Mutants and other family traditions

Published 12:00 am Monday, December 29, 2003

From Christmas trees to Grandma's secret fudge recipe, a major part of the holiday celebration revolves around traditions. Some are widely held, like putting up the tree the weekend after Thanksgiving. Some are

more religious than secular, like the Advent wreath and midnight church services on Christmas Eve.

Some traditions are particular to each family. The are carried from one family to another as men and women marry. They are adopted, adapted, and occasionally dropped - how many people do you know still light a Yule log?

Sometimes it's

hard to mesh the family traditions. Mine always opened one present - and one present only - on Christmas Eve, waiting until the next morning to tear into the rest of them. Terry's family opens all the family presents on Christmas Eve, reserving Christmas morning for Santa's bounty. So we compromised. The children open two presents on Christmas Eve, as long as one of them is the one I gave them - the Mandatory Mom Must Give Clothes present, to make sure they have something new to wear to church that night.

A lot of my own family traditions are unique. My mother was raised in a family that did not celebrate Christmas in a very big way, despite a rich German heritage of Christmas trees and strudel, and my dad was raised in an orphanage, where a stocking yield of a an orange and a dime was considered a banner year.

I think it was because of this, my dad went all out for his children's Christmases, adding his own particular warped sense of humor to the mix. One year, my middle brother had a wrapped refrigerator box next to the tree with his name on it. In that box, filled partially with gravel, was another box. In that box, filled partially with packing foam peanuts, was another… and so on. By the time he got to the middle, and very small, box, he found his first nice wrist watch.

Decorating Christmas cookies was another favorite past-time in our house, one that I have enjoyed continuing. As with Easter eggs, we would have contests, recognizing the biggest, the smallest, the best decorated and - for my twisted brothers' sakes, the most inedible and the ugliest. Mom would only let them make the ugliest one last, and this year, holding the same contest with my three boys, I found out why. When you are decorating more than 100 cookies, it's hard to hold their attention to the job at hand. Dangling the ugly contest like a sugar-frosted carrot in front of them, we got all of the cookies done in record time.

I let them eat the ugliest. No space alien mutant gingerbread men for the office Christmas party.

Since we've married, Terry and I have created our own family traditions, including Mutant Christmas Trees and Kidnapping Santa. This year, we had our 17th encounter with the incredible Mutant Christmas Tree, when the 10-foot tree we brought home was suddenly three feet too tall for our 10-foot ceiling. It seems the more we trim off, the faster the tree grows…

Then there's that Santa ornament… One of the German traditions is hiding a pickle-shaped ornament in the depths of the Christmas tree and giving gold-wrapped chocolate coins to the child who finds it. Our blown-glass pickle ornament barely survived its first encounter with the late, great Tasha Cat, and by the time it had a run-in with the toddler Buzz, it was a goner. That was OK - we had Kidnapping Santa.

It's a cheap ornament we got in

a grab bag one year and I think it is supposed to be a figurine of Santa taking a doll out of his sack of toys. For all the world, however, it looks like Santa is trying to stuff a protesting little girl into the bag. When we dive into the box of ornaments every December, it's always a race to see who can find Kidnapping Santa.

Yeah, it's a little warped. My father would approve.