy, an ignorant, rich girl/future nepo baby refuses to acknowledge Hanukkah even though Francine explains how important it is to her. Francine eventually helps Muffy see the holidays through her friends’ perspectives. Arthur and D.W. learn that Christmas isn’t about the perfect snow day or the perfect present but about celebrating with loved ones. Amid a wholesome plot of love and light, we are introduced to the presumably single and gay uncle, who shows up to celebrate the holidays. Also, gay Mr. Ratburn makes his appearance at Muffy’s party (which gives Mr. Schuester Glee vibes tbh). However, one of the most important overarching themes of the whole movie is to check your capitalism at the door. Toys and presents and parties mean nothing without the people you love around you! Sure, it might not be that deep, but I see it as my first anti-capitalist propaganda children’s movie.
My best friend and I have always believed this public broadcast children’s movie represents our ideal holiday: music, food, friends, inclusivity, new traditions, subtle queerness. More importantly, it brought us together to create our own type of Baxter Day, one where we sing every single lyric to every single song to kickoff the holidays. It’s one of the traditions I most look forward to every year. Even though we haven’t lived within driving distance of each other for over six years, we’ve somehow found a way to keep this little traditional alive. Watching Teletubbies or Arthur’s Perfect Christmas doesn’t necessarily seem like a deep tradition, but I think that’s what I’ve learned about traditions as a queer, spiritually questioning person: It doesn’t have to be about religion, spirituality, identity, or even food. Winter holiday traditions can be the people you choose to show up for, even in playful, lighthearted, and equally fulfilling ways.