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Fiction Holiday Creative Nonfiction

“Oma!” Julia’s pudgy little legs danced as her arms reached up to her grandmother. The old woman smiled brightly and picked up the toddler. “Oma Santa is coming soon! Daddy said he’s in the ocean right now.” Julia’s excitement filled the room with momentum.

“Well, he won’t come unless you eat all your dinner and mind your manners. He will pass right by without a glance.” Uncle Oscar stood tall but the war left him with a cynical eye.

“Nonsense my little one. Santa will come as long as we follow tradition.” Julia’s mother scooped her into her arms while Oscar helped his mother to a chair. No longer wanting to be held Julia squirmed free and ran to her cousins who sat in a circle discussing the tedious politics of middle school life.

Julia’s mother pulled Oscar aside and lowered her voice, “Please try to be a little compassionate. She is only four.”

Oscar nodded in agreement but remained stoic and silent. Peter and his children were the next to arrive. Already in high school they remained in the living room adding and questioning the various topics deemed too adult for the others. Julia didn’t care for conversation. She wanted to play, and her cousins eventually gave in to her pleas.

“Mom do you want to help me in the kitchen any?” Danielle, Julia’s eldest aunt, popped her head through the doorway, loose strands of hair bounced free from the tie.

Julia’s mother attempted to help but the old woman gently pushed her aside as she made her way to the kitchen.

“That smells amazing Dani.” Being the youngest of his siblings, Julia’s father played with the children while everyone else discussed what seemed like more important topics. “Julie Santa is on the West coast and heading this way!” Julia squealed as the cousins clapped along.

“After dinner we’ll hop in the van and see if we can spot Rudolf’s nose before they get to the house.” Julia nodded to her mother then went back to climbing on her cousins as if they were mountains and she would conquer them all. Her cousins did not enjoy this game as much and her father chuckled at their faces silently screaming for help. He groaned as he pried Julia from her cousin’s legs.

“Why can’t Santa come sooner? Why do we have to do all these things and then he comes?”

“Well,” Her father carefully considered his next words. “it’s tradition and Santa honors them.”

Peter snorted from the oversized armchair. Lowering his legs from the ottoman, “We have been doing things this way since before you were born.” He turned to Julia, “I think hearing it from the oldest of us would be best.” Julia’s father rolled his eyes but did not argue. Peter cleared his throat as Julia’s big eyes shined in wonder. “Now, magic flows through the world and Santa is the guardian of that magic. He keeps a watchful on the youngsters of the world and ensures that their kept safe and happy. Each family has a different magical tradition. These traditions are what lets Santa know that the family still has magic in their hearts. So, we eat the food properly prepared by our matriarchs. Specifically a large goose with red cabbage, cucumber salad, mashed potatoes, and to finish a beautiful stollen!” Peter paused for a moment to wipe the drool gathering in the corner of his mouth. “Then we lay out the wonderful cookies you made and a glass of milk for Santa as an offering for his visit.”

“But why do we hunt for Rudolf?” Julia’s father looked towards Peter with a smug grin.

Peter coughed twice, “He follows the trail of magic you leave behind. So, we go find Rudolf in the sky to lead them to our house.”

“Who said that’s what we do though uncle Peter?” Julia crossed her arms defiantly and ready for her presents.

“For generations our family has come together to determine how much magic our traditions bring for Santa to see.” Peter triumphant with his story leaned back and placed his hands behind his head.

“What tales you spin Peter.” Danielle came from the back bedroom. She had changed into a simple red dress with a thin white belt and Christmas tree earrings. Her hair was neatly curled around her face. “You definitely painted a picture for us but I would like to set the record straight on how these traditions were started. Why don’t you go help mother set the table while I tell Julia how our tradition started since the matriarchs are done cooking.” Danielle glowered at Peter and plopped into his chair as he went into the dining room.

