In the 3+ years that we’ve lived in our apartment, I haven’t hung one family picture, but I can break out the icicle lights and the garland in an evening flat. I can’t take care of a house plant, but I can look after a full-grown Christmas tree in my living room for a month or so. Tape up some holiday cards, light a couple of candles, and voila! The magic of the holidays come alive! My daughter, Madeleine, is now old enough to understand Christmas so her father and I have been telling her about Santa Claus: how he lands on the roof while you’re sleeping on Christmas Eve, slides down the chimney, and leaves presents for good little children (and coal for the bad). She asks about this last part a lot which comes in handy when she gets a little mischievous. But, as I get all the paper and ribbons together for the big day, thoughts of Santa lead me to my mom.

I grew up in a family of seven kids and my mom took care of EVERYTHING: cooking, cleaning, driving my father to and from work, balancing the household budget, listening to the rambling accounts of my day while chopping in the kitchen. She even went the distance with Christmas sending tons of cards to family here and in Korea. I can always picture her at the ornate writing desk in her room, surrounded by stacks of bright plastic boxes and her little address book (this is a tradition I know I carry on to some extent). She’d make sure there were decorations whether or not we had a tree AND prepare for Christmas dinner all by herself (we weren’t old enough to help yet). What I didn’t realize was that she was Santa Claus too.

The night I found out, I was too excited for sleep. So I crept out to the hallway thinking that I would wait under the tree for a glimpse of The Man. It was late and I figured that everyone was asleep which would make my caper simple. But, before I reached the stairs, I saw a light beneath my parent’s door. I could hear my father’s deep snoring but could also hear paper crinkling and scotch tape being ripped from the dispenser. The longer I stood there, the more I realized that wrapping was going on in that room and unless my father was sleepwrapping, it could only be one person. In the morning, when we all went downstairs, there were only presents “From Santa” beneath the tree (yes, I checked). My mom sat there in her robe, sleepy eyed but smiling, encouraging us to open our gifts.

Of course, she found out that we knew. You can’t keep secrets in a house full of small children. But knowing that she was trying to make the holiday magical for us was a big “a-ha” moment. I wasn’t totally devastated to learn that Santa was not a real person more then it made sense that the person who knew our heart’s desires was right in front of us all the time. As we got older, presents like sweaters with feathers and sequins sewn onto the front (made in a factory, not by my mother) were a bit of an eyebrow raiser, but a) you could kinda get away with it since it was the 80s after all and b) I recognize that our desires became more and more complicated as we grew older. So, as I prepare to hunker down after Madeleine goes to bed (hopefully before Christmas Eve just to throw her off for a few more years), I know that I have my mother to thank for giving me that extra oomph to break out some serious Christmas Hygge and keep holiday magic alive. To all those who celebrate, Merry Christmas! And to all those that celebrate Hanukkah or Kwanzaa, I hope your holidays are filled with warmth and love.

I will be taking the week between Christmas and New Year’s off from writing so that I can enjoy time with my family. Enjoy the holidays and see you in 2018!