The magic of Christmas is a special thing when you’re a kid. Twinkly lights, the Snoopy’s Christmas song on high rotate, seeing extended family, decorating trees, waking up to presents and a note from Santa, a special lunch and a free pass to gorge on candy canes. When you’re a kid, it all just…happens. When you’re a parent, however, it all just…happens because you do it all.
I’m no grinch, and Christmas is pretty much the highlight of my year (note: Due to printing deadlines, I’m writing this column quite far ahead of Christmas. I will laugh at myself long and hard when I see that sentence in print), but from somewhere around mid-September my right eye starts to twitch as I think about logistics. Where will we be? Who will be coming? Does everyone fit? Are there any more vegetarians than there were last year? Oh, and a vegan now, too? Where are the Santa Sacks? Are we allocating enough time to all sides of the family? Can someone please turn off Snoopy’s Christmas before I crack a molar from clenching my jaw? What did we give everyone last year so I don’t get the same things? Who should write the note from Santa so the kids don’t recognise our writing? What days are the supermarkets closed? Hatchimals are HOW MUCH? etc.
Forming Christmas traditions was something I was really hot on when we had babies. I had it in my head that I would have won at life if my kids grew up and swapped “remember how we’d always…” stories as they sat by a crackling fire wearing novelty Christmas jumpers, while I smiled indulgently at them and iced gingerbread men with my tribe of grand children. Not sure why my future smug-grandmother fantasies are set in Northern Hemisphere winter Christmas locations, I guess that’s what a lifetime of American sit-com Christmas Specials do to a girl. Anyway, I settled on photos with Santa as one of the things that we’d ‘always do’. Santa photo #1 with a five-month old baby got off to rocky start when the cute outfit was completely destroyed (no details necessary) just prior to the photo being taken and had to be replaced by an odd combination of clothes lurking at the bottom of the nappy bag. Subsequent years’ photos showcase my first child, later joined by her sibling, in various states of rage and terror at being made to sit with a big man in a red suit. I have an unscheduled cameo in all these photos, clutching the child doing the most wailing while wearing a manic “we are all have a very good time, look at us creating a family tradition” expression. Not quite what I was going for.
Elf on the Shelf ads became a common feature in my Facebook newsfeed last year, and initially I shunned the concept as just another thing to have to remember to do, and a bit creepy. For those who have never heard of this little guy, he’s an elf toy that sits on your shelf and watches for good and bad behaviour to report back to Santa. Every night the elf gets up to mischief and kids wake up the next morning to see where parents have moved the elf where the elf has moved himself. The basic concept is that kids are 100% aware they’re being watched by a little man who who holds the power to stop them getting presents. It’s exactly as twisted as it sounds. But then one arrived in the mail from a friend overseas who was keen for her friends around the world to use the elf and upload photos with her Instagram hashtag each day. I’m a sucker for a social media initiative, and I was looking for new and exciting ways to scare my kids into good behaviour, so I got on board with that elf.
That creepy little guy coaxed good behaviour out of us all. The girls loved seeing where he’d moved to each morning, and if one of them was entering gale-force tantrum mode we’d just cast a knowing look at the elf (it worked about 60% of the time, which I’m chalking up as a win). Even though I’m an actual grown up so don’t usually make myself answerable to something that’s come off a factory production line, I’d find myself parenting like someone was observing. Taking photos of our elf and then showing the girls what other elves just like him were getting up to around the world via Instagram became a real highlight. Sure, most nights in December I’d finally collapse into bed, only to haul myself back out while grumbling, “argghhh, I forgot to move the @%#&*^ elf!”, but I grew quite attached to that little guy.
He wasn’t the tradition I was looking for, but he was exactly the tradition we needed.
Now there’s something to add to my eye-twitching Christmas logistics list: where did we hide the elf on Boxing Day when we told the kids he’d gone back to the North Pole?
Watch my interview about this on Breakfast TV here