One of the most unique aspects of a bathhouse, are the hours. You can really go at any time, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The baths are even open during the holidays. As a veteran of the baths, I have gone on Thanksgiving, Mothers Day, Easter Sunday and even Christmas Day. Yes, strange as it sounds, the baths do attract a minority of men on Christmas Day. You must be reading this, thinking to yourself, "Being at the baths on Christmas, how pathetic. It must be truly depressing." Well yes and no.
Let´s start on Christmas Eve. It is pretty much dead during the day, as many people are still doing their last minute Christmas shopping. But the evening is a mixed bag, depending on where you live. The bathhouse I go to is completely dead during the evening. However, some bathhouses actually plan special Christmas Eve parties. For example at the Flexbaths in Cleveland, Ohio, they have a special Christmas Eve bash every year. The following letter is from the manager of the Cleveland Flexbaths.
After reading your Christmas story, I had to comment. Of course, it is all-true, but sometimes the slant should be a bit different. After becoming a manager here, I learned that we had to be open on Christmas Eve and Day. And I am sure that you know how desolate a bathhouse can be on Christmas Eve. Not wanting to be alone myself on Christmas Eve, it was an easy decision to throw a party--a party with a purpose. Everyone who was a member of record (paid 6 month or yearly membership) prior to Dec 23rd got in free. Any room in the club was free for our normal 8 hour limit. We had a full buffet--also free. And to top it off, a leather Santa visited to distribute gifts for all "bad" boys. It worked! That was 5 years ago and now, this is the most popular party spot in town on Christmas Eve. The premise was simple: have a party for everyone. Behind that premise was the genuine knowledge that a lot of men do not have a place to gather as a family on Christmas Eve and this was an opportunity to provide them with that “family” even if ever so fleeting. Because this became a popular yearly event, we now have more men coming to the baths because they know there will be men there and they will be in a party mood, not a somber “there is no place else to go” mood. This is the good side of the tubs and it is always nice to see men enjoying men and their company.
That is Christmas Eve. But why go to a baths on Christmas Day? Because the baths is the only place open for gay men to meet. The bars and clubs aren´t even open. Since it is Christmas, something needs to be planned for the men that visit. And many bathhouses do organize something special. At the regular bathhouse I go to, the staff puts together a Christmas buffet. It is a complete turkey dinner with all of the fixings. Now picture this. 20 to 30 men, all lined up at the buffet table, with a plate in their hands. Wearing nothing but a towel. That is truly a sight you have to see for yourself. Then to see a whole array of men, sitting around in the lounge area, eating a turkey dinner practically naked. There is a Christmas tree, Christmas decorations, and even Christmas music. So it is sort of like a party.
Who are some of the men that go to the baths on Christmas Day? A few years ago, I did some internal surveying. I asked, "Why are you here on Christmas Day?" Some of the men had finished celebrating with their family very early in the day. With nothing to do in the afternoon, a bathhouse was chance to kill some time. Then there were the men who were not out to their families. By putting up a charade for the most of the day, some got anxious and uptight. Feeling like a fraud, they felt the need and urgency to interact with other gay men. After a day of pretending, this was a way to feel good about themselves.
Some men did not want to make the trip out of town to see their family. Others just had no family to speak of. Some truly have no place to go. Since coming out, some men have been rejected by their families. I remember asking one guy at the baths what he did on Christmas. And he said he was here (at the baths) and it was packed. I was a bit surprised, thinking he would be with his family, and told him that. He then looked down and said he and his family don't speak. Then he ran off. I felt bad for pressing like that, and went to apologize. But he brushed it off saying his family was always a sore spot.
There were some others who had to work that day. A lot of social workers work the soup kitchen. Handing out toys to needy children, and making sure the homeless had a hot meal. After a day like that, a bathhouse is a great place to unwind and relax. Then you have some men that don´t celebrate Christmas at all because of their religion or culture (like if they are Jewish). And of course, there are some men who are just truly horny, even on Christmas day.
Finally you have the teen hustlers and runaways who live on the streets. They try to scrape together enough money to spend the night at a bathhouse. Being on the street at Christmas is completely depressing. The chance to have some normalcy for one day is an opportunity most of these kids would jump at, even if it were in a bathhouse. To have a hot shower, a warm bed, and a Christmas dinner is a welcome change from life on the streets.
So unable to make other plans, and not wanting to face the walls of an empty apartment, coming to a bathhouse is the only place on that day to be around other gay people. But that is what the baths can sometimes be, a temporary family.
The baths are truly a unique place to experience, especially on Christmas day. But hey, it is not for everybody.