Holiday traditions. Every family has them. Many are universally celebrated, and some are as unique as the people who celebrate them. I grew up in a family that cherished our traditions and the holidays took on a certain rhythm of shopping, cooking, travelling, and then ultimately celebrating together.
Fast forward to parenthood.
The pressure is on.
My husband and I now have the opportunity (and challenge at times) of making sweet memories and unique traditions with our two children. We try not to limit our traditions and memory-making to this time of the year, but Christmas traditions are often the most magical and fun traditions to establish and we do our best to make this time of year both meaningful and fun.
Our family celebrates Christmas as a religious holiday. Yes, we have Santa and gifts and all of that fun stuff, but at the heart of all we do, there is Christ, the greatest gift. We celebrate the birth of Jesus. With Him there is grace and forgiveness, hope and peace, love and joy. These are the core values that we try to celebrate each Christmas in our home.
We don’t guilt our children into good behavior so that they will receive everything on their Christmas list. Where is the grace in that?
We try not to make our children act any differently than they do at any other time of the year. We do our best to stay consistent with our expectations whether or not it is December and whether or not they will receive something in return.
We also have an Elf on the Shelf® who takes up residence with us from Thanksgiving through Christmas Eve.
How in the world does the Elf on the Shelf® fit into our Christmas traditions if we don’t buy into the “he sees you when your sleeping… ” mentality of Santa?
My kids absolutely love Cole. They talk about him all year.
He’s been with us since 2009 – before my youngest was even born. My daughter was 3 and Cole was a fun addition to our Christmas that year. She is now 8 and wakes up each morning in December with the same excitement and joy to go find Cole and see what he has been up to.
We’ve adapted this new-ish tradition to our family. Translation: We don’t follow all the rules that came with our elf. He’s not a scout for Santa.
This is the first year that I dreaded Cole’s return.
I had no desire to see his shifty eyes or endure the silliness that he brings in his wake.
I didn’t want to wake up in a panic each night because Cole forgot to move or do something amazing.
I didn’t want to irritate other parents with photos of all the fun we were having over at our house.
Before Thanksgiving, I started seeing articles and blog posts that echoed my sentiment. Parents just like me are sick of the monster that they created when these little red-suited tattle tales crept into our homes and family traditions.
Parents just like me were looking for a way out.
And then Cole arrived as expected for his annual visit.
He arrived with very little fanfare.
He sat on a shelf.
The kids were elated!
He moved the next day to another shelf.
The kids giggled with glee.
He peeked over a few family photos on day 3.
They were thrilled!
Our kids were so excited to see Cole. So happy that his arrival heralded the arrival of the Christmas season. The magic. The joy. The fun.
Then I got it. Cole personifies to our children many of the core values and traditions that are important to our family. Cole brought joy with him. Fun. Magic.
Cole and I are now in fun mode together.
Our elf Cole isn’t a tattle tale. He’s a goofball.
He’s a little messy at times and he has a huge crush on one of my daughter’s Barbie dolls.
He likes to use things around the house to make the kids laugh.
What is the harm in that?
Yesterday he was drinking Maple syrup through a straw in the fridge.
Who knows what he will do next.
Maybe he will take a ride with Barbie.
Perhaps he will dress up like Spider-Man and hang out in the kitchen.
Or maybe he will give the kids ideas of thoughtful things to do for others during the holiday season.
He might bring the ingredients for cookies so we can bake something for the men and women at the Fire Department.
He could suggest to the kids that we visit the animals at the local animal shelter and take them some extra supplies.
It’s possible that he will bring the names of a couple of children that we can buy Christmas gifts for that might not otherwise have a nice Christmas.
Cole is resourceful, and creative, and has developed his own personality in our home and it blends in nicely with our faith traditions as well.
It is still highly likely that he will “decorate” the Christmas tree with toilet paper again and might even mess around with some of my son’s toys. The kids would be disappointed if he didn’t.
Whatever he does, he will bring a spirit of fun and silliness and excitement to our home this Christmas. He already has.
Chances are, there will be a few mornings that the kids will wake up and he hasn’t done anything at all.
And they will still be just as excited.
Cole is welcome in our home as long as there is laughter and fun, grace and joy, and peace and love woven into our family traditions. I think he will be here for a while, and that is just fine with me.