Christmas For A Caboose

by Becky on December 14, 2012 · 2 comments

in Parenting, Traditions, Travel

Goose lying on church pew_8428

Tough to be the young one, the Caboose. Far from home. At Christmastime.

So I decided I’d try to stir up a little homemade magic, to create some anticipation. I wanted to keep it simple, so this is what I did. (And it’s working.) Starting two days ago (the twelve-day countdown), for the First Day of Christmas, I presented Mr. Youngest with a short poem–a two-liner–meant to give a clue to the whereabouts of a certain glittery, Christmas-themed, ubercolorful sticker of sorts–like the 3-D kind that scrapbookers often deploy to such great effect.  After listening to the poem and hunting for a bit, he found the sticker efficiently stuck to the keyhole on the front door, at which time he then received a single mint-flavored caramelo (the Spanish refer to all hard candy as “caramelos”) as his prize. Overjoyed, he unwrapped the mint, popped it in his mouth, and, upon learning that this was going to be a daily countdown ritual–poem/clue, then sticker hunt, then small treat–he verily bubbled over with what looked like the most authentic happiness I’d seen all season.

Last night’s poem led him to one of the baskets on one of our bikes, where, inside, a fabulously colorful sticker in the form of a little cluster of wrapped gifts had been carefully attached. He found the sticker, lit up with excitement, then received his second gift: a rolled up sheet of Christmas-green construction paper, out of which he can cut a big Christmas tree (on which to attach the stickers, of course). Raptures! You would have thought someone had given him a ticket to ride the Polar Express.

He’s already asked me if I’ve thought up the poem that will lead him to tonight’s sticker, and I had to confess that I was still working on it.

I’m sharing this little story of putting some temporary sparkle back in my son’s December for three reasons. One. It has required scandalously little effort on my part. Traditionally, I make so much work out of the holidays. In fact, I often work myself into a stupor, getting so uptight about everything being right enough to please me (ah!–a revelation) that I sour my own mood and in some cases others’, too.

Two. Thinking up odd little poems just delights me. Each one features the sticker as “narrator,” offering a cryptic clue to its whereabouts. It. Is. So. Fun.  But that’s the point:  I made a game out of something that already felt like a game.  Doesn’t feel one bit like a holiday “chore.”

Three. The effort’s simplicity frees me to be imaginative! How often do the Orchestrators of the Holidays (often the Moms) confer on themselves the responsibility of being professional set designers, shoppers, pastry chefs, gift-wrap acrobats, party scorers (meaning playlist gatherers, which takes hours, no?), event planners, Christmas card creators, ad infinitum? My mother used to head to bed at about 7 pm on December 25th, after The Meal was officially done.  When I began staging my own family’s holiday experience, I finally realized why!

I’m tellin’ ya. There’s a certain kind of magic in dime-store easiness. Not saying I won’t have fun next year rediscovering all the decorations and other ephemera I’ve spent years laboriously collecting. But hopefully I’ll remember what I’ve learned this month in Spain:  cheap and simple takes absolutely no shine off the moment.  On the contrary, it seems to free the moment up, so the smiles meant to go with it can come out and play.


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Looking back over some family photos from Christmas 2011 got me thinking.


With the holidays approaching, I’m hung up on the always perplexing question of what to give my kids for Christmas, which is the holiday we celebrate.


Seems like every year, just after Halloween, I get excited and anxious in equal proportions.


I make lists, I plan, I start my Christmas errands, of which there are far too many.  But this year is different. Celebrating Christmas in the style to which we’ve accustomed ourselves makes absolutely no sense here in Spain.

If we manage to find a tree somewhere, it’ll be pint size, and, with all my ornaments and other tree-decorating accoutrements in storage back home, we’ll have nothing to drape on it but homecrafted stuff. But maybe that’ll be cool. Strings of popcorn and “caramelos” (hard candy) wouldn’t be difficult, right? And maybe a tinfoil star for the top?  I could delegate the tree ornamenting to Miss Zinnia, who would not only rise to the task but shine!

I realize I am smiling. Being unburdened by all my stuff could be a very nice thing indeed.

And all the home decorations? Well, we could spend an afternoon cutting out paper snowflakes, for starters. And maybe hang them around our loft, just so?  For this, I could enlist the help of a daughter who loves design.  I provide the supplies, she heads up the effort, gives us our jobs, keeps us on task, and stages the home, so to speak.  And a subsequent photo shoot for Habitania magazine–no big deal.

The baking, I can handle. I have a buttermilk cookie recipe given to me by my childhood BFF, Melissa. And we can surely find some Vince Guaraldi on Spotify and make a Charlie Brown Christmas playlist so we’ll have some classic background music to dose up on while we’re also dosing up on cookie batter. I bet I can even find some Christmas sprinkles for the tops of the cookies.

And we can go carolling. We sing all the time anyway, shamelessly, and we’ve made lots of friends here who would, at the very least, be amused by our attempts to spread a little musical cheer. We have coats. And scarves. And gloves. And ready voices.

Ahh, but the gifts!  What to give my children?


Whatever we present to them we’ll need to pack up and take home next summer, so there’s that to consider. And my “wrapping factory,” (perhaps you have one, too?), also in storage, won’t help me one bit come December, when I’m normally closeted with my supplies and madly trying to create masterpieces of paper and ribbon that rival the gifts inside the boxes. Nope, not going to assemble a wrapping factory here.

What to give, what to give?  One thing is sure, though: whatever we do, it will be simple, and it will be more about experiencing than opening, more about seeing than collecting.

I like the sound of a little road trip.  Just the five of us this year, in some town no one’s heard of, waking up on Christmas morning, wishing each other well, breakfasting on pastries and breads and cheeses, then heading out into the day to hike through castles we’ll never set foot in again.  Hmm. I’m game. (And I’m smiling pretty big now.)

What are you doing for the holidays?  Are you going to stick with tradition or shake it up?  Do tell.

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