The last present is wrapped with a glittering bow, the stockings dangling in a festive row. Crystal ornaments dazzle and glisten…and this is when you realize you have no traditions.
Some of you likely have generations-old rituals that tumble down from the quaint times of Christmas past. Some of you don’t require annual festivities to make your holiday merry and bright. I am of the ilk where I am angry there was no ancient grandmother’s silver tea set passed to me on my wedding day and the only tradition was on December 24th, when we would read “The Night Before Christmas,” and get to open one of “the good presents,” from our neighbor.
Jaw set in hard determination, I swore my son would have Huge Traditions he would share with his offspring, each story starting with a jolly, “Back when I was your age…”
Yet my best laid plans, as the best laid plans often do, never got traction.
Loving fresh greenery, I thought the easiest way to kick off Memories-to-be-Made was to turn the house each year into a living postcard of what a Maine winter should be: Boughs like green icing along the porch, glowing candles in the windows and a giant wreath with an even gianter red bow on the barn. When the local soccer team came knocking for their fundraiser, I asked a helpful sophomore which size would be proper for the barn doors. We both squinted at all of the measurements, until his dad honked from the car to hurry up.
I pointed to the largest one.
The following week when The Wreath arrived in a horse trailer, with three annoyed soccer dads, I yelled from the porch, “What the hell is that?”
As I stared at the prickly monster, one dad said, “We figured you owned a car dealership.”
It took the four of us quite a time to drag The Wreath around to the back of the house, where it sat in a gigantic slump until April when we had to pay a handyman to tow it away.
Wreaths be damned, there is that one other modern tradition which seemed so easy, no measuring required. The Elf on the Shelf.
There are two schools of thought on the Elf: For some moms, it is the highlight of their year to create mischievous elf scenes for their children to find in the morning. These are the same moms that make owl costumes by hand with actual feathers. For moms like me, who run to Target for the last Ninja costume on clearance, planning out the Elf’s exploits is a low priority. He’s lucky to get flung from the kitchen to the guest room just before my boy bounds down the stairs.
No harm, no foul.
(Note for you non-elf readers: There is but one rule in Elf Club. Never touch the elf. Human contact murders The Spirit of Christmas.)
Last year, my son was having a sleepover around the holidays with his best bud, and I designed an actual SCENE for Elfie. Hanging upside down from lights twisted up the staircase he pointed down at mugs of hot chocolate especially delivered from Santa.
Unfortunately, as soon as the boys saw Elfie, so did the dog. All of a sudden the Hallmark movie of Elf-life-lessons turned into a horror movie as our normally sweet Daisy, ran in mad circles, growling, with Elfie hanging from her sudden wolf mouth.
The children’s blood curdling screams for my help snapped me out of attempts not to cry-laugh. And remember the Only Rule of Elf Club…what was I to do?
I flung open a drawer and grabbed giant grill tongs. Both kids were clinging to each other up on the couch like the floor was suddenly flooded with mice and snakes, I am chasing the dog like a BBQ Shark while the dog was most certainly puncturing Elfie’s face with her hatred of this red felted bastard.
Finally, the tongs found their mark. Elfie was now safe, if not slobbery, as I tucked him on a high branch of our white, disco-themed tree. Panting for breath, the three of us stared at each other, heroes in our own minds having saved Christmas for all.
And I was also a hero, having created, if not a tradition, then a damn good story to be told for years to come. Because perhaps that what holidays are for—dropping the expectation of a perfect moment and letting the unpredictable magic of the season take over.
Maggie Knowles writes about all things kid. She and her son live in Yarmouth, where she gardens, keeps bees and refuses to get rid of her stilettos.