Bare, rambunctious feet shake the house, ripping through the hall after a knock at the door. Mary helps from our side this year to build the suspense. “Who could be knocking at this time of night?”
He wastes no time considering who it could be before working the lock, both elbows out, all of his weight in the effort. He forces it to turn with a heavy thud, then lunges himself in the 6:00 black. He stands there, alone against the empty cold of November after dark, clearly more excited than confused when nothing happens for a second. Then his head drops, and laughter jumps up out of him at such a force it throws him back a step or two, flapping off into an echo.
“ELF-IIIE!” he laughs, maniacally in all the thrill, breath appearing against the dark in rapid, reappearing puffs.
There was no mistaking the culprit. Peering off to the side with a painted grin – familiar, even cloaked in shadow. It’s lap was crowded with a narrow, green box under the loops of a dark bow. And he was sitting on a book. The Elf on the Shelf.
“YOU GUYS!” Matthew whipped around, leaning on the knob, dipping into the living room yellow. “Elfie came! It’s Christmas now! He came and knocked on our door and he brought us a present!!”
In the box was a heavy, pewter key with a quick note from Santa. The note explains that we’re to leave this special key by the door on Christmas Eve so that Santa can make it in quietly, even if we don’t have a chimney. Incidentally, Matthew had just asked the day before how in the world Santa could make it into our house through the chimney when our fireplace is artificial. Ever since he’s been telling his friends that Santa can DEFINITELY hear him, even when it doesn’t feel like he’s around. “He heard my question and he answered it and left a key and EVERYTHING!”
Santa is at his height of meaning this year, over little red elves and stories that only come out to be flipped through when a Christmas tree dominates the living room. Every other piece of furniture has been shimmied to it’s new, winter position to accommodate our welcomed, cumbersome guest. The Night Before Christmas, The Elf on the Shelf, Thomas’s Holiday Adventure are all stacked in easy reach on a side table next to the couch where Pippi Longstocking and Harry Potter used to be. Whole days will be devoted to pulling out decorations, sweeping needles and icing cookies, painting pine cones over newspaper and dancing to bad, jazzy music like we just can’t get enough. The black of night is alive with colors that two-step on rooftops and play in snow. Our living room is alive with ribbons of light and thick with the cinnamon scents of nature. Everything feels old and new; familiar, but way out of the ordinary. It feels like tradition, really being tradition.
My first Christmas in this house felt, among better sensations, so forced and strange. I loved the new familiarities that came with living here; his shirts being in my laundry, Mary’s peanut butter messes on the counter. I loved what that first Christmas stood for, and I had fun. But it took a few years for us to find our traditions. It took a few years for Christmas to be something we could call ours. That first Christmas was really new and neat and significant. But it felt like a day that was trying to be Christmas, as apposed to one that just was. We had to make it, instead of letting it come to us like a gift or a promise.
Our history may be ankle-deep in the grand scheme of things, our family is still new and young, still something we’re in the process of making. But the holidays now, are distinctly ours. Hunting for chocolate on the days of an advent calendar, finding an elf every morning who hides in the night, shopping in secret… those things feel like home, as cloying and immovable to me as a home should be at the holidays. Christmas would come to us now even if we never decorated or danced around or watered a tree at all.
So much sparkling, new thrill of just being together is lulled to sleep by half a decade of adding children to the world and making it all work. I don’t get a warm, delightful feeling anymore when Mary leaves a mess for me to wipe from the counter or Spencer’s laundry is spun together with mine on folding day. But on Christmas, when everything feels so much like home that being anywhere else in the world at that time would feel utterly flat and void of meaning, it all comes rushing back in the form of something new. We pull out the first of those familiar decorations and a swarm of jingling history, young and powerful and growing well, come too. That sparkling, new thrill is a part of our history, sewn into the tapestry of who we are. It, all alone, is what makes the holidays sparkle.
Whether our traditions are five years old or two years old or new to us this week, this Christmas is ours.