Merry Marilyn and her bag of tricks

December 27, 2015

I’ve managed to pull myself out of my sugar cookie coma just long enough to piece together a blog post before the week runs out. This is not a drill, people. Today alone I’ve consumed 2 snickerdoodles, 2 chocolate mint cookies and 4 peanut butter Frosted Flakes candies. I hope your Christmas was full of family, food and chaos, just like ours. At 6, 4 and 1, the kids were so into it this year and it just made for so much fun. Candy the elf was here with her typical shenanigans and, for the first time, I set an alarm but didn’t have to go wake up the girls. The sound of those excited little feet, followed by, “He came! Oh my gosh, Santa came!” made my ovaries wink up at me with that familiar ache of fleeting bliss. It was the sweetest. (The girls, not the ovary wink.)


But as much as I feel like I get through the season with some successes – ignoring the fact that I’ve never gotten Christmas cards out the door and didn’t roll sugar cookies of my own for the second consecutive year – I always find myself in awe of the master of the holiday, my mom. I was born from Mother Christmas and she is as legit as they come when it comes to jivin with the holly jolly.

Here are a few things I’ve observed in my time watching her in action.

The more the merrier.
I’ve mentioned the Grand Lighting Ceremony and a bit about the outdoor decorations, but truly, my parents’ house is a joyful joint in its entirety come November 29. I don’t know where she keeps all this stuff the rest of the months, but once the turkey goes in the fridge, every beam is garnished with garland, every cabinet topped with a stuffed Santa and his pals, every light adorned with ornaments. When your dwelling is deemed the “Christmas house” I suppose you acquire a lot of yuletide knickknacks. It makes sense. But it’s during this time, when her home is dripping in glitter and gifted craft show Santas, that my mom seems most comfortable in her house. And I love the smell … like sticky kids and cinnamon pinecones.

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Be the classic. Let others experiment.
My mom always hosts at least two, often three, Christmas gatherings at her house every year. The amount of food this woman churns out makes my wallet, back and stomach hurt. Rows of slow cookers brimming with simmering meatballs, ham balls, chili cheese dip, macaroni and cheese, and wings. Platters of rye bread, cheese and meat. Ham sandwiches and homemade vegetable dip on the relish tray. As impressive as the quantity of it is, the menu is constant from year to year. She has mastered her holiday spread and thus, her plan of attack the day before and morning of the party. People look forward to her predictable fare and never get bored because everyone else brings different sides and desserts. Every Christmas is deliciously familiar with some new things to nosh on as well. Genius.

Get a list and then get creative.
I can remember, when I was a young girl, my mom would give me the catalogs that came in the mail and a marker and I would go to town. I’d circle things I liked and triple circle the ones I had to have. No doubt three circles, pressing hard with the marker, was unspoken code for, “Put this one next to my new Popple, yo.” Guaranteed, on Christmas morning I would get my most-treasured catalog callouts but also, a handful of the most thoughtful surprises. Things I didn’t even think of, but I was so glad Santa did. A classic is the year Mom got a beagle puppy for my brother. She hid the dog for at least a week, often right under Matt’s completely unsuspecting nose. Christmas morning, she has him close his eyes and plops this precious little pup down in his lap. I swear the giant smiled the most sincere, most surprised grin I’ve ever seen. It was like holiday urban legend. It was my maternal role model at her finest. She conditioned me to go for the big moment. Now, as a mom, I have to have at least one thing for everyone in my family that they weren’t expecting and, upon seeing it, realize they can’t live without.It’s an exhaustive pursuit, but when it works out, it’s like Christmas crack. I know a lot of folks like to give their loved one a list with very specific links to very specific products in very specific colors. I dabble in that, but I still love the unpredictable presents. It’s a Marilyn move, and it’s pimp, to deliver a Christmas miracle for someone you love, especially when they never saw it coming.

Holiday albums on fleek.
Dolly Parton and Kenny Rogers, Neil Diamond, the Judds and Sandi Patty. Those are the CDs that magically pop into the shuffle every December at Mom and Dad’s. Just a few notes into “A Christmas to Remember,” with Dolly’s sweet, sugary voice popping from the speakers and I am all in for holly and twinkle lights.

Throw a blanket on it.
When it comes to the packages under the tree at my family’s Christmas, three things are guaranteed: 1) My mom will have at least 5 gifts with no name on them that she then has to open herself to hand out to the proper owner. 2) At least one person will get a gift that makes them sob like a little holiday bitch. (This year it was a hand-painted portrait of Mom’s dog, Buddy, who she lost last year.) and 3) Childlike excitement will build around the giant gifts in the corner with blankets thrown over them. Sometimes it’s a big ticket item, sometimes it’s a laundry basket. You just never know. And that’s the joy of the blanket. In the end it doesn’t matter what’s under the blanket. It serves its purpose by populating hype. It’s a mind game and she’s the master.

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Be Scrooge at the end of the movie.
From Christmas Eve through Christmas night, my madre’s merry spirit makes all of us feel so grateful and giddy and lovey. She is so generous and so thoughtful but doesn’t make a show of it. She just wants to watch everyone enjoy her hard work. She doesn’t even open her own presents until the kids are already playing with theirs. Since having kids of my own, I get it. I gather more jollies from my family’s reactions when they open something special than I do from anything someone could pick up for me at a store. I feel nostalgic about the season and people and the traditions. I see Christmas through my mother’s eyes and it’s beautifully simple and worth all the hard work. God bless us, everyone.

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Happy holidays, everybody. Let’s all meet back here in time to make some New Year’s resolutions and revaluate these bad dietary decisions, shall we?

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