It Isn’t Just a Log …


There’s one remaining piece of a large tree branch sitting at the back of my yard, leftover from a pile of trimmings that were cleaned up more than a year ago.  It was easily missed and I only noticed it was still there months after the job was done.  I rarely visit the back of my huge yard, except to take out the trash and that’s usually when I’m also getting ready to go somewhere else and not taking time to observe anything near the path.

This little log isn’t in my way, and the two or three times I’ve seen it laying there, I’ve thought I should pick it up and toss it but I don’t.  It’s not a priority, it doesn’t appear to be in the way of my lawn care guy – the grass is always neatly trimmed even though this log never seems to get moved.

Today while standing at the kitchen sink doing dishes I observed a man in the alley trimming a neighbour’s trees and loading pieces into a truck, and I thought about my log.  It’s out there covered in snow (until I brushed some off for the photo) and sitting above the surrounding area just enough that it’s visible from the house.  And I wondered what I could do with it; the first idea that came to mind was a cool crafty Christmas decoration, like a few I made ages ago with scrolls of the sheet music for Silent Night printed on parchment colored paper rolled up and attached to the wood with big red ribbons …

And then it happened.

You see, it doesn’t actually have to be Christmas for my mind to be swept away by all the little Christmas things that used to be part of our lives.

Before I go on, this isn’t a Christmas post in January.  It’s isn’t meant to make people feel sorry for me and I already know about and appreciate the real meaning of Christmas; this is about human experience, not religion.

When you’ve grown up with and carried over into your own family the many fun and happy experiences of nearly half a century of Christmases shared and then something changes, something goes away forever, and nothing comes into that space to bring about a new joy, there is sadness and emptiness.

Families change over years. Usually they’re growing, first with children being born and raised, then with marriages and grandchildren.  Traditions are started and passed on.  Most of the time the changes are happy ones.

I used to love getting ready for Christmas, crafting up all sorts of new things to decorate the house and make everything fun and exciting for my kids and my husband. I was the happy little Christmas homemaker!  It gave me joy to prepare and sew and bake and turn the house into a jolly space.

Of course, once our kids were grown up, some of that naturally changed and mellowed, and there are no grandchildren yet so our celebrations had already become more about fun social interaction and lots of fancy food treats than about waiting for Santa.

But now that Pat is gone, we seem to be in a strange place.  The things that used to be exciting about Christmas – getting together with family and friends, sharing meals, playing games – also happen at other times of the year that aren’t so closely associated with the big annual event that brings on emotions, stress, and at times, at least for me, confusion.

My brain wants me to remember it and to feel about it the way I always felt, but my heart seems to need a quiet, relaxed time with no pressures or expectations, no hurry, no pomp and circumstance.  I want to enjoy it, but then get on with things and not drag it out.  It’s nothing anyone else can change or fix and it doesn’t matter how many people I see or don’t see over the holidays.  Christmas comes, I laugh, I cry, and then it goes.

Obviously I do want to see my family and friends, and I’m able now to get into the spirit of Christmas to a certain extent, especially since my daughter loves to bake and decorate herself so I try to put in a good effort.  I think my son likes the meals and snacks the most and whether or not we had a tree probably wouldn’t matter to him!  But in general, I often have as much or more fun and enjoyment with them on other days of the year to which there are no strings attached.

Of course, I still want to celebrate Christmas, but it won’t ever be the same and the part of me that’s waiting for that just needs to catch up.  Some of it is middle age and learning that many of what I saw as Christmas experiences can really be enjoyed any time at all.  Some of it is the fact that our family has grown smaller rather than larger.  And some of it is because he isn’t here anymore to share it with me, with us.

So while I might have snatched up that little log and turned it into something cute several years back, I think I’m just going to let it sit there for now.  And one day, if the right idea strikes me, it will become something beautiful. It has potential and it sparks memories, so it’s already more than just a log.

Which Santa comes to your house?