“So, most of what Uncle Peter said is true but we follow these traditions that are laid out by our ancestors. Years and years ago Santa’s magic flowed through everyone equally but when families from different regions became one and had to integrate their traditions. So the dinner we eat brings both our southern and German heritage together as one and strengthens the connection we have to our family. When we strengthen our bonds with each other the magic that flows through each of us is able to power Santa’s sleigh and give the reindeer their ability to fly.” Proud of her version she tapped Julia on the nose before heading into the dining room to scold Peter for his inability to set the table.

Julia pulled at her braids her mother spent two hours trying to get her to sit still for. “Let’s get you washed up for dinner then we’ll hunt for Rudolf.” Her father’s voice, rough from years of coaching basketball, was still soft when speaking to her.

The family enjoyed their dinner in the crowded dining room. Julia ended up wearing more of her food than eating it. Her mother took her to the bathroom after desert while the cousins readied themselves in the car.

“Mommy, is Uncle Peter or Aunt Dani right about why we go look for Rudolf?”

Her mother folded the moist towel and continued to clean her face and outfit. “What do you think kiddo?”

Julia thought for a moment, “I think Santa loves us no matter what we do as long as we’ve been good.” She nodded to her mother confident in her answer. Her mother smiled sweetly and agreed.

“Maybe Oma can tell you more about it later. Let’s go find Rudolf and lead them back to the house.”

Julia’s little feet raced out into the cold for only a moment before she was tucked between her cousins in the warm van. Her mother stayed behind along with her aunt, uncle, and grandmother. Julia’s father and her uncle Oscar rode in the front while the kids lined the seats in the back. The family ooed and awed at the wonderful array of lights the neighborhoods had lined their houses with. They spotted several blinking red lights that were deemed planes. Then Julia looked to her left and saw a constant floating red light. “I found him Daddy! Quick tell him where we live.” She hollered at the window refusing to take her eyes off of the light. Her father whipped the car around and sped home. When they arrived Julia bolted inside the house to find dozens of presents crowded under the tree. “You just missed him sweety.” Her mother held a camera in her hands, “I tried to get a picture for you this year but he was too fast.”

“Ah but look he enjoyed the cookies you left for him and left you a note!” Peter puffed his chest as her father rolled his eyes once again. Two of the three cookies were gone and half of the last remained while the glass of milk was gone entirely. Oma sat in her rocking chair. Her wrinkles deepening as she smiled.

As tradition goes the youngest gets the first presents while the rest are passed out. Julia ripped through her presents and adored them all. Her favorite gift, addressed to her from Santa, was a glass doll from Europe. She held it close as she climbed into her Oma’s lap. Oma kissed the top of the young girls head as she curled into a ball before falling asleep.

“We should probably be heading home soon. It’s a ways past her bedtime.” Julia’s mother and father began carrying their presents to the car. Oma very gently woke the girl so she could say goodbye to everyone. She carried Julia to the car herself while her parents said their own goodbyes.

“Oma did you really have to change your tradition when you married grandaddy?” Julia attempted to rub the sleep from her eyes.

“Oh my girl, we never stopped changing. One day you will carry the traditions you love with you and change them how you wish to match the love that surrounds you. Magic never dies as long as you continue to do what makes you happy.”

Oma kissed Julia’s puffy cheek and buckled her tight into her car seat. “You children bring our traditions to life. I look forward to seeing your little family grow as you interpret and continue them how you see the world. Just like our ever changing world you will grow and change even when I am far away from here. But, you keep believing in yourself, in love, and you will find your traditions will be the same just done differently.”

As Julia grew and family became sparse that message was never forgotten. 

June 14, 2021 16:54

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2 comments

Maria Bray
11:00 Jun 24, 2021

I love the phrase 'tedious politics of middle school. A good way of describing their conversation. A very sweet story.

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Jess Mowdy
22:48 Jun 27, 2021

Thank you very much! This story is tribute to my German roots and my grandmother.

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