I can't recreate all of my Christmas memories for my children but we do try with some of them. Of course, it is easy to drive around and look at lights and ooooo and aaaaaawwwwww over them. We don't know the people who put up the best light displays now so we can't tell salacious tales, at least salacious to a child, about them though. And given our family's appalling lack of talent in the singing department, we forgo the O Tanenbaum tradition. But I have imposed on my parents to recreate my very favorite tradition of all: chasing the elves away.
Here's how it played out when I was small. My sister and I sat at the top of the steps out of sight of the Christmas tree and listened while the high pitched voices of elves being chased away from the presents rang through the house. Finally a door would slam and there would be silence. Eventually we were told we could come downstairs to see all the presents and stockings for the first time. (We don't put any gifts under the tree until after all children are tucked in bed for the night.) One present or stocking gift would generally be slightly torn with the explanation that the elves Santa inadvertantly left behind tried to take it with them on their way out the door. Obviously we had no trouble reconciling the benign elves who made the toys with the grasping awfuls who had to be chased away and prevented from taking gifts back with them. It was all rather exciting.
Now as an adult, I know more about the magic behind it. Dad had a record (yes, for those among you who are but babies, this was one of those ancient, pressed vinyl artifacts that you see in museums but they were the best technology of the time) that had been made of a business meeting. He said it was dead boring but when you played that 45 at 78 rpms instead, it sounded like the speaker was one of the Chipmunks or, in our case, one of Santa's left-behind elves. So the record was played entirely too fast while dad made chase noises, occasionally banging something, and finally ending with the door opening and slamming shut. I vividly remember sitting on the top step and shivering with excitement, wondering if the elves would get away with a present this year or if dad would prevail again. Can you blame me for wanting my cynical, digital age children to experience the same thing? Oh, and the torn present? I suspect that was an accidental addition the first time, meant to explain away my father's appalling present wrapping skills. To this day, he wraps by winding up the bags things have come in and taping them shut. ;-)
Unfortunately in the lull between my childhood and my children's births, the record of the business meeting was purged from my parents' collection. Really it wasn't of any interest at all in its original form and I suspect that they didn't know what a hold it had on my imagination or they'd have kept it (seriously, when I am unhappy about something having been purged, I remind everyone of the loss every chance I get so it's in everyone's happiest interest to just hang onto the important stuff as declared by me). Obviously I nagged enough that one Christmas my dad re-connected the record player and dug out a record (one with music so not nearly as effective as the purely spoken word) to do the elf chase for my children. I don't know if it went over as well for them as it always did for me but I still try to insist on it every year if I can. We really ought to record it one year so we can just hit play but somehow going through the hassle of the record player is a part of it now too. Sometimes the craziest things strike the biggest chord, especially from childhood. And this one in particular will alwasy evoke Christmas for me.
Even knowing the story behind the magic, I still wouldn't be surprised to come downstairs one Christmas morning to find an elf napping amongst the stockings and to have to chase him away myself.
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