One day in the future, when people (Ok, maybe just my own kids…) look back on things I have written, they will see that I somehow – and unintentionally – ended up with an annual Christmas rant.  It’s not like I plan these things; it’s really just too easy with the material I’m given to work with.

This morning I stumbled upon a post on social media that involved a parent seeking a professional gift wrapper she could pay to wrap the Santa gifts and write out the tags for her kids because they knew what her own wrapping style looked like.  Yes, I read it twice.

Pause… Breathe … Regroup.

(If you really suck at gift wrapping, go ahead and pay others to do it if you must.  Or if you have a need for all your gifts to look like Martha Stewart wrapped them, you are entitled to that.  I’m addressing the idea of having to go this route because of a situation created that could have been avoided altogether.)

Now I’m not going to tell anyone how to do their Santa thing in their own family because that’s everyone’s own business.  (I do have some opinions about how some of what you might choose to do affects other children, but that’s in another post already…)

If you enjoy running around like a headless chicken for the month of December embellishing with ever increasing fervor the commercialized and over active Santa Claus of 2016 – in between trying to find new and exciting ways for your shelf elf to appear on each of twenty-four busy mornings and hoping the comparisons done by children will rate your efforts worthy – then you just go for it and have fun!

However, when people share their complaints about stress during the holiday season, and then talk about things like having to buy special paper just for Santa gifts – or in the above case, actually paying someone else to wrap and write on tags – I have to ask what the heck you are thinking getting yourselves into this mess.

I think that once you have to start farming out your Santa duties because you can’t fake out your own kids anymore, you’ve dug your hole too deep and maybe it’s just time to  fess up already.  Why didn’t you just start with unwrapped Santa gifts the first year?

But now you’re paper committed; it starts with having to buy special paper every year and hiding it strategically, hoping the kids don’t see it, because if they do, you’ll have to take it back to the store and exchange it for new stuff (true story from a retail clerk).  Then they start to recognize your wrapping style.  What a bummer! No chance at all that these uber observant probably borderline genius kids you’re trying to fool just might have heard something in the air about Santa not being real?

(I don’t believe my adult children – after 28 and 30 years – would be able to pick my own wrapping out of a pile unless they knew which paper I used, but perhaps they missed out on that gene.)

It’s too late for many.  But for what it’s worth – from my life experience and subsequent observations – here’s my unsolicited advice for new parents contemplating the variety of options:

KEEP IT SIMPLE FROM THE START.  Seriously.  Your kids will still have lots of fun and you won’t get migraines.  They don’t need a lot of extra balderdash to make Christmas special. They will come to appreciate what YOU make it, and what society says won’t matter if YOU don’t care.

Tell your kids about the REAL SANTA, not the fake one.  It’s so much easier to deal with over time and it teaches your kids to share and to give.  The real Santa lived hundreds of years ago – St. Nicholas – and he did deliver presents to kids, and everything we do now under the name of fake Santa actually started with him, but it’s gone far beyond a kind and loving gesture.  It’s turned into a commercial cash grab and parents are jumping down the rabbit hole every time something new comes along.  Why embellish?  Why build on lie after lie until you can no longer find enough ways to keep it going any longer?  Why not just tell the truth up front and have fun with it and let everyone enjoy sharing in the spirit of Santa?

Kids like suspense and anticipation. You decide what they’ll be waiting for at Christmas.

Will it be some guy in a red suit who delivers big expensive gifts to some kids and no gifts at all to others?  The guy who actually visits some homes in person but never visits others, or who phones certain children to chat while others never hear from him?  The guy who after many decades now needs to depend on stuffed elves to keep track of kids and entertain them for a month before he comes himself?  The guy who painstakingly wraps gifts for certain kids in special paper they’ve apparently never seen anywhere else while simply tossing the gifts of other kids under the tree as if he had no time left to decorate those?  This 21st century Santa is no longer the wonderful character of old fashioned movies.  He’s probably in therapy trying to keep up with the parents of today.

