Christmas awakening comes as a surprise as old traditions fade

Kansas City Star
BY STACEY HATTON
Columnist

DECEMBER 20, 2017

Christmas has always been my favorite holiday as long as I remember. I’m sure I’m not the only child to choose the day when gifts magically appear over playing find-the-hard-boiled-egg in the yard.

However, if you overlook the eggs, which smell of a hint of vinegar, chocolates are a close second. It doesn’t take much to get a young person on board when chocolate is the prize.

From my earliest memories, Christmas would start with a deliberate bang, like a race start pistol. Something would always wake you up and get things moving. As a young child, it never felt like Christmas until my family’s annual tree fight, I mean adventure.

Traveling to the tree farm outside of town and chopping down the perfect one is such a treasured memory. The problem was not one of us strong-minded tree enthusiasts could agree on what perfection was, perhaps because perfection is unattainable.

The adventure always started with a lot of fun and laughs, but my brother and I knew that would end any minute. The amusement would morph into polite, yet stilted, repartee as soon as it was narrowed down to two trees. Poor, poor frightened trees.

Despite the hopes for a pleasant end, it didn’t take long before the name-calling would start. Don’t worry, Mr. and Mrs. Bickerson never called each other names, but smack talk could be heard across the crisp, cold farm air.

The other spouse’s tree would be called “short, squatty” or “spindly and emaciated.” If the trees could have heard them, they would have had body-image issues.

“Really? That’s the one you want? It’s a poor replica of Charlie Brown’s tree during a drought… now this one is perfect!”

To everyone’s surprise, when I hit middle school, my parents gave up on the farm trip and bought a fake tree. I have no idea how my parents agreed to pick a permanent tree, but thankfully they didn’t include my brother and I for that one.

They agreed they didn’t love the extra stress of picking a tree every year, so they chalked it up to trees of Christmas past. Apparently, it’s arduous to argue arbor alternatives within a big-box store, so there wasn’t much debate.

During high school, sometimes I would invite a friend over to decorate the tree. I thought bringing in an audience would ensure everyone would be on their best behavior. Norman Rockwell would have wanted to join our new family tradition of praising the tree. There had to have been divine intervention.

After having my own kids, the timing of the Christmas start-up shot changed.

The Elf on the Shelf brought the Christmas cheer to my children. It wasn’t our tree that started off the season of joy. They could have cared less about the iconic tree. Christmas was now about a spindly, large-faced elf, playing pranks almost every night.

Change is not always for the better.

Toward the beginning of our marriage, my husband and I agreed with one swipe of a credit card that we’d omit the farm experience of chopping down our tree. Who needed to kill another tree? The obscene amounts of Christmas catalogs we received in the mail were already doing that.

This year, the kids are growing up, the magic level has changed and because of this, the Elf has been forced into early retirement. Poor, poor scrappy elf.

So, what was going to start off the season for us? Not the Elf, not the fake tree, not the hordes of Santas covering every open table space in our home, nor the Clark Griswald amount of lights my darling electrical engineer of a hubby displayed.

This year, my Christmas awakening was surprising.

Last Sunday morning, my family attended a friend’s church service. They featured a formal musical cantata in which the singers wore their fancy black gowns and suits. The music was lovely and so was my friend for inviting us.

The best Christmas gift was there that morning. Why shouldn’t I have expected to find the beginning of my season to be where the reason of the season starts? With all the frustrating things going on in the world, the stress melted away during that service as I sat with my family, listening to old friends spread the joy of Christmas through music.

I know hindsight plays a role in this, but I wish I had cherished those few weeks after Thanksgiving. The silly old Elf, covered in powdered sugar while making snow angels on the kitchen counter, may have been what I needed to kick off the season after all — the season of faith, family and friends.

What’s your beginning to Christmas look like?

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Secret Santas are bringing me down this holiday season

(previously printed in The Kansas City Star)

Thanksgiving to New Year’s has been getting more stressful as the years pass — the massive amount of preparation, the extended-family issues, kids in and out of school, the dreaded Christmas-card debacle, and the hours of shopping. Oh, the shopping!

Now, I consider myself a somewhat giving person. I prefer to give gifts more than receive. I love watching my children’s faces light up when I’ve picked out the perfect gift for them.

But it seems every year I have to turn over another page on my to-do list because the number of “mandatory” gifts have increased from the previous year. I realize that babies need to be born, new friends and spouses must join the list, and neighbors come and go — but does every Midwestern social group have to do Secret Santa gifts?

