Two years ago, I fulfilled a childhood dream. Braving Black Friday crowds, I purchased a three-foot, pre-lit Christmas tree and tore through my family’s boxes of ornaments to gather the ones I’d collected for myself over the years. The following weekend, home in my apartment, I assembled the petite pine and adorned it with my treasures. Standing back to admire it, I felt accomplished.
Over the next few days, however, I realized that something wasn’t quite right: aside from some matryoshkas and a few iterations of the green M&M, most of the ornaments able to “look back” at me were, in some way, “male.” Don’t get me wrong—I love snowmen and nutcrackers and Santas. But if there were a Bechdel Test for Christmas trees, mine did not pass. In bringing my childhood dream to life, I hadn’t acknowledged the dream from college that I was now living: the dream of moving to a new city to find and celebrate myself as a gay woman.
Since then, my holiday mission has been to bring more femininity and queerness to my tree. It’s been as much of an exercise in thought as it’s been an exercise in shopping. I’ve had to consider what makes my “male” ornaments so male to me, instead of gender neutral, and what would make a character or animal “female.” (Can an ornament be female without the addition of pink, or a dress, or eyelashes? Last time I checked, people who aren’t women have eyelashes too!)
Ultimately, I’ve gone with what feels feminine to me and what feels like me as my decoration collection expands. After all, my tree couldn’t embody my values and myself if I simply grabbed the first representations of women I could find. Angel ornaments, for example, are easy to find, but I’ve shied away from them because I’ve celebrated Christmas as a secular holiday since my teens. (Nevertheless, an angel tree topper with Ellen DeGeneres’s face is on my “to-make” list.)
The Internet has made it easier for me to accomplish my mission. I’ve found that Etsy is a great place to find LGBTQ ornaments, some of which are even made by LGBTQ makers. It’s particularly good for people seeking Pride-inspired items or those looking to commemorate same-sex nuptials. One of the first queer ornaments I bought was a mini embroidery hoop with a rainbow snowflake stitched by a queer maker, BookNerdEmbroidery.
Because handmade items are (justifiably) pricier, I also turned to eBay for ornaments that wouldn’t break the bank. My queerest find? “Eager for Christmas,” a 1994 Hallmark ornament of a beaver (yes, a beaver) whose attire, including a red vest jacket, suggests she’s eager to hop into a Subaru for a weekend of camping.
Finally, thanks to Pinterest, I’ve found some fun DIY projects. Inspired by felt animal ornaments I encountered in my “pinning” sprees, I led a craft night for members of my Women in Their 20s and 30s group last December, providing them with templates of owls to trace and cut out of scrapbook paper and magazines and encouraging them to make their creations as gendered or not gendered as they liked.
As I approach the holidays this year, I have a few goals in mind. I’d like to find more ornaments that depict love in less heteronormative ways. Ironically, this will entail looking for ornaments that are more gender neutral. I’d also like my tree to better reflect the rich diversity in my life. I’ll certainly be able to accomplish these things as my ornament collection keeps growing. But first, I’m going to need a bigger tree.