3 Things My Family Lost This Christmas

Well, we didn’t actually lose them — we were just too exhausted to hunt them down.

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One desperate Yuletide, our Elf on the Shelf was missing and I subbed in this perky plastic figure from the brand’s musical game.

arewell, 2020. Here’s your hat — what’s your hurry? Close the door behind you on your way out.

In our slow shuffle this Christmastime, we didn’t get around to tree shopping until Fred’s Since 1956, a local landmark, had sold out and boarded up for the year. The traveling men, and their axes and pine trees, had vanished. It felt like a dark moment from “It’s a Wonderful Life.”

The nursery in the next town had one straggly Charlie Brown tree standing. We settled for a pricier potted evergreen, which doesn’t wobble (bonus!) and can be planted outside.

During the time of Covid, the year we masked and sanitized and did all we could to stay healthy and avoid the virus, we took on the holidays gradually, in small steps. First, a wreath on the door; then, cheery red Santa candy tins near the TV and taper candles on the mantel. We got the tree five days before Christmas and decorated it in stages. Someone was heavy of heart and not eager to trim it right off; someone else, a teen, was uninterested. But we did it. Our favorite ornaments found their perches.

Yet these treasures never made their way out, or showed up late:

  1. Spode Victorian Pink Christmas plates. The eight mismatched salad/dessert size saucers, some decked with holiday trees and some with reindeer in a moonlit sky, were stacked in the basement. My husband, Dan, thinks it is decluttering to put treasures out of sight. But there, they were forgotten. We are often in Maine with our big family for Christmas. Homebound this year, in an effort to help stop the spread of Covid, I unearthed the pretty stack I bought years ago at Williams Sonoma. I noticed them when I went down to do laundry on December 28. I dusted them off to serve leftovers — instant boost of holiday cheer in our breakfast nook.
  2. Crystal eggnog bowl. As we approach 30 years of marriage, I couldn’t tell you if our current one was my grandmother’s, my mother’s, Dan’s Grandma Millie’s — or a bridal shower gift from my friend Lorraine’s mom. (They tend to break.) I just know I look in the cut glass and see Christmas Eve in my childhood kitchen, when the bowl and matching cups, hanging on baby hooks around the rim, made their annual appearance and my smiling mother served homemade eggnog with a fragile ladle. I can see the clouds of thickly whipped cream, the dusting of nutmeg. We, too, have made eggnog, but this weary year, we poured the kind that comes in Farmland cardboard quart cartons from the CVS fridge. Ironically, the young girl in the house loved it. “This is the good stuff,” she said. (She hadn’t appreciated the pricier dairy farm blend, in glass bottles.)
  3. Base for Elf on the Shelf Singing Game. After our red felt elf girl caught fire near a candle flame (my hair got singed, too), she went missing the next year. I checked Montclair Stationery, but no luck there or at the corner toy store. I found a lone musical game, with a hard plastic elf sitting on a blue, battery-powered base that plays “Jingle Bells” and the elf’s voice. This year, we found the elf, not the base. It’s a blessing for my family, because I press the button again and again just to annoy them.

ut then, some magical things still showed up:

  • My mother’s worn metal Christmas tree cookie cutter.
  • The red and white felt stocking made by Hattie Ashmore, the cleaning lady in aqua pantsuit who became my friend and confidant when she rolled her cart into the Rutgers Daily Targum office on nights when I was still at my typewriter. She lived in the New Brunswick projects; I lived in a sheltered dorm. My mother was gone; she mothered dreams for her grandkids. She wrote my name on the felt using glue and kelly green glitter. She pronounced it as Alison and that is how it appears on the stocking. I treasure it.
  • The dime-store tree ornaments — a fat, sparkly pheasant, the red plastic Santa with back sack to hold candy — that my grandmother Alice bought in New York City decades ago.
  • Three tiny plastic mangers with Mary, Joseph and Baby Jesus glued on the bases, under glitter-sprinkled roofs. I received them as a girl (gifts from Saint Mary’s School) and used to arrange them carefully near the mini tree in my bedroom. Now, during each Christmas season, they stand on our mantel near the clock. The sweeping hands mark the time —minute by minute, hour by hour, day by day — as we move through our lives in this little house.

May the joy of the season, even when it’s hard to find, survive and live on in our hearts.

Alice Garbarini Hurley lives in Montclair, New Jersey with her family.

Magazine maven, craft coffee lover, legal guardian. Passionate about fashion and lipstick — though it may not look that way when I dash to the supermarket.

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