“We often reenacted the Christmas story, bringing baby Jesus gifts of “gold, Frankenstein and fur.” As we grew older, my father got into the act, appearing as a 'wise guy'—Groucho Marx or a dancing drag queen.”
The holidays are occasions to hand down age-old family traditions—except when it comes to my family. My grandparents emigrated from Italy, where celebrating Christmas involved throwing an extra chicken in the pot and a log on the fire. Hence, my parents were not indulged with the typical trappings of the season.
When we were children, our father would oblige us by providing a white work sock to “hang by the chimney,” which was attached to our gas stove. His idiosyncratic version of 'Twas the Night before Christmas involved Santa squeezing through the oven door to deliver his presents. My sister and I spent hours editing our letters down to request only one gift each. Every year we were the last children on Santa’s ride, only to discover a potato, an onion, and some pocket change in our socks. Then one Christmas morning I rose early to discover my mother shoving a turkey into the oven whilst my limp, empty stocking hung nearby. The jig was up.
The following year we guilt-tripped “Santa” into putting real presents in our stockings, and he delivered an unwanted harmonica and plastic flute. We played them continually to ensure that in the future Santa’s little helper would pay attention to our ransom notes and thus enjoy a little “peace on earth.”
We often reenacted the Christmas story, bringing baby Jesus gifts of “gold, Frankenstein and fur.” As we grew older, my father got into the act, appearing as a “wise guy”—Groucho Marx or a dancing drag queen. He did not take gift giving seriously.
When I had my own family, I accepted the role of Mrs. Claus with vigor. As with Chinese New Year, I had an annual theme. There was the year of the fruitcake, where I concocted a sleighful of edible goodies—molding chocolates, caramelizing popcorn, and baking cookies in all shapes and sizes. My pièce de résistance was constructing a gingerbread house. Unfortunately, it collapsed under a heavy accumulation of white frosting. I should have used my fruitcake as a foundation.
This was followed by the year of the yarn. If only I had taken up storytelling instead. My attempt at knitting produced ridiculously long scarves and matching pompom hats with rows resembling a spiderweb. The tube socks that could only be worn without shoes were “hung by the chimney” the following year.
Recently we attempted the year of the gift that keeps on giving. In lieu of buying presents for each other, we purchased farm animals for families in impoverished countries. This satisfied my desire to not engage in a commercialized Christmas, but in the end I couldn’t resist buying a few things to put under the tree.
My theme this year is based on the old Shaker hymn, “Tis the gift to be simple…” It doesn’t take a village of elves or a plaza of chain stores to provide a meaningful expression of love and caring. Forgiveness, patience, humility, gentleness, and kindness can be freely given—not only at Christmas, but all year long. Who knows, maybe this is the year it will go viral.
Susan M. Lanterman is completing a young adult novel, Hasta Luego, Santa Claus, which follows the antics of a teenager and his family of illegal immigrants. She is also writing a collection of short stories based on her renovated Victorian B&B (www.Leathers-Snyder.com).