A Mom Discovers the Unexpected Gifts of Creating Family Traditions of Her Own

Christmas reclaimed.

  • Category
  • Written by
    Kathleen Laccinole
  • Illustrated by
    Yasmine Kahsai

I dreaded the day—that end-of-summer morning when I’d step outside to find that in just one night the light had shifted, the earth’s axis tilted and the sun dipped the world in Technicolor: fall. Nature sleeping, turning, falling off, falling down. The days would grow darker, as would my spirit, because holidays were upon us.

This time of year used to send my younger self into fits of joy. Trick-or-treating in Mulwood, Thanksgiving at Grandpa’s, Christmas Eve at Uncle Bob’s and Aunt Ruby’s fruitcake, subsequently regifted through a cycle of friends and family … until it arrived back with Ruby, delighted to receive such a delicious gift.

Then came the best day of all: Christmas. My mom, my dad, my sister and me: the perfect square, replete with a majestic noble pine decked in red, green and shiny gold balls. Dad playing Santa, passing out gifts. Us girls giggling and teasing him. And when I grew up, it would be the same.

Cue the record scratch. Not so fast. My daughter had colic, my dog had worms, my husband left and the holidays were upon us. And just like that, life became a nonstop, tinsel-decorated, Hallmark-sponsored reminder of my failure—that perfect day I’d been unable to duplicate for my children.

Christmas carols were replaced by “Go to sleep, dammit, so Santa can come!” Then me, alone, assembling the impossible. Eating the cookie for Santa, pouring the glass of milk down the drain. Falling into bed at 2 a.m., contemplating getting a cat.

Still, the next morning my sleepy-eyed little ones tiptoed on tiny soft feet to discover the magic. I’d revel in their innocent bliss, then send them off with their spoils so I could pass out on the couch.

Later I’d clean up the mess. Couldn’t get that tree down fast enough.

Yet time did its thing. The earth’s axis continued to shift, and so did life. Grandpa passed; cousins moved away. And for me, what once felt efficient and routine became—dare I say—fun. Halloween on Stansbury Avenue became a Mardi Gras with too much wine, baked ziti and thousands of trick-or-treaters. Thanksgiving moved to my mom’s, Christmas Eve to my sister’s.

And Christmas Day moved to us. Me and my kids, the perfect triangle, left to create our own family traditions.

Soon our holiday festivities included midnight mass at St. Mike’s, arriving home to our noble pine covered in sparkly Barbie ornaments. We leave out healthy carrots for Santa and tack a “lesbian wreath” on the door. (Glittery troll dolls dressed as brides; it’s tradition.) Santa still bites the cookie, but instead of a thank-you note he leaves a shot of tequila (for Mom).

I don’t want to nap. I don’t want to miss a moment.

One by one, new traditions, like beloved holiday relatives, came to visit and then stayed. And I realized my “failure” was born of fantasies of what the holidays should look like, as opposed to what they mean. I learned that change is OK—even good. Sleeping means awakening. Falling down means standing up. And the darkest nights bring the brightest stars.

Kathleen Laccinole is a freelance writer and author. Two of her essays are featured in the new book We Got This: Solo Mom Stories of Grit, Heart, and Humor.