Will it be the guy you have to explain about every year because the rules keep changing, society is constantly upping the ante, and nobody wants to feel left out of the excitement that is supposed to be about making kids happy rather than competitive and greedy?

Or will you have your kids wait for the special surprises that will be left for them by loving family members who are carrying on the tradition started by a real person of playing Santa to make others feel happy and loved?  No lies to cover up, no extravagant commercial trends to keep up with, just the spirit of Santa Clause that lives on in truth.









I want the real Santa back!

It doesn’t matter to me when you put up your Christmas tree, or which Christmas greeting you use.  I’m not even going to rant about the real meaning of Christmas because, let’s face it, we all like the presents and the food even if we boast about Jesus being the reason for the season.  
But I do want to say something about Santa because this society has taken him from a never seen or heard mysterious and magical part of Christmas to a sports car driving techno dude in a sleigh tracked by satellite who does guest spots on the radio, and kids are glued to the internet on Christmas Eve instead of sitting on someone’s knee listening to a classic storybook and it bugs me.
Yes, we did the “Santa” thing when our kids were young.  Would I do it again? No.  I do believe in “Santa”, just not this one.
Magic comes from mystery, something really unique and exciting we can’t ever quite put our hands on or wrap our minds around.  Things that are everywhere, embellished and adapted to suit individual ideas and activities are not mysteries.  They become overload and quickly take the magic away.  Drink eggnog every day for a year and see if you care two hoots about it on Christmas Eve!
When I was little, Santa was the guy no one ever saw.  He showed up magically to deliver presents on Christmas Eve after we were asleep.  We didn’t have to write letters because he saw us when we were sleeping and knew when we were awake, so he just knew stuff – important stuff – like what we wanted for Christmas.  In our house we left him beer and pepperoni, because we knew he would be tired of eating all those cookies along the way. It was a simple mystery.  It was magic.  It was exciting and fun.
Then he started showing up at the store.  And after that, at several stores.  Soon explanation that the real Santa couldn’t be everywhere at once so some of the guys in red suits were elves helping out and you just never knew which one was the real McCoy was necessary.  OK, fine, I bought it for the short term.  But why did Santa have to be in the stores at all?  Wasn’t he busy up there at the North Pole getting ready for Christmas and that around the world in 24 hours trip? How did he have time to come down with his elves (who were supposedly making toys up there) to sit in stores?  The magic was fading.  
Next came the letter writing.  Apparently Santa was aging too and perhaps needed reminders about things, so writing the letters and then sitting on his knee to ask again were probably helpful for him.  Parents swiped the letters to “mail” them and quickly opened them up to make sure they got it right.  Kids never saw them again and never knew the difference.  Gifts appeared under the tree. 
Santa started showing up at company Christmas parties and handing out presents early, to the kids that were there.  Huh?  Now THAT was a mystery.  Why would he do that for some and not others?  I guess you had to book him early on because the party season was so busy.  Tough luck if you missed it.  The magic faded a little more.
And then I got to school and that was the end of it, because unless all parents are on the same brainwave, it’s over.  The funny thing is that if you are the one who knows the truth you are supposed to keep it to yourself so that the other parents can keep on lying, and if you tell the truth you are in trouble for spoiling their kids’ fun.  My fun got spoiled because some other kid found out before me. Goodbye magic.
Skip ahead to my own little ones, and while I wanted to share the fun with them, I began choking on the whole Santa can’t be everywhere so he sends his elves to help him out story.  I put them on his knee for pictures even the year that they screamed and cried in fear.  Even magic Santa couldn’t make them happy enough to sit for a picture at the age of one when mommy handed them off to a stranger in a bright red suit.  No mystery there!  
