Gelato Mama Revisits the Ghosts of Christmas Past and Present, with an Eye on the Future

Do you know what I know?

  • Category
    Homes, People
  • Written by
    Emily Tecklenburg
  • Illustrated by
    Yuiko Sugino

Holidays breed tradition.

Have I ruined my children’s lives by not participating in matching holiday pajama sets? Possibly. 

But as a divorced mom who lives far from her family, traditions—or lack thereof—tend to trigger me this time of year. I often feel inadequate, then overcompensate with doomed ideas like the “Ice Skating Debacle of 2018” where I forced us all to circle a small, cramped ice rink nestled between skyscrapers—my kids sweetly placating me because, somehow, they knew Mom was a little sad, and she needed this desperate act of seasonal cheer … as silly as it was.

It felt easier to create traditions when I was a kid. Of course, I wasn’t doing any of the work; I was just there for cousin debauchery, festive food and my share of gifts stacked high under the tree. Holidays were loud, rambunctious, overstuffed. 

On the rare opportunities my kids have had to spend a holiday with my extended family, they were gobsmacked by the sheer volume of jawboning relatives and casserole dishes. I can’t help but mourn the traditions they’ll never know that make up so much of who I am and where I’m from.

But as I move through the holiday season, I can see how quieter traditions have snuck their way into our routine. There is tradition in the dozens of paper snowflakes my daughter and I create and splatter across the windows. There’s tradition in the baking of the same coffee cake each Christmas morning. 

It is in the music we play as we pile cookies high with colorful sugar—daring one another to take a big, caloric bite. It is in the gathering of orphaned friends on the eve of Christmas, our bellies full of lasagna, Chianti and gratitude. It is in the comfort binge-watching of Elf, Home Alone and Christmas Vacation, fighting for space on the sofa, still delighted by jokes that feel like old friends. It is in the joy I feel as I sit in the middle of crumpled, discarded wrapping paper wearing all my gifts at once with a beanie on my head, fuzzy socks on my feet and new earrings bedazzling my lobes. 

Tradition isn’t always a place or a thing. It’s a feeling. And while I can’t give my kids what I had in rowdy uncles talking politics and crops while mischievous cousins sneaked peeks at all our presents, I know that I have always given my kids what that boisterous activity was rooted in: love.

I hope that within this season of cheer, you truly find some traditions—be they clamorous or calm. And if you find yourself needing a buddy to hit up an ice-skating rink, I got you.