Every year, I plan to skip Christmas.
It’s not the singing or decorating I mind. I have annual traditions that I love, like listening to David Sedaris’s “Holiday on Ice” while turning old Christmas letters, ribbons and snowflakes into new cards. As a teenager, I used to hole up in my room listening to Madonna’s “Santa Baby.” I have fond memories of my sister Hadley weaving an evergreen garland up our banister.
But then, just as I’m getting into the spirit of things, I think about the waste, glut and Santa, the shoppers shoving one another during Black Friday sales.
When I had a son, I vowed it would be different. He wouldn’t wake up to a mound of presents, like I did. I wouldn’t let him become more obsessed with getting the latest toy or gadget than with giving back, or with the impact all this has on the environment. Jessey and I wouldn’t buy into all the buying.
But despite my resistance, my one-year-old woke up to a mound of presents last Christmas morning. Presents I bought him myself. I had indulged in a giddy sort of frenzy, wrapping up funny family photos and yard sale loots of blocks and a metal Tonka truck. I needed two carloads to get them around my parent’s tree.
I couldn’t help it. When I was a child, this was one of my happiest days of the year, for me and my family. I didn’t want to cut it out completely. Instead, I’ve come up with a compromise. I’ve started to create holiday family traditions that are steeped in magic but grounded more in the natural world.
Last year, I told Jessey that the wood animals make the toys. The antler creatures use their racks to whittle, hammer and groove out pieces. Crows fly to pick up jewelry, watches and pocket mirrors. Raccoons take over department stores at night to carry boxes of plastic dolls, trucks and balls back to the woods. Rabbits scamper through the snow with ribbons of bells. I read him, “Night Tree,” by Eve Bunting and Ted Rand, a beautiful picture book about a family’s Christmas Eve tradition of going into the woods and decorating a tree for the woods animals. Jessey, I say, if you are quiet in your bed on Christmas Eve you might hear scurrying—not only the hooves of reindeer but other forest creatures.
This is the sort of Christmas story I want as a seed of magic in my child’s imagination. He’ll come to hope for something from nature brought into our house — a nest, an unusual rock, a feather or large pine cone — with a few other, special presents thrown in. I’m hoping for magic that cuts its ties with patriarchy and consumerism and leaves my child with a sense of spiced warmth and fulfillment.
Each year is an evolution. This year, we are in Philadelphia and staying put. Just as I do every year, I thought about skipping it, ordering Chinese food and watching a non-Christmas movie.
And yet. I bought an advent calendar. We’ve decorated a little rosemary bush on our window ledge, topped with a gold bow. I’ve hung two gigantic wool socks to hang as animal stockings. Inside our wreath, I placed a stuffed owl. I am scheming where to get hay to scatter as evidence for Christmas morning. Christmas Eve, we’ll go out into the woods hoping for a moon, the sound of rodents in the oak leaves, and maybe just maybe an owl on a branch keeping watch.