Category Archives: Broken Holiday Traditions

Elf on a Shelf 12.6.14 (and other scrapped traditions)

Elf on the Shelf
Elf on the Shelf (photo courtesy of

Elf on a Shelf was introduced in 2005 as a children’s book.  I love traditions — especially holiday traditions.  This seemed like a marvelous addition to our family.

One of our traditions was to read a holiday story every night of December (we have a large collection of books).  I’ve kept that tradition.  This year it is reading Advent blogs and meditations.

Not to repeat the obvious, but for those who haven’t read the book, the idea is that the elf keeps an eye on the children and reports back to Santa on how the children are doing.

This did not go over well with my children – then 12 and 9.  The idea of the elf “spying” particularly disturbed my 9 year old.  I would hide the elf and when he would get home from school he would turn it around on a shelf facing backwards, he would upend it into a container with just its feet sticking out.  One day, the elf disappeared altogether.  I didn’t find it until summertime packing up his room for camp – a very stiff sock in the back of the sock drawer had been a resting place for our elf.  I still have the elf.  Just to remind myself that some traditions need to change/might not work for us/need to be scrapped, I keep him in my sock drawer.

Our other traditions were still enjoyed.  One is putting a ribbon across the steps to the room with the Christmas tree with the stockings at the bottom.  Another is always having a puzzle on a table that can be worked on throughout the holiday.

My husband is wonderful at making memories — many worth counting as traditions.

Gaylord hotel DC atrium
Gaylord hotel DC atrium

Now that our children are teenagers, a visit to the Gaylord hotel in DC, a meal at Rosa Mexicana and a visit to the annual ICE show (amazing carved ice display toured with parkas) is essential.  When I asked them what they most wanted to do, this was the first thing mentioned.  Taking in a show at the Kennedy Center (we saw ELF last year) is also a treat.  Taking in a sports game is also a favorite “tradition” – there is usually a late College football game and an early Basketball tournament.  There’s nothing like cheering loudly….

Taxi ice sculpture...
Taxi ice sculpture…

The older I get, the more traditions mean to me.  I find myself making a list of all the things I hope to do while the children are home:  Menus to make, people to see, things to do.   This is particularly comforting in times of change.  I also find myself making deliberate efforts to take advantage of the events in my workplace – open houses, departmental meetings, gatherings with colleagues over lunch.  My own social schedule is far less full than it used to be.

Over the past year, my extended family has gone through some pretty big upheaval.  Out of respect for all involved, I’ll not go into any details here, but suffice it to say that some parts of our family are no longer in contact.  This feels weird, yet not only is it probably for the best, it is also what is requested.  I’ve had to stop myself sending a card, reaching out over a funny joke to share, suggesting a visit when I am in the same town…. I don’t know if it will ever be repaired.   So, traditions connected to these family members are on hold…and the traditions associated with them.

Growing up, we lived in the Midwest.  Most of our family holidays were spent with close friends who became like family.  In the summers we would drive cross country to visit my mother’s family in California.  Every few years we would drive to Philadelphia to be with my father’s family.  It is always comforting to me to spend time with them.  The beautiful stone homes of Pennsylvania countryside, the hunt country and beautiful neighborhoods.  The historic St. David’s church where my family members are interred.  Being there feels like home.  Being with my friends who have become like family is a comfort.

This year, our boys will be home for Christmas.  And they want to BE home.  Of course, I have all sorts of plans and desire to see family (which we will), but we are also scheduling in some “down time” (which for them means sleeping).  When they have not been home, I like to do something completely different at the holidays — like be on a beach and eat pasta and everything that doesn’t resemble anything that would make me miss them.

This year, we will make the trek to Philadelphia.  We will go to the Gaylord, Rosa Mexicana and the ICE show.  We will take in some sports and possibly even a bowl game (not a reliable tradition for sure).  We may get to Cape Cod to see my dear friends from the Midwest (with whom I spent my childhood Christmases). We will read a Christmas story each night of December.  We will gather with friends…and family.  Those traditions are worth keeping.

And some traditions fall away.   As a reminder, the Elf on the Shelf will stay parked in my sock drawer.



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