Merry wasn’t a Christmas person. It was cruel fate that her mother had named her Merry because she’d been born in December.
“I just like ordinary days,” she confided to her best friend, Jemima. “The Christmas holidays are nothing but a lot of extra work. And it’s all stuff I don’t like to do. I don’t like crafts, I don’t like decorating, I don’t like shopping, I don’t like baking…”
Jemima held up her hands in surrender. “Okay, okay! Let’s stipulate that you don’t like the holidays. Admit, at least, that it’s fun to see your kids open their presents on Christmas morning.”
“It used to be, when they were little and everything was a big surprise. Now they bring me lists in November and then change their minds before Christmas.”
“Why not do it differently this year?” Jemima asked. “Ignore their lists. Surprise them.”
“Oh, sure. As if I can figure out what a thirteen year old boy and a fifteen year old girl would like,” Merry said scornfully.
“If you don’t know, who would? You know your kids better than anybody. Put some thought into it.”
Merry reflected on her friend’s advice when she was trying to fall asleep that night. It was always hard to sleep at this time of year; her brain refused to let go of her To Do list no matter how tired she was. But she did get some of her best planning done during the wakeful hours. Tonight, she thought about her kids and what would truly surprise them.
They had so much stuff. More electronics, jewelry or clothing wouldn’t produce a thrill. Those sorts of presents flowed in abundantly from grandparents, aunts and uncles and friends, anyway. What would really make her children’s faces light up?
Well, Trevor loved dogs. He couldn’t have one, because his sister was wildly allergic, so he spent a lot of time at the fence petting the neighbor’s dog. Merry remembered the shelter she passed on her way to the supermarket. She’d bet they needed dog-walkers after school and on week-ends. It would mean less time in front of the game console for Trev, and more time behind the wheel for Merry, but she was okay with that. In fact, she felt good about it. She’d make up a book of coupons that Trevor could cash in whenever he wanted a dog-fix.
And Caitlin loved clothes. Merry thought it was more than an adolescent preoccupation; Caitlin was interested in design and her notebooks were full of sketches. At the mall, she inspected the insides of garments with a discerning eye and refused to buy anything that wasn’t well-made, no matter how trendy it was. Merry would set up her sewing machine and dust off her sewing skills to pass along to her daughter.
When the kids brought her their Christmas lists, she accepted them with a smile instead of her usual martyred sigh. “Not promising that anything on these lists will be under the tree,” she said. Caitlin and Trevor looked at her in surprise.
Merry decided to put out only the Christmas decorations that she particularly liked, or that were specially requested by someone in the family. As a result, three big boxes remained unopened in the attic, but what was on display sparked stories and memories. She ditched all the plastic berries and fake snow, got a rosemary wreath for the door and a fragrant garland for the fireplace mantle. The shiny metallic tree went to Goodwill, and in its place stood a small living tree with its roots wrapped in burlap. It would be planted in the yard after the holidays. After they got back to ordinary days.
But somehow, Merry thought, the New Year might be filled with extraordinary days.