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December Dilemma – When New Traditions Overshadow the Old

Christmas is a time for inclusion and giving to those in need

Christmas is a time of year when we all seem to be acutely aware of those we share this world with. We try to give to others in a myriad of ways whether it be through moral support, monetary or material donations. We seem to have an underlying sense of duty to ensure everyone greets December 25th with a sense of joy. We aim to, even if for just one day, lighten the load of others so they can wear a smile. We strive to bring back the magic and wonder of their childhood for them or assist them in providing that to their own children. We have an innate sense of commitment to leave no man behind.

December for me is an ever-changing mix of “then” and “now”

I tend to spend the time leading up to Christmas in two separate head spaces. The first is the here and now – experiencing decorating our tree, selecting presents to give those I care about and attending various holiday events with friends and family. In true Ebenezer Scrooge format we’ll refer to this as Christmas Present.

The other mind space is the one I get lost in when I have flashbacks of the holidays from my childhood. They are most often conjured through listening to Christmas carols or breathing in the sweet smells of coniferous boughs, cookies or clementines. This would be Christmas Past.

We carry our own childhood memories forward

As a child I eagerly anticipated Christmas time because my Aunt Mary and Uncle Barry would travel from Halifax to Liverpool for the holidays. Waiting for my sister and I at my grandfather’s house would be a gingerbread man for each of us. It would be baked absolutely perfectly by my aunt with coloured icing to decorate it (usually blue and white) and silver balls for eyes. She would wrap them in Saran Wrap on a styrofoam tray and put our names on a tag on the top. They’d be waiting for us on a hutch in my grandfather’s dining room, beside the candied orange rind she always made for him as a special Christmas treat. This of course would be next to the bowl of mixed nuts he always seemed to have available no matter the time of year. Funny isn’t it how you remember these little details?

Unexpected gifts are always the best

p310847bThe reason I mention this is because one year Aunt Mary sent a much earlier surprise. It was a cold day in November when we received a parcel in the mail. This puzzled us because aside from the gingerbread man she always made for us we didn’t exchange gifts. Curious, my sister and I gingerly opened the package to find out what was inside. In short, it contained two advent candles with the numbers 1 to 24 going down the taper and a wire wreath with bits of folded paper around it with 1 to 24 written on them as well. A letter she had enclosed explained that she had planned fun activities for us for each of the days in December. Each night leading up to Christmas we were to light our candles and open the corresponding piece of paper from the wreath for a special activity. We were to complete the activity while the candle burned down to the next number. Can you imagine how excited we were? This was going to be so much fun!

That December was magical

Each night that December we did as she had instructed –  we sat at the dining room ta

ble in the dark, except for the light being shed by the two taper candles. The things she had chosen for us to do were all very fun from singing Christmas carols to making paper snowflakes to creating a Christmas tree out of rolled up newspaper like Mr. Dressup used to do on his tv show. Our excitement was infectious as we eagerly waited until the next night to see what was written on the next piece of white paper. To this day that December and the effort she put into ensuring it was a magical time for us has stuck with me – so over thirty years.

Now I’m the magic maker

Now that I am a parent of two little boys I’m seeing the other side of the Christmas equation. Whereas once I was the child whose eyes lit up at the mention of Santa or elves, candy canes and putting up the Christmas tree in our house, I am now one of the people responsible for ensuring that that sense of wonder and magic is delivered. I’m the cheerleader of all things Christmas, being a little more animated in my speech and putting in extra effort to help my sons feel the spirit that surrounds the holidays. I’m now part of that memory making team for them and the things I do now have an important role in the moments they will file away in their memory bank for their Christmas Future. Right now they don’t even realize there will someday be a Christmas Past and Christmas Present and that their experiences will some day be defined clearly by an invisible line dividing their “before I knew” and “since I found out” memories.

