My mom didn't need Pinterest or Instagram to pull off the ultimate Christmas. With five kids running around, it was messy and chaotic, but always a blast. On a recent visit with her, I rummaged through old photos to try and figure out how she nailed it year after year:
1. She slept through Christmas–before kids, obviously. Good plan, Mom, store that energy because you're going to need it. But also, that sofa!
2. She always made us pose in front of the tree on Christmas Eve to catch that pre-Santa excitement (even if it was a blurry shot with my head in the way). This is actually one of her more understated trees, only two boxes of tinsel!
3. She didn't methodically hand out gifts and carefully save all the wrapping paper. She let us have at it, and then collapsed on the floor for a well deserved nap while we played around her unconscious form for hours (I'm guessing my dad took this photo). I clearly remember having the Big Bird chair from that box for many years until we played too hard and snapped it in half.
4. She paused to take moments during the hustle and bustle. But I know that look: "How am I going to get her into that snowsuit if she refuses to wear clothes?!"
5. She braved the parking lots and lines to take us to see Mall Santa every year. But also, why isn't Santa looking at the camera? And am I sporting a shiner under my left eye?
Seriously Santa, this is weird. And that's an aggressive fur trim on your hat, just saying.
OK, Santa might have been more exhausted than my mom. Maybe Santa has a gaggle of kids at home, too, or he got trapped in the parking lot overnight.
6. She snuck around the stage to get a closeup picture at our Christmas concerts. She took her paparazzi-style shots like this and stored them in albums organized by child (the first born had a multi-volume library, the fifth had a little envelope for her collection).
7. She stayed up late crafting my elf costume, hand-sewing little bells to the trim. Luckily we had plenty of that silver garland to borrow from the tree.
8. She built up the anticipation of Christmas morning until we were bursting with excitement. We had to wait in that stairwell until we were given the OK to lay eyes on what Santa had left under the tree. And I clearly remember my mom had a thing for Santa posters, we definitely had more than one (was that an '80s thing?).
9. She knew exactly what to tell Santa to bring. Look at this haul!! Barbie Jeep, a Snoopy Snow Cone Machine, and that's an E.T. TV tray under that rug-hooking kit!
11. My mom could decorate the widest, most awkward trees that my dad would drag home. She filled it with toddler-friendly baubles and definitely bought out all of the silver garland at Giant Tiger. Just one more photo, Mom, then you can go to bed.
12. She made all my '80s dreams come true with that preemie Cabbage Patch Doll I had been coveting all year (her name was Yolanda Marion, I still have the adoption papers). Plus, a new dress, patent shoes and a cross-body purse. Looks like Santa bought my mom at least three different kinds of roast pans that year.
13. She made 'Granny Buns' every year. A sweet dinner roll recipe that came from my great grandmother and rested overnight before being brushed with butter and baked on Christmas morning. We always made five or six dozen for our big extended family dinners. This isn't even the cookbook it came from, that recipe was cemented in her head—but this was pre-Instagram and we didn't take photos of that kind of thing.
14. She multitasked Christmas morning like a pro even with kid number four tucked under her arm (a newborn styled in Santa slippers, of course). By this time, Santa gave up on wrapping presents, because HE CAN'T EVEN! And check out those wires under the stereo.
15. With five kids to raise, the photos petered out for most of the '90s and early millennium. Those undocumented Christmases were filled with the same traditions, tinsel, chaos and joy. Santa still knew what was up, nabbing me a pair of Doc Martens, Nirvana's Nevermind cassette and a poster of Jim Morrison, which hung on my door for years.
16. As the years went on, she somewhat tamed that wild Christmas tree. Eventually, we all grew up and she didn't have to worry about us ripping the tree apart so she traded in the silver tinsel for pearls and bows (although the cats still went to town on it). And she would take my flannel-clad teenage attitude in stride.
17. She made so many lists and would send us off to the store to grab the most random things. Whatever you do, do not forget the IMPERIAL CHEESE!
18. She has grandkids. A lot of them. And she makes sure there are just a few tokens of her love under the tree (a tree which has morphed into a classy palette of silvers and blues, BTW). She gets to relive the chaos of Christmas with kids all over again, and sends us home with a car full of toys.
She makes Christmas magical and I carry on most of her traditions at my house (Granny Buns and all). But I left the tinsel in the 80s, where it belongs.
This article was originally published online in December 2017.