Hau’oli Lanui from My Ohana to Yours

Aloha and greetings for this holiday season!

The Holidays may have been fun and magical growing up but over the years, as we get older, we start to grow out of the wide eyed, awe struck wonders that come with the innocence of childhood. We adults tend to have more tunnel vision, become consumer heavy, and often times, mentally weary. The holiday season can be a rough time of year for some (if not most) of us.  There are struggles with the weather, holiday music (for some), decorating, kitchen work, and the stress of having to find Christmas presents.  And the big one… spending time with families that may have not always been the best for us or brings out the ugly in us. Sometimes running to the store to find that special gift turns into a living nightmare. Thank goodness for Amazon Prime and shopping online!!

My husband and I don’t have the greatest childhood memories of the holiday season. Unfortunately, we were both “extra baggage” from previous marriages that didn’t quite fit into the “new” family mold.  We were bullied for being gay and did not get the gifts we asked for (but saw our siblings get everything they wanted).  If left unchecked, this could have slowly tainted our image of what the holidays are supposed to be about.  Fortunately for both of us, our grandparents gave us the holidays we needed.

Alika Keawekane (right) and his husband Jesse Hulse

Every time that I think about Christmas, I think about my grandmother baking cookies with me, and her having hot chocolate and a Christmas movie ready for us after playing out in the snow. I fondly remember her sticking up for me when my extended family picked on me.  She also took me out to spend money on what I wanted for Christmas.  And she made sure to gather everyone to spend time together each week after Thanksgiving for various get-togethers. When I think of traditions, I think of the whole family going out to find the perfect Christmas tree, decorating, cooking/baking, making toiletry boxes and gift bags for the homeless and underprivileged, hand crafting holiday cards and presents, and sitting out in the cold waiting on the Firetruck Santa to swing by to throw us treats or for the local Christmas parade.  What made it special was that we did all of this TOGETHER, as one big “happy” family. My grandmother was the glue of our family.  And of course, when she passed, nobody else wanted to pick up the torch and continue carrying the holiday spirit.  After she passed, I saw my extended family less and less and missed the awe and wonder of the holidays. I am sure that many of you currently have or did have someone like that in your family as well.  

As adults, my husband and I felt like we were missing something. Our families had decided a long time ago to not include us for one (gay) reason or another. We most definitely didn’t miss some of the close-minded conversations or alternative perspectives that always came up at family gatherings.  We do, however, very much appreciate our “moms”, “dads”, and “guncles” who recognized our need for family and some who still include us in their holiday festivities.  But one of the things we always talked about missing was what our grandparents brought to the holidays: love, compassion, charity, and community. It makes me tear up thinking about how fortunate I was to have experienced that and how sad that I am to have lost sight of that over the years. 

So, we decided that we would change that.  Sometimes you have to create your own community. We decided we would create our OWN “family” outings and traditions. We knew we wanted to include our bear friends, queer siblings, and other members who didn’t have anywhere to go for the holidays.

Over the years, we hosted a Santa Bear Ball to help raise money for the local bear group, Build-a-Christmas-float party for the local Christmas parade, and a holiday horror movie night.  We made lunchboxes to hand out to the houseless, we had a Secret Santa craft and exchange at the local Pottery Place, Star Wars snowflake craft night, and numerous friend gatherings to support local holiday drag shows, conventions, and music and charity events. A few traditions that we continue to do every year is a Chex Mix baking party, seeing a movie in theaters on Christmas, and Chinese food and “A Christmas Story” on Christmas Eve. All, of course, with different people that we call our family…whether bear, queer, or straight. As time has gone on our holiday gatherings have grown and changed but one thing is always constant… love, compassion, charity, and community. 

And what a gift this all turned out to be! Since we found our community, these same people have influenced my life greatly over the years . Living in a “small-town” city, it has been a struggle to get outside support for various endeavors.  But the community and “family” that my husband and I have created has carried me through the good and bad times in my life. They’ve been there to support me at local shows, have helped me create and design for competitions, have been a soundboard for my ideas, and have helped ground me when I needed it. They’ve helped my husband and I navigate poly relationships, dropped off food when we are sick, given us rides when our vehicles broke down, and reached out and checked up on me during my mental health days.

In any endeavor big or small, having a support group is the MOST important thing to have. They are the ones to boost you up, to lend physical help when asked or needed, to help carry you through rough times, and to be there to help create a safe and loving space just to be your authentic self. We NEED this support as humans. We NEED this kind of family, especially if we have blood family that does not support us the way they should. We NEED this type of community no matter which community you are part of. 

So, whatever your situation may be, remember to be kind to yourself and to others. We never know what struggles people are navigating. For some of us, it’s our first year without certain loved ones still present in our lives. And whether it’s the first year or the 10th year without these people, the holidays are still hard without these people. Some people need time, patience, grace, or just quiet company. 

Remember the holidays ARE NOT about the gifts and decorations.  It’s about love, connection, and spending time with our loved ones. A homemade or consumable gift holds just as much value as a bought gift. If someone makes $10/hr and they buy you a $30 gift, they gave you three hours of their life working hard, at a job they may not enjoy, just to give you this gift. And if they are not able to give you a gift this year, we should not hold this over their heads. Again, we don’t know what people are navigating in their lives. Spending time is a gift in itself because we don’t know how much time we have on this Earth. Spending time watching movies together, cooking meals together, or just sitting around sharing stories is just as valid and important. 

If you’re feeling lonely, reach out to others or go out to support your local bear/queer/drag venues/events. There may be people who are feeling the same way and looking for someone else to spend the holidays with. You CAN find or create your own community! You CAN find or create your own happiness!! Nobody needs to be alone but also know that it’s ok to be alone to take care of yourself. Self-care is important during the holiday season and it’s easy to get thrown out of your peace of mind. Be gentle with yourself. And if you are or someone else you know is struggling with mental health, there are hotlines available if you/they don’t feel comfortable opening up to someone you/they know. 

One last thing, I have grown up to say “Merry Christmas” but we need to remember that Christmas is not the only holiday celebrated and without knowing someone’s background, religion, or traditions, we should not assume they celebrate the same holidays as we do. It might be outside the norm, but we should try our best to respect each other’s traditions and “Happy Holidays” is the safest holiday greeting we can use regardless of our upbringing.

So, this holiday season, my husband and I wish you the best! I hope that you have a family or community to celebrate with.  And if you don’t, I hope you find one this year to create new memories with! I hope there’s warmth for your body, awe in your eyes, and much aloha in your heart.

Happy Holidays from my side of the world to yours! 

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Alika Keawekane

Alika Keawekane is an Hawaiian born, Northern raised, Southern fried, “Panda” in the streets, otter in the sheets. He is happily married to his sweet, sexy snugly bear, Jesse, who co-parents their furbabies, Chewie and She-Ra. He is also in a poly relationship with his Daddy Clint. He works as a land surveyor by day and is a dance teacher/choreographer/performer on nights and weekends. His experiences include being a Choreographer at Coffee County High School for the Showchoir and Theater Program, playing Dr.Frankenfurter in Rocky Horror Picture Show, dancing in music videos for Eric Paisley and Call Me Spinster, appearing in commercials for Perception Kayaks and TUL Pens, dancing on stage for Lizzo, creating with The Pop-Up Project and appearing in their dance film “The Light We Share.” He has also held the titles of Mr. Bear Bust 2018, Mr. North American Bear 2018, and World Cub 2022.