Santa started showing up everywhere we turned, in different costumes, sometimes fat, sometimes not, and now coming right into the schools to have kids sit on his knee.  They had yearly Santa pictures taken and anyone with eyes could see that no two Santas looked exactly the same.  Now they had a photographic record to prove it.  Some people were arranging for “Santa” to make phone calls to their kids, visit their family gatherings, and inviting us to participate.  Didn’t they think about what happened the next day when their kids told other kids who didn’t get to do these things with Santa?  I drew the line there, finally starting to see where all this was going, never imagining just how far it would be taken later on.
The Santa letters I helped our kids to write were then mailed to an actual address through the post office, and they received replies from Santa.  I guess somewhere along the way the elves must have reproduced like rabbits to allow Santa all this letter writing time right in December, which everyone knows is the busiest time of year for any business, and we at home are all scrambling just to get our own box of cards addressed and stamped.  But I went with it, they were happy and it gave us something to save for the scrapbooks.
Enter the school:  while I’m sure letter writing skills are important and worthy of being taught, there seemed a gap in logic when letters to Santa were being written in the classroom where kids could add anything they wanted — without their parents having a clue of the content — and the school mailed them, resulting in another reply from a Santa with apparently too much time on his hands.  Not to mention that whatever was asked for in the school letter was often something parents didn’t know about, so let’s play guess that gift and hope for the best.
Skip ahead to today’s children whose parents are pressured into buying eery little elf dolls because so-and-so has one and the lie must go on!  They’re supposedly “watching” kids all day and at night doing all kinds of things for which kids would get into trouble, while reporting back to Santa (who used to know on his own who’s been naughty or nice).  OMG!  What’s next? 
When are they going to come out with “Santa’s Secretary” so he doesn’t even have to write the damn list himself anymore? Then maybe he can just send the reindeer around with the sleigh to stuff the presents down the chimneys — certainly they all know the route themselves by now and probably have begun tuning out the whole “On Dasher, on Dancer, on Prancer, on Vixen” thing with a few “as if we don’t know what the hell we’re doing” eye rolls anyway — and he can stay warm at home with Mrs. Clause for a change. After all, maybe she’d like some attention on Christmas Eve …
Let’s be honest:  we lie to our kids.  We tell them a fairy pays for their teeth but doesn’t know the difference between a quarter and a $20 bill to cover the fact that the kid down the street has richer parents.  We tell them about a rabbit that delivers eggs and chocolate bunnies at Easter (no magic sleigh or even helpers here, the guy just hops around the world carrying loads of treats in his two little front paws and none of it melts?) There is a difference between withholding truth they don’t need at a particular time, and formulating lies that require more and more lies to keep each other going.  We tell ourselves these lies are for fun and they create magic.  No they don’t.  They steal magic away as the lies get bigger and bigger because kids get smarter and smarter.  Not only that, but there is an expectation that other parents will also lie and teach their kids to lie so as not to spoil the “magic” that our lie is working to create.  Now we have kids lying to keep parents happy.  There is something very wrong with this.
I don’t believe in this Santa Clause and I don’t want my future grandchildren to believe in him either.   If I had it to do over again, I would do the “Santa” thing but here’s how it would go:
I would tell my kids that Saint Nick – a real person in our real world – was the first Santa Clause, that he loved children and went around giving them special gifts.  Now that he’s gone, we carry on his tradition and keep the spirit of Santa alive by playing Santa for others.  Parents play Santa when kids are small and when they grow older they can join in on the fun of surprising, giving and sharing.  I’ve seen this become magic.  Children learn what they live and whatever parents present as magic and exciting fun will be perceived as such and the traditions will last because they are built on truth rather than on unfolding lies with disappointment at the end.  Santa is real – he is part of all of us.

Mr. Frances Church got it right in 1897 when he responded to an inquiring little girl that “Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Clause.”  If only we could stop the madness and go back to a time when Santa was a mystery and we didn’t even know what he looked like, until he got thirsty and started drinking Coca Cola…

Related links:
Truth, Lies and the Elf on the Shelf
Santa and Coca Cola