“Grrrr. I’m a dragon,” Kyra scrapped her fingernails along my kitchen cabinets as she flapped her Night Fury pajama wings.
We heard Thomas and Ethan stumble down the hall to our master bedroom and dive under the covers.
“I’m going to get you!” Kyra threatened.
Kyra giggled hysterically and ran as fast as she could toward her victims.
I sat down at our dining table cuing my family’s idea of holiday fun with MaMa’s.
In three days, we would be flying to California to stay at my dad’s house through the New Year. Thomas, the kids, and my half-brother would help me set up a Christmas tree that MaMa bought before I was born and decorate it with ornaments that dazzled me as a child. Parties would fill dad’s house with MaMa’s best crystal and his secret family Chinese recipes. The night before Christmas, we might attend midnight mass. Before tucking the kids to bed, we would set out milk and cookies for Santa Claus. On Christmas morning, there would be presents spilling a few feet in diameter from the tree, with at least ten presents for each person to open so that it would be well past lunch before we finished tearing off all the wrapping. At the stroke of midnight on New Year’s, we would light candles in remembrance of all those who passed.
After MaMa died, I inherited these responsibilities. I had always thought these traditions had to be sustained, no matter what, otherwise the backbone of the family connecting ancestors to descendants would shatter. Besides, I did want my kids and my half-brother to grow up, like me, believing in Santa Claus and miracles at Christmas. And maybe, I hoped some things from my childhood could remain constant between my dad and me.
But now that I am a mother, I simply don’t know how MaMa had the energy to keep these traditions going even after I entered college. Up through high school, I wrote a letter to Santa and received a reply once a year. When we vacationed, MaMa still managed to ensure that Santa Claus could find us.
My track record wasn’t too good. Last week, Kyra dug around in my Explorer cargo space and found some Christmas presents that I hadn’t had a chance to wrap and hide. This year, I can only afford three presents for each kid glistening beneath the tree. Sometimes, Thomas has to entertain the kids on Christmas morning while I finish wrapping. And my body almost always collapses the week after the holidays.
Last Christmas, my dad decided to take his family to Disneyworld and while I was appalled that he broke tradition, I had my first taste of a quiet Alaskan Christmas. We still decorated a tree, but this one was alive and filled our lungs with the energizing effects of pine. Kyra and Ethan set out their favorite snacks for Santa and stealthily snacked on it until only crumbs were left on the plate after they went to bed. On Christmas morning, they fought over the replenished snacks that Santa nibbled and ignored his presents. Most days, the four of us slept in and lounged in front of our wood burning stove playing games.
At the dining table, I looked out the window at a tranquil world coated in soft white powder. I couldn’t help feeling some regret that we weren’t staying home for the holidays.
In heavy pursuit, Ethan clamored into my lap, yelling, “Help! Dragon!”
He buried his face in my chest and growled. Kyra arrived on Thomas’ shoulders pretending to breathe fire, then sprang onto my head and tackled me to the floor. We all laughed until our stomachs hurt.
When I could breathe again, I realized that it was important for the four of us to create own traditions too.
Ice ornaments, for example, was one that I really wanted to try ever since Jessica Cochran posted “Five Winter Crafts to Do with your Kids.”
Earlier that day, the kids had gathered a pile of rocks, twigs, and toys on the dining table. I pointed to them and asked, “Are you ready to make ornaments?”
“Yeah!” they both jumped up and down.
We tried both the cookie cutter method and the bowls of water. Kyra poured out a can of magnetic letters and dropped the letters of her name and Ethan’s into bowls of water. Ethan studied the impact of yanking his Lightning McQueen keychain in and out of a bowl. While I cooked, Thomas carefully carried each ornament outside to freeze on our patio.
The kids made a huge mess. Their clothes were soaked. Water had seeped beneath the glass top and ruined the cherry wood dining table. Food coloring stained all of our hands and magnetic letters turned our living area into a mine field. It looked like a tornado struck our home, but this was how we rolled.
What traditions are hard for you to let go during the holidays?