December has always been one of my favourite months…Christmas was the big event of the year in our house, and though it was never dripping with extravagance, my mother infused the holiday with charm and love overflowing. We would start the traditions after Thanksgiving – putting up the tree while drinking boiled custard, then turning out the lights and sitting in the glow while my father told us the meaning behind the tree – and they continued throughout the month. We would spend days baking kifle and sugar cookies, buckeyes and peanut butter kisses. There would be holiday music or movies on constantly, and we would wear our Christmas-specific clothing until it fell apart.
Every part of our house was decorated…we even had a Santa toilet seat cover. Christmas dish towels and candles and rugs and knick-knacks replaced the everyday ones for the month of December. In any of the many houses we lived in during my childhood, you could walk in and feel warmth, welcoming. Ours was the house you wanted to come to after school and have a hot cocoa and a cookie, curl up on the big blue couch, and while away your afternoon.
I see now the work that must have gone into it all…my mother had four kids and a budget far below average. It must have been exhausting to not only shop, to find presents geared specifically for four vastly different personalities, but to spend your nights wrapping the gifts and hiding them after we went to bed. To find room in a meager grocery budget for butter and milk and eggs to make an abundance of Christmas treats. To make everyone in your extended family feel welcome and loved, and taking the time to fit them all into our schedule. To wake up at 5 am on Christmas morning, after very little sleep, and corral four highly over-excited children around a tree to open presents in a peaceable manner. And to do it all with a smile on your face.
I am striving to make Christmas the same for my daughter. I have fewer kids and more money than my mother, so it should be incredibly easy…but I am not sure I have the same amount of charismatic grace, the same imaginative ease that she does. She tells me it doesn’t come naturally, that it is something you strive towards. So I do. I bake cookies with Violet as she tries to eat the flour. We watch Rudolph and Santa and the Grinch, and the Nutcracker episode of the Wonderpets far too many times. We shop for presents for baby cousins and Salvation Army Angels and Daddy. We decorate wreaths and centerpieces and everything we can get our hands on; we spend hours playing with foamy stickers shaped liked penguins and polar bears and trees. We sing carols and talk about leaving cookies for Santa (he has requested snickerdoodles, apparently), and she wears her Santa T-shirt as soon as it comes out of the laundry.
And it all takes an effort. It requires having, “Tip-toe, Tip-toe, Tip-toe, Mouse King!” in your head at all hours. Burns on your fingers from hot glue guns. Countless trips to the mall to see Santa, without ever being brave enough to do more than wave. Spending more money and time than you anticipated trying to make sure you do everything you can to make the season memorable.
And then she lays in bed, before you shut her door for the night, and she says, ‘Thank you for watching Wudolph, Mama.’ She sings a wordless version of ‘Where are you, Christmas?’ from her beloved Grinch movie. She chatters about asking Santa for a watch and a purse and an umbrella, and how we are gonna bake more cookies the next day. She points out lights on houses as we pass by, and never, ever gets over the wonder of Christmas.
And it is all worth it.