I stare at the elf on the shelf, and he stares back at me. His beady eyes peering straight into my soul with a smug expression that lets me know, yes, I will succumb to this masochist holiday tradition of one-sided hide and seek with holiday flare. I sigh with desperation only another parent would understand. What the heck am I going to do to make the holidays magic this year, I wonder? Unfortunately, Christopher PopNKins (aka our elf) remains with his unhelpful and jolly expression, providing no answers.
I think back to my childhood when I was just slightly younger than my son is now. My eyes were wide with wonder as my dad retold the story of how he saw Santa Claus. “He has blue eyes just like me and a beard just like me,” my father told me with a slightly wicked laugh. My five-year-old self devoured his words, and I felt the magic of the holidays in the air. I raced to the window to check for Santa’s footprints, only to find fresh snowfall. How much more magical could Christmas get?
My father’s Santa sighting was further confirmed when my brother and I saw the living room, our stockings brimming with perfectly wrapped gifts and presents spilling forward from the tree. He’s real, I thought. Santa really came.
Fast-forward 30 (ish) years to the present day. I find myself desperate to recapture the holiday magic of my youth. I silently curse my current living situation in sunny Arizona. Sure, my kids go to a top-notch school, but where is the freaking snow? I think that I will have a hard time rallying up some holiday magic with the sights of palm trees (don’t Google palm tree Christmas lights, fair warning. I am scarred for life). The hot cocoa doesn’t taste as sweet in 80-degree weather, and the sleds in my garage mock me with their perfect (unused) condition.
My hands sweat, less from heat and more from the panic I feel, trying to ensure my kids have the same joyful memories I did. My Pinterest game is strong, leaning on other parents and their spectacular elf on the shelf game. Christopher PopNKins leaving notes and tiny candies for my children around the house, Christopher PopNKins making messy snow angels from sugar on my counter, and my personal favorite, Christopher PopNKins giving our family portrait an elf makeover.
We may not have snow, but in a new place, we have carved out our own holiday traditions. We bundle up (for Arizona, one layer-perhaps a light jacket) with cocoa and wander through our neighborhood to gaze at the Christmas lights. Our subdivision goes all out, a competition the retirees find pleasure partaking in. Some houses simply have plain lights, while others have bright flashing holiday colors, choreographed to holiday music. Seeing the light reflected in my children’s faces as we hum along gives me the same holiday sense I had as a young child whose father just saw Santa.