Holidays are often considered to be all about family. But many of us don’t spend holidays with our families of origin, for many different reasons. You may live too far away, or may be estranged from family members, making holiday gatherings too complicated or too painful.

The old saying goes that you can’t choose your family, but you can choose your friends. So the Inquirer Opinion Department asked Philadelphians to share stories of how they’ve gathered a “chosen family.”

My ‘misfit’ Renaissance Faire family helped me find myself

By Joe Penn

As a kid, my family moved around a lot, so I was used to quickly figuring out how to fit in. When I was younger, that always meant changing parts of myself. But once I got settled at the Faire, I realized that I didn’t have to change anything — you can be anyone you want at the Faire. It’s a great place to figure yourself out.”

I’m in college now because my North Philly neighbors helped raise me

By Nyjah Smith

My grandmother still lives in the house where she raised my mother, and my mother lives nearby. I used to see Aunt Denise every time I walked home from school. We’ve had the same neighbors for years and years, and we always look out for each other. We may not celebrate holidays together, but I know if Mr. Johnny next door has an extra turkey, he’ll knock on our door. If I’m hungry and the fridge is empty, I know I can always go up the street or two doors down to get some food. If someone is giving away canned goods and turkeys for people who can’t afford food, we let people know. I will push a shopping cart for three blocks to reach an older neighbor who can’t get things themselves. That is family — people take care of each other, and protect each other. When you’re able, you return the favor.”

Ancestry.com led me to my father and brother — and the biggest surprise of my life

By Reggie Shuford

Everything makes far better sense now, including why I am the way I am (ha!) and care about the things I care about so passionately. I have never had a real father figure in my life — in fact, I have never called anyone “dad” before — so I expect it will take some getting used to.”

As a middle-aged, single, gay man, friends help me find my footing

By Jobert Abueva

Throughout my nomadic, at times messy, life and as I try to find my footing as a middle-aged, single-again gay man, I have relished connections that organically turned into something more and beautiful. My parents are now deceased; I love my siblings, but time and distance (that ocean) has caused us to take divergent paths. Cousins and nieces are scattered throughout the world, so we default to Facebook updates.”

Through music, Philadelphia Orchestra member found family far from home during a pandemic

By Philippe Tondre

The speed at which this bond with my new orchestra was created amazed me, especially because my arrival coincided with the disruption and separation of the pandemic. Making music was our mode of communication, at first digitally, and then, thankfully, together, as we began to gather again on stage at the Kimmel Center. When we couldn’t gather in homes, I felt fortunate to have been invited to many birthday gatherings in parks with the woodwinds and brass (even in 40 degrees Fahrenheit!).”

Chance brought us together on Bodine Street. Choice made us family.

By Kate Stephan

“I sometimes wonder how we wound up together. Many of us have different backgrounds and interests, with a mix of gay and straight. Somehow, we manage to connect on a deep level. This collection of chosen family members who all met through Bodine Street, most of whom have since moved away, is more functional and cohesive than the family I was born into.

We have our hiccups, but handle them like any family would — we’ll confront it, or just complain to each other about it. And we’ll always — always — get together.”