It’s Dec. 1 as I write this. Advent, and the official countdown to Christmas, has begun, although downtown Ashcroft businesses have been decorated and lit up for a couple of weeks now. A seemingly larger than usual number of homes have also put up lights and displays, and while most would usually wait until Dec. 1 to flick the switch, a lot of them have been on since just after Remembrance Day. It makes my trip home from the Journal office up to the Mesa especially cheery, as if I’m travelling along a magic fairyland lane to the North Pole.
I’ve also seen my first “Elf on the Shelf” picture. Don’t know what Elf on the Shelf is? It’s the creation of Carol Aebersold and her daughter Chanda Bell, who in 2005 published a book about how Santa knows who is naughty or nice by sending elves to visit children between American Thanksgiving and Christmas. The elves report back to Santa each night, then return to their homes, where they play a game of hide-and-seek, appearing in a different place in the home each morning.
The book came with a small elf, so that children could name it, thus giving it its magical powers. Parents could then add artistic verisimilitude by placing the elf in a different place in the house each day.
It seems to have taken a few years for the Elf on the Shelf to become as ubiquitous as it now seems to be, judging by the sheer volume of elf pictures that appear between the end of November and Dec. 24. Some parents who are not content with simply moving the elf to a new place each evening create elaborate tableaux with props, decorations, and supporting characters. It makes me rather glad that my own son (born in 1997) was too old for the Elf on the Shelf phenomenon; remembering to move it every night is one thing, but being a set designer as well sounds frankly exhausting.
The point, however, is that while for many families the Elf on the Shelf is a beloved Christmas tradition, it’s one that didn’t exist until a little over a decade ago, which is a blink of the eye in terms of Christmas traditions, many of which have been around for hundreds of years. Christmas 2020 looks set to be unlike any other most of us have seen, and while some family holiday traditions might have to be set aside this year, perhaps it’s time to think about creating some new ones.
This isn’t the first Christmas in living memory where loved ones couldn’t be together. “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” speaks of a picture-perfect Christmas (“Please have snow, and mistletoe / And presents on the tree”), but was written during World War II, from the perspective of the hundreds of thousands of soldiers who were far from hearth and home, which gives added poignancy to the final two lines: “I’ll be home for Christmas / If only in my dreams.”
As the Elf on the Shelf shows, traditions have to start somewhere, at some time, and being apart doesn’t mean that Christmas has to be cancelled. Bundle the family into the car with some hot chocolate and Christmas music and check out the lights in your town. Snuggle up in front of the telly on Dec. 12 and watch the CP Holiday Train roll into your living-room. Ring a bell for two minutes starting at 6 p.m. on Dec. 24 as part of the Christmas Bell Jingle, to spread Christmas spirit and help guide Santa on his way.
Christmas won’t be the same this year, but it’s perhaps even more welcome than ever, and the time is ripe to start some of those holiday traditions that will be treasured in the years to come. To quote another holiday classic, “We need a little music, need a little laughter / Need a little singing ringing through the rafter / And we need a little snappy, happy ever after / We need a little Christmas now!”