What’s better than an Elf on the Shelf? Traditions from the heart.

Elf on shelf closeupWhen the hugely popular Elf on the Shelf hit the, er, shelves all those years ago, my kids started bugging me to get one for our house. I was — and have remained — firm in my refusal. Hey, I have no problem with YOU having one. Go for it! It’s just…well, the rosy-cheeked critter isn’t for me.

First of all, I was slightly irritated with having this fabricated tradition thrust upon me just because a bunch of people sat around a conference table and decided one mom’s fun idea was the New Christmas must-have. I like my traditions to be, you know, traditions. (I know, I know, all traditions start somewhere, but remember I’m just talking about how I feel. You are free to have different feelings.) I also get really tired of having these fads sweep through my house that my kids demand I spend money on. (And I don’t buy into those, either. Except the Rainbow Loom. I like the Loom. It reminds me of the thousands of hours I spent in my youth weaving friendship bracelets from embroidery floss. Good times.) I am really irritated by the have to. Well, I don’t want to.

Scary Elf on the Shelf

Another reason I’ve refused the Elf entry to my house, let alone any shelf on it, is the thing kind of freaks me out. It’s some kind of weird mashup between Chuckie and that clown from Poltergeist. I see an Elf on someone’s shelf and know that at any moment it’s going to POUNCE! With a meat cleaver! (This is why I never use the bathroom at a house with an Elf.)

Elf on the shelf

That’s right. You just go to bed now…

But more than anything else, I know myself and what I can handle as a parent. I knew that I would just drop the ball when it came to clever elving after the first few days of December. I mean, the Tooth Fairy has been known to not show up until a kid has eaten his breakfast. Or not at all. Not only am I not a Pinterest mom, I can barely get permission slips signed on time, never mind moving some doll hither and yon to entertain my kids and shame them into behaving well during the holiday season. This time of year is so busy and stressful, why create more by throwing the Elf into the mix? Christmas is supposed to be fun, not a pain.

The kids were okay with it after a while. “My Mom doesn’t like the Elf,” they’d say and I’d nod. Nope, not for me.

Then last year, this weird thing happened. I have this goofy Santa decoration that I think I picked up at CVS during a January half-price sale about 12 years ago. (It’s a nice IMG_5486decoration because it’s kid-friendly — meaning, when kid knocks it on the floor, Santa won’t break. I have a lot of that kind of thing.) I put the Santa in the upstairs bathroom because the room is very small and crowded and there’s not much you can do to decorate it for Christmas. And Santa wouldn’t break on the tile floor.

One night, we had another of our Elf discussions, and the little girls were a little bummed I wasn’t giving in. (Had they spent time trying to butter me up before they asked? I think they had.) After I tucked them in, I checked on the older two, reminding them to brush their teeth before getting into bed to read. There was much whispering and giggling between them and some sort of agreement was reached. Then they ran off to the bathroom.

The next day, Ellie came running downstairs, squealing with delight. “SANTA MOVED! HE’S IN OUR ROOM!” We all had to go and see. Sure enough, goofy Santa had relocated to the little girls’ dresser.

“We have a…a…SANTA ON THE SHELF!!!!”

And there was much rejoicing. Especially by the older two, who exchange half-smiles and a subtle fist-bump.

And I spent the rest of December moving that danged thing around the house. Every. Single. Night.

And now he’s back for more. Ellie couldn’t wait to get Santa out of the box. She writes him notes every day and he writes back. (Le sigh.) She loves Santa. Except — the other night she made me take him out of her room because “he’s giving me the creeps, Mommy.” This morning, she wanted to go downstairs to see where he’d moved to, but wouldn’t go by herself. ‘Cause of the creeps. (Can’t say I blame her.)

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So, Santa on the Shelf is here to stay, I guess. He’s kind of a pain, a little demanding, mildly creepy. But he’s a tradition now — our tradition.  Which is what makes it better than any store-bought Elf.

The things we do to keep the magic alive for our kids.

That’s what I remind myself when helping Santa write his daily letter to my daughter, with his special handwriting, using his special pen.

At 5:30 a.m., because Santa forgot the night before.

Again.

Christmas traditions, yesterday and today

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Tree at parents’ house, 2011

It’s around 3 p.m. on Christmas Eve, and for the first time in my entire life I am not celebrating with my family. I’m not at my parents’ house, where right now my brothers and their families, my sister and her boyfriend, my parents and their dachshund, Max, are hanging out. I don’t know what they’re doing. Probably the cousins are running around, playing games or watching TV or doing crafts before the 4 p.m. mass, while the adults sit in the family room, where a fire blazes in the wood stove, chatting with each other about this or that. There might be snacks already, but it might be to early for Mom’s pizza rustica and my sister-in-law Trish’s sausage pastry rolls and whatever else anyone prepared. I know there’s probably not spinach dip, because I am the one who usually makes that, and I’m not there.

For the first time in 11 years — their entire childhood — my kids are not going to sing carols or exchange homemade cookies with their cousins. My kids won’t get tucked in together in the upstairs room, wishing for sleep to come as fastasthis so Christmas morning will come as soon as possible.

When Ray and I decided to not export our Christmas this year — for the first time in forever — I knew things would be a little strange. Frankly, it was a huge relief to not to shop online and ship all the gifts out of state, to not spend Christmas Eve feverishly wrapping everything, to not have to pack and drive three hours and live out of a suitcase for a few days. I was really excited to start some new traditions in our house for a change. For the kids to creep down our own stairs on Christmas morning and peer around the corner to see what Santa may have been up to while they slept.

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And we are. Joanna and I just mixed up a batch of sugar cookie dough and are waiting for it to chill before we cut and bake. Although I don’t have a piano, and for the first time ever won’t be accompanying the carols, I did strum my guitar the other day and feel reasonably sure I can provide a little background for our singing later.

It’s a little strange. Change always is, I guess. New traditions don’t just spring up, fully formed and familiar-feeling. They come from years of tending and feeding, and the strongest ones are the ones that stay. This year, right now, I’m feeling peaceful and right about staying home for Christmas.

But I miss my family — the noise, the stress, the chaos, the annoyance, the laughter, the song — I miss all of that. I sure do.