Here's my advice to newlyweds this holiday season: DO NOT START ANY TRADITIONS.
Yes. I know. Everybody including Martha Stewart tells you what a good idea traditions are. Buy a new nutcracker every year, they say, so you can remember all your Christmases past when you put them out on the mantel. What they don't tell you is that by the time you're my age, you need to rent a storage unit under a viaduct somewhere just to hold all your nutcrackers. Also, you need a lot of mantels.
The sad truth is that some traditions can unwittingly turn into burdens.
In my case, I am drowning in a sea of lovely Christmas picture books. This is pretty much my husband's fault, actually. He gave me a copy of "The Night Before Christmas" with illustrations by the wonderful Arthur Rackham, and I was hooked. Since then, I've acquired at least one and often two or three (sometimes four!) new picture books every holiday season.
Some of my favorites? "The Nativity" illustrated by Julie Vivas, "Who Is Coming to Our House?" by Joseph Slate, "A Letter to Santa Claus" by Rose Impey, "Wombat Divine" by Mem Fox, "Carl's Christmas" by Alexandra Day, "Madeline's Christmas" by Ludwig Bemelmans, "Snowmen at Christmas" by Caralyn and Mark Buehner, any version of "The Night Before Christmas" (especially the one illustrated by Anita Lobel) and my all-time favorite, "The Story of Holly and Ivy" by Rumer Godden with illustrations by the late Barbara Cooney. I'm not sure why that story gets to me, but every time I read it, I cry.
Anyway, what this means is that I have a LOT of Christmas books at my house, most of which never get read these days because of the ages of my kids.
ME: Hey, you guys! Get over here and sit in my lap so I can read you a Christmas story!
KIDS: Um, Mom, we're married now.
That's why I decided after last year that I would BREAK with tradition and not buy a new book. After all, I have plenty, plenty, P-L-E-N-T-Y.
Except that I really like some of the new books this year. FOR EXAMPLE. There's a great new cut-paper version of "The Night Before Christmas" created by Niroot Puttapipat. Done in black and white silhouette with the occasional splash of red and green, the illustrations are extremely attractive. "Great Joy" by Kate DiCamillo and Bagram Ibatoulline, which touches on a child's growing awareness of homelessness, manages to move the heart without turning mawkish. And I'm not sure I can resist the divinely silly "Humphrey's First Christmas" by Carol Heyer a story about a camel's journey to the stable and the surprise he finds waiting there.
OK. I can tell I'm already in trouble. I'll probably end up buying at least one of those books. Maybe all three. And then I'll probably get a Christmas Mad Libs, too, because you know how it is: nothing says "Merry Christmas" like an activity book that encourages your kids to say the word "underwear."
Fortunately, I can break with tradition next year.
Because (also fortunately) there's always a next year ...
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