By Shelley Murphy
December ’tis the season of traditions. The big guy in the red suit comes to town next week, and in anticipation, the halls are decked and stockings are hung.
Holiday traditions handed down from generation to generation create treasured memories and cherished celebrations—it’s why there’s no place like home for the holidays.
My family kicks off the Christmas season before the turkey leftovers are gobbled. The day after Thanksgiving, from dawn to dusk, I transform the interior of our home into a merry winter wonderland.
Maybe it’s the toll of the past two years, but this month I yearned to cut back my copious collection of Christmas clutter.
I ran the idea by my husband, but he didn’t share my less-is-more outlook. Instead, Mr. Griswold strung so many bright lights outside that I’m certain Santa sees our house from the North Pole.
Before putting my plan in place, I asked my sons which seasonal decorations are most important to them. They agreed, it wouldn’t be Christmas without the trimmed tree and the staircase garland.
Then I asked my younger son, “You’re sure you won’t miss the drumming nutcrackers and dancing Santas?” He replied, “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
I revel in our holiday traditions, but there’s one ritual I relish—and it’s considered controversial.
Alas, the arrival of December always rekindles the heated and decades-old debate: Is Die Hard a Christmas movie?
My answer: yes.
It’s not Christmas in my house until John McClane boards his holiday flight bound for Los Angeles and Nakatomi Plaza.
Skeptics disagree, including its star Bruce Willis, but there’s no denying the facts. First, the movie takes place at a holiday office party and on Christmas Eve.
Second, its score is seasonally centric, and the soundtrack includes holiday classics and remixes of “Winter Wonderland” and “Jingle Bells.”
Also, John McClane’s estranged wife’s name is Holly Gennero. A coincidence? I think not.
Perhaps director John McTiernan said it best: “We hadn’t intended it to be a Christmas movie, but the joy that came from it is what turned it into a Christmas movie.” Yippee-Ki-Yay…
Another questionable holiday tradition is the Christmas pickle.
I first faced the Christmas pickle in September 1990, when I opened a wedding gift. The package contained several Christmas tree ornaments, including a bright green glass dill pickle.
The present came from an old family friend and, at the time, I considered the object a humorless joke or early dementia.
Only recently, I realized the American origin of the Christmas pickle dates to the late 1800s.
Like many heartwarming traditions, its creation is credited to a retailer who used it as a marketing tool to boost ornament sales. The gimmick, or tradition, is to hide the pickle among the ornaments on the tree.
Then, on Christmas morning, the first person to find the pickle gets an extra gift or gets to open the first present; hence, also instigating the first sibling squabble of the day.
Maybe the most contentious Christmas tradition is that impish Elf on the Shelf.
The children’s book, and toy, arrived in 2005, too late for our family to adopt the mischief-maker. Parents are divided; they either love or hate the elfin rascal.
Lots of parents loathe the nightly task of relocating the playful elf.
I like to think I would’ve enjoyed the scout elf’s seasonal stay and gladly aided in his nighttime hijinks.
Sure, it’s bothersome, but the threat of an all-knowing elf reporting my boys’ naughty behavior back to Santa would’ve been worth my time.
But, then again, I’d also live in terror the entire season for fear I’d forget to “return” the mischievous elf to Santa at the North Pole on Christmas Eve.
From the ridiculous to the sublime, time-honored traditions foster our seasonal nostalgia and sense of belonging.
I hope this season, once again, finds families gathering together and celebrating their treasured traditions—for the holidays, you can’t beat home, sweet home.
For more than 20 years, Shelley Murphy and her husband have lived in San Clemente, where she raised her two sons. She’s a freelance writer and has been a contributor to the San Clemente Times since 2006.