Advent calendars spread the magic out a bit longer

This year on December 1st I gave each of the boys a Kinder Surprise advent calendar because they love Kinder eggs. This was a big hit and has allowed for the opportunity to teach them about delayed gratification in waiting for a new treat each day. It also gives them a visual cue as to how far away (or close) Christmas Day is. I also ordered 24 books from their Scholastic book order so we can spend the month of December reading a new Christmas or winter themed story each night. This has also become something they look forward to each day and the books are something we can put away for next year to enjoy in the month of December again. Eventually they can divide the books and have them for their own children someday.

The creator of Elf on the Shelf is my arch nemesis

People celebrate the time leading up to Christmas in many ways and one of the most recently embraced ways is through the Elf on the Shelf. This phenomenon seems to be the Nickelback of Christmas – either you love the idea or you hate it. I have always been firmly in the hate camp (yes, I realize hate is a very harsh word) but I’m being honest here when I say I might possibly grit my teeth whenever I hear the phrase “Elf on the Shelf”. I quite possibly might also see red when I see a new photos posted by a family member or friend of their elf’s daily antics. In fact, my sister asked me on Wednesday night if I thought that an Elf on the Shelf might be something the boys would like as her son is enjoying his. She asked if she could gift her nephews one of their own. I vehemently refused. I might have even responded “HELL NO!”

My reasons for my deep-rooted dislike for them is two-fold:

1) They aren’t cute but borderline creepy looking.
2) I have an issue with the fact that this elf is supposed to encourage good behavior from the child(ren) it is visiting while having an agenda of its own to perform pranks and silly/borderline naughty tricks.
3) I have enough to do to get ready for Christmas let alone add this to my daily “must-be-creative-so-as-to-not-disappoint-my-children” list.

Yes, I realize that was three reasons.

There’s nothing like a guilt trip

Then on Monday, much to my dismay, Luke’s teacher sent an email indicating that their class now had their own Elf on the Shelf named Pixie. Up until that point I had somehow succeeded in protecting the boys from all things Elf on the Shelf. I realized it was only a matter of time before they caught on to the fact that they seem to be the only children in the world without their own special December visitor. It didn’t help my guilty conscience any when Luke kept saying in a woeful voice “I wish WE had an elf that came to our house.” Cue “You’re a horrible mother!” self-talk.

So, imagine my utter and complete shock when I somehow found myself in the local Pharmachoice store yesterday to retrieve parcels from the Canada Post outlet and had one of the damn things silently called to me to pick it up and take it home.

She’s got magical powers alright – the voodoo kind

elf on the shelfI stood there while the clerk went to the back room to find my two parcels from Indigo and BAM! It cast a spell on me and before I knew it I was at the cash paying for its adoption fee. I spent the entire drive home wondering who the hell I had become and contemplating what I was going to tell my husband when he found out I suddenly did a 180 on my Elf on the Shelf stance.

To be fair, I have performed this complete change of heart once before in my life – after clearly being on “TEAM NO KIDS” for the better part of twenty years I suddenly found myself wanting to have a child. Confessing this news to my husband back in 2007 was one of the most anxiety inducing things I’ve ever experienced. I’m not saying bringing home an elf was on the same level of “WTF?” but it was pretty close for him.

However, I must be clear about two things:

1) She is a plush version and pretty damn cute.
2) She will only be used in a positive way to celebrate getting ready for Christmas – in the same way that my aunt did for me. Each day she will suggest things to do…but no pranks.

So, this morning when the boys went looking for their chocolate advent calendars they found them sitting by “Holly” the elf. She was holding a letter explaining who she was – Santa had sent her to visit our family until Christmas to help us get ready for the holidays!

It was never about me

10151865_10152486519413133_5875347243791289014_n-e1476657707898And you know what? The look of total awe and sparkly holiday magic in their little eyes was totally worth back-pedalling and the $16.99 + tax I doled out to add this little piece of plush nonsense to our holiday celebration. In that instant I realized that when it comes right down to it, that feeling of wonder and excitement over all things make-believe is only going to be part of their Christmas Present for a very short time. I want to ensure that when they are at a point in their lives where these moments are part of their Christmas Past that they will smile and look back on them as being one of the highlights of Christmas for them. All because I took the time, like my Aunt Mary did that December many years ago.

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