The festive season is a time for reflection, when work and play take a back seat to tinsel and pudding.

But for many in the GLBTI community the season can unleash a wave of negative emotions including loneliness, anxiety and stress as simmering family tensions and estrangements, demanding social obligations and even last-minute gift shopping turn the holidays into hell.

Licensed marriage and family therapist Marnie Low has seen first-hand the impact the season can have on clients and is quick to advise people to “manage expectations” and “avoid conflict with difficult family and friends”.

“One of the biggest things I have learnt is that when people go back into the family system they are really excited that things will be a certain way and when they’re not, you can be let down,” she told the Star Observer.

“Also, in the GLBT community, there are people who have suffered rejection or non-acceptance from their families of origin and that can add extra challenges and stress, especially when things don’t go as you hoped.”

On the positive side, Low notes there is a tradition in the GLBTI community to grow “strong connections” to non-traditional – or, if you like, chosen – families.

“Between partners and friends in the community relationships are so close they can create an environment where people look out for each other, and that is probably why those we call ‘orphans’ are taken in very easily.”

One Christmas orphan we spoke to, Rohen is no stranger to the challenges the season can bring. Having been estranged from his biological family for 10 years, he used to avoid December 25 at any cost.

Now he hosts his own Orphans Christmas and has had a table full of guests for the last five years.

“My Christmas starts slow in the afternoon, but it always grows with visitors, tourists and people dropping in and out during the day,” he said.

“For me the day is now about getting together with my chosen family, not being stressed, hanging out and washing away the rest of the world for a day. It’s just about the people, the food and having a good time.

“I have become more comfortable with the family that I created for myself.”

Sydney’s Taxi Club is no Scrooge when it comes to hosting Christmas orphans, having upheld the tradition for 30 years.

General manager Michelle Mancin has been busy putting up decorations for the big day.

“Christmas Day is a very different feel in the club, everyone gets in the spirit, goes the extra mile to make each other feel welcome,” she said.

“It’s a hard time to be alone. There are a lot of us who have faced hardships or have been rejected (by family) and your other friends might not be around. I think for that reason we need to get together and support each other.

“We get people who don’t have anywhere to go and people who bring a group of friends who can’t be bothered to cook. People come here alone and we sit them with others who are more than happy to welcome them into the fold. And there will be carols all day unless people get sick of them.”

General manager of Melbourne’s DT’s Hotel, Bruce Mckenzie, used to throw a Christmas lunch every year for people who didn’t have somewhere else to go. But after losing the kitchen to renovations he prefers to open the club in the evening.

“The call for a Christmas lunch doesn’t seem to be high anymore. As times have changed families are more relaxed and happy to pop along to their parents than they used to be,” he said.

“We will open up Christmas Day because we find that even those that do have family will probably be over them by the afternoon, and it will be time to hang out with their other family.

“A lot of people get a bit lost over Christmas and I think the orphan Christmas idea is really about getting together with those friends you like who don’t have somewhere else to go, and making it into your own occasion,” he said.

Low, a native New Yorker who is used to a white Christmas, will be spending this festive season basking in the sun with her own adopted family.

“There can be a yearning to be with our family of origin, but sometimes there are reasons we can’t be so it’s important to find a group of people that you feel connected to,” she said.

“If you are having an event, create a non-judgmental space, set any conflicts aside and be realistic with your expectations.”

info: People experiencing depression or anxiety over the festive season can call Lifeline on 131 114.

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