There’s No Holiday Respite for the Real Santa’s Helpers


‘Twas the night before Christmas,

And all through the house

Only Mother was stirring--

Dad was out cold, the louse.

Every December, I pass some mall or another, and I wonder:

What are all those women doing inside? Why aren’t they outside? Outside the toy stores, the candy stores, outside the department stores, the gimcrack and gizmo stores? Outside picketing, outside melting down their credit cards, outside shouting their protest:

Holidays unfair to women!

Just about every woman I know pulls away the calendar pages of October and November with mounting dread. It sets in around Halloween, as commerce sweeps the shelves clear of orange and black merchandise and moves in the red and green. Thereafter, the race is real, chores against check marks. The daily countdown of dwindling shopping days reverberates like a doomsday clock. Each shimmering note of a silver bell tolls another second gone. Tick tick, tick tick.

A college friend was hosting the family for Christmas. Food needed cooking, guest rooms wanted cleaning, gifts awaited wrapping. There was a toddler to bathe and dress. Her husband volunteered to help. He chose to paint the front porch.


An East Coast friend buys her husband’s family’s gifts, wraps and sends them, buys gifts for the kids, the kids’ teachers, for the baby-sitter, for her husband’s secretary. At least we’re Jewish, she says, so I don’t have to drag a tree through the house.

A West Coast friend has inherited her family’s Christmas dinner, a sit-down for 16. Afterward, at 2 a.m., she mops the floors, before the baby wakes up and starts crawling. At Christmas Mass, she is grateful to have one golden minute, 60 seconds of peace, to call her own.

Those stockings that hang

By the chimney with care--

Guess who had just washed them

And put them up there?

Women are co-conspirators in our holiday performance anxiety. We cave in to tradition, to peer pressure, to Martha Stewart marketing.

Superstitiously, I think, we fear breaking the chain that binds us to the lives we have lived. Loosen one link, let one element vanish, and we risk the chain coming apart in our hands--our childhood gone, our memories gone, our children’s family foundation lost beyond recall. Each ritual, properly performed, preserves family and memory for another year.

But really, would the family disown you if, for once, you bought the cinnamon rolls instead of using your grandmother’s recipe? Would it kill anyone if you skipped making tamales from scratch? Would the world end if, just one time, the heirloom tablecloth didn’t get picked up from the dry cleaner’s in time for Christmas dinner?

The revolution came to our house one Christmas, when my mother’s special chocolate cookies, the ones that required a cookie press and arcane pastry implements to make, were not on the cookie platter.


We were aghast. But we survived. We’d always said of those little homemade cookies that it wouldn’t be Christmas without them. It still was.

Dad sprang to his truck,

To the kids gave a whistle,

And away we all flew,

Like the down of a thistle.

And I heard Mother sigh

As we drove out of sight,

“I’ll be set for next year

If I start in tonight.”

My father, once he had raised up the Christmas tree, didn’t give much thought to holiday chores. His gifts depended on what shop was open the latest on Christmas Eve. If it was a sporting-goods store, we might get skates. If it was a department store, it could be a waffle iron or a bracelet. He stuck the gift into a brown paper sack, stapled it closed and taped a bow on.

Just once, the women I know would like that kind of Christmas. Wake up untroubled on Dec. 24 and say to yourself, “Huh, Christmas already. Guess I better swing by the mall on the way home and pick up a few things.”

In some December yet to come, the Internet may make it so. The Genie of Hardware still inhabits computers, kin to the Muse of the Socket Wrench, the God of Power Tools. It remains only to persuade the fellows to fire up the mouse and become the masters of Cyber-December, ordering treats, dispatching electronic greeting cards, commanding gift-wrapped presents to be sent hither and thither.

Some things, though, you don’t want to give up, or need to. Since my father died, we have made sure that somewhere under the tree is a brown paper sack, stapled shut, with a red bow stuck on it.

Patt Morrison’s column appears Fridays. Her e-mail address is