Like so many of us, I had a traumatic home environment when I was a child. My birth parents were divorced when I was very young, and the man my mother chose as her second husband was abusive in every way the DSM-V has a label for. Eleven months out of the year was an eggshell walk on razor blades that I do not ever care to repeat, but one month of the year was different. December was the warm, soft center of the universe to me.
Somehow, someway, the “stepfather-of-the-year“ faded into the background during December, and my siblings, my mother, and I came together as a united, loving whole. You see, there was this advent calendar that my mother made from a pattern in a Sunset magazine back when I was a baby. He always appeared December 1, hanging on the back of a door somewhere in the house. He was constructed out of felt, and he had 24 pockets in different bright colors on the front of his jacket. In each one of his pockets was a slip of paper, and on each one of those small pieces of paper, in my mother’s Palmer-method-perfect handwriting, was a task for the four of us to do together that day.
The tasks ran the gamut from making paper chains and other ornaments for the Christmas tree to baking Christmas cookies, setting up the manger scene by the fireplace, making birdfeeders to hang outside, cutting out snowflakes and taping them to the sliding glass door, recording cassette tapes to our grandparents where we read to them and sang Christmas carols to them, driving around the neighborhood looking at lights, and having my mother read How the Grinch Stole Christmas to us while enjoying hot cocoa. We also learned about our heritage. We celebrated Saint Nicholas Day and St. Lucia Day. We learned to roll lefse and make krumkakes– always accompanied by much swearing and burning of fingers from the krumkake iron.
It was 24 days of joy.
I hated Christmas Day. I know it’s Jesus’ birthday and “the reason for the season” (blah, blah blah), but I also knew that the next day everything would go back to what passed for normal at my house and the “stepfather-of-the-year” was definitely not very Christ-like.
As I grew older, I struggled with how to keep the spirit of Christmas alive year round. There were many Decembers that I was a complete Grinch. A lot of folks have issues with the holidays so I was in good company, but I still longed for the magic of those childhood Decembers.
Then, seven years ago, a theatre friend approached me and asked me to build him a Santa suit. He and it received such a good response that he introduced me to the regional Santa group, The Lone Star Santas. I started making suits for some of their members and got invited to be part of the largest group of Christmas performers on Facebook. I posted my work and continued to get more orders from all over the U.S. I think I have Santas in almost all 50 states now. With those orders came friendships, and with the friendships came the sharing of stories–the joy and the magic that the children of all ages felt when they saw “my” Santa and/or Mrs. Claus friend in something that I made.
I realized that I’d inadvertently stumbled onto how to keep the spirit of Christmas alive all year. You see, the majority of folks only get to see Santa and Mrs. Claus once a year. I get to see them all year round, and I have met some truly wonderful people with huge hearts and humble souls on this amazing journey. They remind me daily of the magic that surrounds us if only we remember to look and help perpetuate it. They remind me of what it is to be a child full of joy and wonder in the month of December again. And, for that, I am truly thankful.
Wishing you a December full of joy, dear reader, and a Happy New Year!