AND THEN AGAIN ……………. By Tamara Pettit

……Don’t tell anyone, but I watched a Hallmark Christmas movie Saturday night. Ever the cynic, I have always held those made-for tv movies as the antithesis to the reality of the holidays…..heck to life as I know it. Create a fantasy of how life is in your dreams, add a little mystery or a life challenge and you’ve got the formula for Hallmark mystery. The little town is perfect, no delipidated houses there. The business that the heroine has come home to run is never close to going out of business and no one ever questions if the foot traffic or traffic count in the small town can support a bookstore/bakery. But, nothing is farther from reality than the snow. It’s always white and fluffy and never dirty and slippery. The heroine almost always wears a red coat and a matching toboggan and somehow never has hat hair when she takes the toboggan off. And, she never plays the glove game. You know that’s the game I play all winter when I can find only one glove of a matching pair and I look through all my coats, purses and under the seat of the car. I then either wear a mismatched set or keep the ungloved hand in my pocket.
……But, there I was Saturday night watching a Hallmark movie. Don’t get me wrong I was darned irritated at myself for getting sucked into this fantasy land. I wanted to shout at the heroine when she hooks up with a mysterious stranger who has come to town, “Danger, stranger!!” But, no, in her life it all works out. Cookies appear mysteriously in these movies and holiday parties seem to be a tradition. Where is a good Grinch when you need him? But, I couldn’t stop watching. Those people not only had snow and good cheer, they had traditions. In their world, Christmas wouldn’t come without that one family tradition.
……What makes a good tradition? I’ve always been jealous of those families who have them during the holidays. Heck, I’ve always been jealous of people who have large families that gather during the holidays. As a child I closely observed what other families did. They had food they cooked every year and wine they had made. Some of them still had grandmas and grandpas who they spoke to in Polish or Italian. We were bland and our family was pretty much my Mom and Dad and my sister, Marsha.
…….Did we have a family tradition? We had the same process for putting up the Christmas tree each year. On the eve of Dec. 23, my Dad would bring a very bad live Christmas tree into the living room. We had a gift of choosing the most crooked tree in the lot because as much as he tried to make it even it never worked. Finally, fearful that if he kept cutting the trunk off the tree would be two feet tall, he gave up and asked my Mom for clothes line. It would be tied to the drapery rod to level out the tree. We only put the lights on the tree the night of the 23rd. We saved the ornaments, tinsel and icicles for Christmas Eve afternoon when our small family would put Christmas music on the stereo and put the beloved ornaments on the tree. . We hustled off to bed with the twinkling lights assuring us the best was yet to come.
……And, it was. Just like in an episode of “Mad Men” my Dad had to attend a few office Christmas parties after he closed the office and before he showed up to assist with the tree. We were told sternly by Mom that we would wait for him so we could all put up our special ornaments together. My sister and I would cast knowing looks at each other knowing that when the clock struck 3 p.m. and he hadn’t appeared, she would give the order to start decorating. We would launch into a decorating frenzy arguing about where the bare spots were and was it tinsel first or bulbs first. There was one thing we both agreed on, however, icicles were last. They were the crowning glory of a mid-century tree.
…….That was when Dad would show up. After making more than a few stops and imbibing at each, he would announce he was just in time to help with icicles. Our family was a one icicle at a time kinda family and it was clear he did not pass the litmus test to perform the task. But, no problem. He would sit in the chair across from the tree and toss the icicles, but he never did have a good arm because they would land on the floor. That’s when my Mom would swoop in with the trusty Hoover vacuum cleaner and with the wand suck up the icicles as they hit the floor. Sometimes she would be so quick she would suck them right out of the air before they could hit the carpet. Oh, it was a fun time and I think it might have been our family tradition. Never since has decorating a tree been so much fun.
…..So is it any wonder I was determined to create family traditions when I became a mother. I baked and baked and baked until I had an arsenal of cookies. I came up with the idea that each child would bake a cookie for Santa. I used a gingerbread man cutout for the cookie and both Shannon and Doug would painstakingly decorate their cookie to look like them. It was done a few days before the big night. (No stale cookies for Santa.) About 7 p.m. when we were hoping to get the tykes down for the count, a glass of milk would be poured and placed alongside two plates….each with the special cookie on the children’s table and chairs in the kitchen. Darned, if Santa, showing no favoritism, would eat both cookies and down the milk before he twinkled his nose and went up the chimney (actually he went out the front door because we had no fireplace then…..we improvised.) After their Dad and I had scarfed down their cookies and the milk, we congratulated ourself on establishing a tradition.
……The kids loved it. I loved it. Finally, I had created a tradition they were bound to carry on with their own tykes. This went well until the year when we had another visitor who arrived like clockwork every Christmas Eve just like Santa. It was Bob Manypenny who made his rounds at several New Cumberland residences prior to Santa hitting New Cumberland. I always had plenty of cookies and hors d’ouevres ready for Christmas Eve guests, but Bob spied Doug’s spectacular cookie and before I could utter a word Bob took a bite. Oh nooooooooooooooooo. He had bitten the head off Santa’s cookie. In retrospect, I’m sure it all occurred in two seconds. At the time, however, it seemed like it happened in slow motion and I am sure Doug started to wail before the cookie had hit Bob’s mouth. Doug’s protracted wail startled Bob who then paused in his cookie consumption to look around. I was yelling at him in a manner unfit for a holiday hostess and I think the kid’s father was stifling a laugh. Shannon, then only three wasn’t sure what was occurring, but she grabbed her special cookie just in case Bob was on a cookie eating spree. The headless cookie was soon joined by a few pecan cups and to make up for the deficit and I considered adding a few dollar bills to the plate and a shot of vodka in the milk to ensure Santa wasn’t cranky. Now grown, the kids probably can’t remember what they got that year, but they will always remember the year Bob beheaded the Santa cookie..
…….Maybe, I’ve called it all wrong all these years. Families change, circumstances change and cultures get meshed. That’s life and if you’re lucky it doesn’t stay the same. It grows and evolves. Maybe the Christmas tradition is just about love and faith and what’s important is that you exhibit it any way you choose on any given Christmas.