Until now, I’ve managed to keep my distaste for unnecessary gifting under wraps. I dodged the title of Scrooge or the Grinch Who Ruined Christmas for years, but a prophet (Cyndi Lauper) once said, “Don’t be afraid to let them show, your true colors. True colors are beautiful like a rainbow.”

(Dramatically pushing a soapbox to center stage, behind the microphone)

“Ladies and gentlemen, I simply loathe Secret Santa gifting! That is all.”

(End Scene)

There are enough fabulous gift-giving opportunities in our lives without adding on the umpteen-million bogus gifts. However, that doesn’t derail the happy gift-forcer.

First, you have the book club then your Bible study. Next, you have your husband’s office then your office. And don’t get me started on all the kids’ athletics team secret buddies.

Here’s your secret gift … surprise, you’re not getting one!

Bah, humbug.

Plus, who was the annoying, overachieving person to come up with this obligatory event? It wouldn’t be the CEO of a company, because they’re too busy for that nonsense. Perhaps a single, 20-something, who’s full of spirit, spunk and initiative? Not going to get my stamp of approval.

It was probably a bored or burned out administrative assistant.

Hmm … what would be a fun idea for Mr. Winter’s holiday party? I know! We should draw names, buy them a $5 piece of junk, and wrap it up like it’s worth something.

Furthermore, have you ever received a Secret Santa gift you can’t live without? Everyone knows junky gifts either go straight to the trash, into the dark abyss of a junk drawer, or it takes residence in the re-gifting hidey spot that no one ever admits they have.

You know you have one.

Actually, it might not be too bad to change Secret Santa rules a bit. How about bringing a $5 or less gift, but using only re-gifted items? This way you won’t be responsible for adding more junk to our houses, but just shifting the address of the gift for a year. It could work.

Until then, I’m off to “shop” for a few dozen Secret Santa gifts from my hall closet. Happy holidays to you and your loved ones! 

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Keeping the Normalcy and Holiday Spirit Alive

Baby with Christmas presentsEvery morning I have awakened with a lump in my throat and a surge of anxiety since the devastating massacre in Connecticut. I try to clear my mind with deep cleansing breaths, positive imagery and prayer for those all affected. But the problem is, I don’t know anyone who wasn’t affected by this tragedy. Even the newborn knows his mother is tense and crying more than usual.

So my quest, my personal goal is to continue praying for those in need, helping in whatever way I can and then making sure my children return to normalcy. Now if you have ever met my family, normalcy is so wacky and zany – usually involving interpretive dance and jazz hands every other day – so we have our work cut out for us to get to that point again. But I wish for this holiday to be one of deep love, family time and yes, a puppet show or two.

One thing I have noticed is that Alf, our Elf on the Shelf, who I might have previously mentioned I am not fond of (or is the bane of my existence, since he sometimes decides not to move at night and it upsets my children and makes them feel unworthy of his love. ARGHHHH!) is upset by the Connecticut incident as well. Alf is barely moving to another place each night and my children are noticing his lazy behavior.

Well, Mr. Alf this is your wake-up call: you need to pull it together and get more creative for my kids! They deserve it.

• I promise not to call you names and roll my eyes at you if you “up-your-game” and make this last week fun for my girls.
• I will start taking pics of you again and showing you off to my friends.
• It’s unfortunate it took this type of devastation and horrific incident for me to get my priorities straight,
but Alf, you are part of my family, and I promise to treat you better.
• I will not let other mom-bloggers bring me down and join them in badmouthing our elves at Christmas parties or Facebook.

I know our time together is limited, Alf. I don’t know how long you will be in our life, so I am going to change my Christmas Carol and sing your praises.

I’m starting a new movement:

“EMBRACE YOUR INNER ELF: YOU NEVER KNOW HOW LONG YOU’LL HAVE THE MAGIC”
Alf on Bike

Hug your kids for me too, kay?! Happy holidays, friends.

©2012, Stacey Hatton. All rights reserved.

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It’s Time for Elf Tumbling NOT Dwarf Tossing, Folks!

Alf’s disappointing dismount, caused much elation from the children this morning…

9.5 from the east wing judge

Only 13 more days of his antics. Boy, he sure must be tired of landing in new places every night after narking on the kids to Santa!

Are your elf’s days numbered in your house or do you just love the creepy guy?

©2012 Stacey Hatton. All rights reserved.

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