Ghostwriting for Santa (by Nancy Ohlin)

When I was a child, my family wasn’t much into celebrations.  In fact, it was quite the opposite.  My mom was usually in a Jack Daniels stupor, holiday or not.  My dad lived far away and never sent presents or even cards.  My step-dad’s annual Christmas gift to me was a shoebox filled with pencils, tape, and other office supplies because he claimed that I always borrowed his and never gave them back.   

Sad, I know.  But I more than made up for this deprivation by becoming a total celebration-aholic as an adult.  Here is a quick rundown:

*I make a HUGE big deal out of birthdays—mine, my husband’s, and our childrens’.  I insist on celebrating birthday weeks and, on occasion, birthday months.  Half birthdays, too.   Jens knows to check in with me long before my actual birthday to find out what I’d like on the day of:  a party, an intimate dinner with close friends, a cake made by our five-year-old, or a romantic evening out.  Or all of the above spread out over the month of April. 

*When it comes to gift-bearing immortal beings, we not only have Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny in our house, but the Valentine’s Day Fairy and the Birthday Fairy, too.  They all leave notes in curly, old-fashioned handwriting that looks nothing like mine, and presents wrapped in unfamiliar paper that looks nothing like the paper on the other presents.

*Weeks before a major holiday or the like, our five year-old, Clara, and I decorate like crazy.  Emphasis on “crazy.”  I once swore I would never shop at A. C. Moore, but that ship sailed long ago.  Included on the list are birthdays, Valentine’s Day, Easter, Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s.  I’m sure that at some point, we’ll be adding Groundhog Day and Arbor Day.

*I love to organize Easter egg hunts!  When our son Christopher and his friends got too old for candy-filled eggs, I used folded-up dollar bills instead.  They were pretty into that.

*Over the years, our family has adopted lots of Christmas traditions.  Every December, Jens, Christopher, Clara, and I go out and each choose one new ornament for the tree.  (I got this from Betsy and Tacy Go Downtown.  Of course, Clara has learned to scam us by claiming that our cats need an ornament, too … and so does our bunny … and so does her stuffed bear …)  We hide a pickle ornament in the tree for the children.  (Whoever finds it gets an extra present.)  We read The Night Before Christmas on Christmas Eve.  We always watch White Christmas as a family.  Jens being Swedish, he makes a holiday smorgasbord for a big group, complete with rice pudding that contains a single blanched almond.  (Whoever gets the almond wins the marzipan pig and is the next to be married.)

*And last but not least, we have Christopher's first Carnegie Hall performance, his college acceptances, his high school graduation, and his first day at Juilliard.  Needless to say, these types of milestones were/are/always will be observed with appropriate fanfare (as well as much maternal weeping, most of it happy).

That all being said …

I had one of my best celebrations this fall, and it didn’t follow the usual pattern of exuberance and excess.   It happened on October 12th, which was Jens’ and my tenth wedding anniversary.

Up until then, 2013 had been a pretty sucky year. I was still undergoing treatment after being hit by a car in 2012.  In July, Jens almost died from a rare illness.  In September, my dad passed away, unexpectedly and before I’d had a chance to make my peace with him.

On October 11th, Jens had outpatient surgery to have his pacemaker removed.  (The abovementioned illness had required an emergency pacemaker insertion, which his doctors now wanted to reverse.)  So we knew he wouldn’t be up for a major celebration on the 12th.  Besides which, neither of us was in a particularly boisterous mood after the past few months. 

On the morning of the 12th, I woke up with a dour “do I really have to get up and face this day?” attitude.  Likewise, Jens was uncomfortable from his surgery and stressed about stuff in general.  We were clearly slated to have a less-than-stellar day.

Then this wonderful, out-of-the-blue idea hit me.   As we were lying in bed and listening to Clara clamoring for breakfast/TV/toys, I leaned over and said to Jens:   “Just for today, let’s forget about everything bad.  Let’s just be really, really happy and enjoy our anniversary.”

With that statement, I actually felt the chemicals rearrange themselves in my brain and send me into a state of calm and bliss.  Jens said he felt it, too.  For the rest of the day, we were both in a joyful mood, simply because we had decided to make it so.  We didn’t have a party; we didn’t exchange presents; we didn’t even open a bottle of champagne.  We just celebrated in our hearts and with each other as we went through what was otherwise a very ordinary day.

I wish I could invoke this simple mental magic all the time.  I haven’t quite achieved that level of enlightenment yet.   

Still, during this month of festivities, exuberance, and excess, I will try hard to remember what happened on October 12th.  And as I watch White Christmas, eat rice pudding, and ghostwrite for Santa, I know exactly what I will be celebrating:

*Jens is healthy.  So are Christopher, Clara, and I.

*We have each other.

*We have our friends and family.

*There is more love in our house than I ever imagined possible.

Happy Holidays.


  1. This is one of the best posts I have read all year, anywhere.

  2. I agree--best post of '13. Happy holidays to you and yours, Nancy!

    1. Thank you, Holly! Happy holidays to you and yours, too!

  3. Thank you, Jenn! I hope you are having a wonderful holiday season so far.

  4. Nancy, I love your holiday traditions -- especially the pickle -- and I'm happy the good health of your family can be celebrated as this year draws to a close. Your post was so inspiring, Happy holidays!

  5. Happy holidays to you, Jen! I'm actually working on the pickle presents right now (we have to get two - one for Clara and one for Christopher - because she always "wins"). I hope that are paths cross in 2014.

  6. This is one of those (rare) posts you read and want to respond but it evokes a whole lot of feelings..first, I felt a jolt about your SD's gifts -- ouch. Shocked by your and your husband's health challenges and so glad you are both healthy. Congrats to your son and aw, you have a little girl to celebrate Christmas with! (mine are grown). Yes, as I've learned again and again, esp. in hard times, all we have is faith, love, and laughter. And each other. My dear MIL just passed away and everyone agreed, she was beautiful inside and out and was beloved by many. How can you say anything better than that about our lives?

    Best to you and yours and thanks for sharing this thought-provoking and inspiring post!

    1. I'm so sorry to hear about the loss of your beloved mother-in-law, Liz. She sounds like an amazing person. Thank you for sharing this and everything else, too. I hope you have a wonderful holiday season filled with faith, love, laughter, presents, good friends, and good food!

  7. This is such an uplifting post. The fact that you have created such beautiful, fun memories for your family is so heartwarming. They are so lucky to have a great mom like you.

    1. Margie, your comment made my day. Thank you and Happy New Year!!


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