When I die, my children won’t fight over who gets the family silver. They will fight over Santa Mouse. That’s pretty typical in families. Good memories are more important than monetary value.
In 1967 the Christmas theme of J.C. Penney’s children’s department was Santa Mouse—a picture book, pajamas and a huge stuffed mouse in the display window. Our first child was eight months old. On Christmas Eve, in a pre-negotiated arrangement between Lev and the store manager, we drove to Penney’s when the store closed to purchase Santa Mouse. On Christmas morning he stood beside the Christmas tree. Our son was terrified. The mouse was bigger than he was.
By the time our daughter arrived three years later, Santa Mouse was part of our Christmas tradition; the story, a Christmas Eve ritual. She fell in love with Santa Mouse. I would often find her sitting on the bottom step, resting her head on Santa Mouse’s shoulder. Occasionally, the mouse would disappear. That little girl managed somehow to drag him up the stairs to her room.
The children have argued over the years about who gets Santa Mouse. My son claims that he belongs to him since he was the only child when the mouse came to our house, but he can’t dispute that his sister loves Santa Mouse more.
When the children had families of their own, we gave them copies of the Santa Mouse story and Santa Mouse decorations, though there was no other 4-ft.-tall stuffed mouse. Each Christmas Eve we gave the grandsons a mouse ornament to hang on the tree. They have entered marriage with collections of more than 20 mice for their trees. The tradition continues.
In 2009 my granddaughters kidnapped Santa Mouse and took him back to their house (the house their mother grew up in) under armed guard, where he has lived ever since. This Christmas I requested that he return to my house for the family gathering. He was brought over with great reluctance. Later, my son and daughter-in-law contemplated taking him back to Dallas with them, but my son decided he could not be so cruel to his sister.
The Wall Street Journal asked, “Why Do Rituals Grow as a Year Dwindles?” Part of the answer, “The prescribed routines of ritual make us feel safer….We feel comforted by the habitual performance.”
Traditions and rituals are part of the glue that holds families together. After a death, we tend to abandon those traditions because the empty chair is too painful a reminder of our loss. In retrospect, I think that maintaining traditions is healthier in spite of the pain. I’ve heard too many say, “Our family used to be close, but after Grandma (or aunt or mom) died, we drifted apart. She was the one who got us together.” Very slowly our family is returning to tradition. I know that I am happier since I have resumed my traditional role of mom and producer of Christmas. And I am glad to have Santa Mouse back home.
What are your favorite family traditions and rituals?