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  • I think my favorite aspect of the Christmas holiday is its unchanging routine. I don't mean to imply it's static or stagnant. Each year is different, but there are underlying traditions that are sacred and sacrosanct.
    When I was very young, Christmas was forbidden from the house until after Thanksgiving. Mom liked her holidays too much to allow overlap. But when the holiday's time came, it hit suddenly and with the explosive power of building demolition-grade TNT. We kids would go to school Monday morning, and in the afternoon all traces of autumn celebration were replaced by the greens, reds and whites of Christmas. As we walked in the door, Andy Williams sang to us from the state-of-the-art stereo as big as a sofa. Pine and peppermint scented the air, and Santas and snowmen peeked out from every corner not already festooned with mirrored balls and white pine roping.
    Once homework was finished and dinner had been eaten, mom would allow Sean, my youngest brother to unpack the ancient Nativity. Under the future Marine's care the placement of the three wise men seemed more to provide protective cover to the Holy Family than pay homage to the birth of the Lord. While he took care of securing the manger, my other two siblings and I started decorating the tree. First we "helped" dad get the lights placed. Then we'd go through the large box of ornaments, sorting the personal pieces to the owner or keeping a sly watch out for the coveted snowball or tinsel ball.
    These were the unchanging conventions that structured my childhood.
    One year mom added a crocheted Santa. He was round and soft and cute with a nose as red as his suit. His beard sprayed out from his face like an uncapped hydrant. "This is not a toy," mom instructed. We nodded in awed agreement.
    Until she turned her back.
    My older brother, Mike, immediately grabbed Santa and holding him in one hand, clamped his other hand on the red cap and squished him together. Santa's face compacted in a serious look of constipated concentration. Sean, my sister Michelle, and I burst out laughing. Before mom could come back from the kitchen to see what was going on we'd all had a turn at transforming smiling Santa to pooping Santa. Mom saw there was no way to bring the situation under control so she didn't even bother trying. Instead she joined in the laughter and when dad got home from work she couldn't wait to show him.
    That was decades ago. Now all of my siblings are married and live in other cities. Dad has passed, and mom lives with my partner and me. Today I went into her apartment and saw the crocheted Santa on the parson's bench in her bay window. The tradition has been preserved for another year.
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