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Sunday, December 6, 2015

The tree is up. The stockings are hung. The wish lists have been written. The cookies ... well, I’ll get to them eventually. (Christmas cookie-baking is extensive at our house.)

The tree skirt was made by my high school best friend. The ornaments are uniquely “Keppeler,” from quirky sci-fi references to my Celtic Santa to the boys’ school crafts and mementoes of the various vacations we’ve taken. The Nativity set has been in my husband’s family for years. Our home at Christmas is a constant reminder of family and our life together, and it makes me happy.

Some traditions are new. For example, now we watch the Phineas & Ferb Christmas vacation episode every year in addition to Rudolph and the Grinch -- the original with Boris Karloff, please, not that stupid movie. And after one memorable snowbound Christmas Eve, scampi is now a staple meal on that day.

Late on the evening of Nov. 30, I found myself digging through a closet in search of one of my own oldest Christmas traditions ... hence, once of the boys’ oldest traditions as well.

The advent calendar – in the form of a felt tree on a burlap background, with handmade ornaments that snap onto its green surface -- has seen better days. The Rudolph ornament is missing an eye. The angel’s wings are a little bent. I suppose that’s not surprising, because it’s more than three decades old. My aunt bought it for me at a church craft fair when I was only 4, and for years, it’s been a part of my Christmases.

This year, I hung it at its place on the dining room wall, and the 7-year-old ran over to help me remove the ornaments from the tree and replace them in the pockets where they’d wait until their assigned day. He unsnapped the little gingerbread man, and hesitated.

“Mom? Do they go in any order?”

Wise child. He knows me well.

Of course, they do. Throughout my childhood, I had a very precise order for the ornaments, based on which ones I thought were more “Christmas-y” than others and which ones I liked the best. The butterfly? Near the beginning of the month. The ragdoll was near the middle. The gingerbread man and Rudolph were near the end, and Santa, of course, was on Christmas Eve.

I could probably still sort them from memory. I opened my mouth to tell him so. And then I closed it.
“They go in whatever order you want. It’s yours – and your brother’s -- now.”

He beamed. And, secure in the knowledge that his brother really didn’t care what order the ornaments were in, he happily started sorting them by some internal standard that only he understood. My hands twitched to “correct” them. I put them behind my back.

Sometimes, things get even better when you pass them on.

“Mom? Can I put them on the tree in any order, too?”

Well, no, you start at the bottom left and work your way right and then ...


“That’s up to you, too.”

Hope your holiday season is as full of traditions, old and new, as ours is.

Six days into December, +Jill Keppeler still has to remind herself to keep her hands off the calendar. Follow her on Twitter @JillKeppeler or email her at

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