My mom is the female version of Clark W. Griswold of the National Lampoon’s movies. Perhaps this is why the Christmas Vacation movie is one of her favorites (and one of mine, too). I am absolutely certain she can relate to Clark’s impossibly high standards for holiday fun, his desire to create bonding opportunities for his kids and family, and his inability to remember where he places gifts, discovering them covered in cobwebs years later in the attic. And she can certainly relate to Clark’s ideas about how to track down the best Christmas trees, counting frostbite as a necessary casualty in the name of good old family fun.
My mom loves to create memories. As a result, she loves holidays, particularly those with religious significance and those that emphasize the importance of family. Thanksgiving is her favorite, but Christmas probably runs a close second. As a child, I remember that my mom never told us that Santa was real, but she didn’t tell us he wasn’t, either. She let us draw our own conclusions. At five years old, I asked her about the character’s validity. She responded, “What do you think?”
“Okay, now I know he’s not real,” I answered, and returned to whatever game I was playing.
My disbelief in Santa Claus never hindered my love for Christmas at all. My mom created fun traditions and tried new ways of getting us involved in celebrating Christmas throughout the years. We baked the most delicious sugar cookies on the planet most years. She allowed us to trim the tree with our handmade ornaments from Sunday School, never opting for the “pretty” trees until we’d moved out of the house. She taught us how to string popcorn and cranberries and helped us make green and red construction paper rings for counting down to Christmas Day. She took us to Midnight Mass every year at the Episcopal church (when we were old enough to stay awake for it without grumbling incessantly) and then let us stay up to enjoy hot chocolate afterwards. And most importantly, she read us the real Christmas story, including the infamous baby the holiday is named after, and made sure that we understood the Reason for the season.
She might have even let us sing “Joy to the world, the teacher’s dead…. we barbecued her head…” (a terrible rendition, but as elementary-aged kids, we found it hilarious) in the back of our van as we drove around town admiring Christmas lights.
My mom may have her over-the-top Clark Griswold moments, but I wouldn’t trade the memories I have of Christmas for anything. I’m so grateful she is who she is. And I look forward to sharing special moments with our little Maggie, hopefully passing on some of the traditions my mom created 33 years ago.