Every single year at the end of November, it happens again. No matter how much I try and remember, no matter where I look, I just cannot find what I need.
I cannot find Gingee.
Gingee is our Christmas elf. She’s actually just a stuffed doll that Shawn and I got when Claire was 4 or 5 during the elf-on-the-shelf craze (Claire named our elf Gingee at the time.) For years, we pretended that Gingee would show up during the month of December to watch over the kids and “report back to Santa at night.” Because Gingee had to fly to the North Pole when everyone was sleeping, she often ended up in a new spot each morning. For years, it was Shawn’s job to move the elf at night. When he was dying, I dutifully took over, and that first Christmas without him, moving Gingee was one of the few things I could do that seemed “normal.” But my heart wasn’t really in it.
That changed last year. Claire admitted to me that she knew Gingee wasn’t real, which broke my heart a little bit. But as I wrote in the blog post “Christmas Magic,” I knew that the best way forward was to get her to be a co-conspirator:
“Okay,” I said, “you know that Gingee is actually a stuffed doll, right?”
She nodded. “I know,” she said, looking at me with big eyes, waiting to see my response.
“So now that you are older, you get to find out more about what ‘magic’ really is,” I said. “Gingee doesn’t fly to the North Pole every night. But it’s not that the magic is dead. It’s just that Daddy and I made it for you and your brothers. Now that you’re old enough, you get to be the magic-maker for them.”
Her eyes got really big and she started to smile. “So I get to move Gingee at night?”
I nodded. “That’s awesome!” she said, a huge smile now on her face. She did a little dance and let out a squeal, and I saw both hold old she was and how young she was in that moment.
Last year, Claire spent the entire month of December dutifully moving Gingee each night, creating elaborate stories for her brothers about the elf and Santa. So it shouldn’t have come as a surprise that she was the one who reminded me to find Gingee in the days before December 1st this year.
We turned the house upside down. Where had I put the elf? I told Claire not to worry, that we’d just get another one online. “But Gingee is special,” she whined.
I knew what she meant. Yes, in reality, Gingee is a mass-produced stuffed doll that thousands of other families also own. There is nothing special about our elf, as evidenced by the fact that I can buy a replica of her in two minutes on the internet. But Gingee has been with us through the years. What did it mean that – yet again – I’d lost something that Shawn had once given our family?
I couldn’t dwell on it. I had to get a replacement and roll with it. “We’ll have to be flexible,” I said, as Claire looked at me with her pre-teen eyes. “The boys won’t know the difference.”
Gingee arrived a few days late, but we managed to pass this off as a coronavirus slowdown (“you know, even elves get quarantined….”) We put her in the tree and the boys were elated to find her that first week of December. “We can’t forget to move it every night,” I told Chris.
Of course, I forgot the very first night.
The next morning, I came downstairs with Tommy. He looked right at me and said, “I wonder where Gingee is!”
I looked at Chris, who was making my coffee. I mouthed a curse word. He winked at me.
Gingee was in Tommy’s stocking. I looked back at Chris, and he was smiling.
“You told me not to forget,” he said, under his breath.
And so it continued. Each night, Claire and Chris would make a Gingee plan, sometimes one of them sneaking down while the other person distracted the boys. It became a special ritual for the two of them, working together to get the elf moved.
One night, as I listened to them laugh as they moved the elf, I realized something: this whole elf-moving thing wasn’t my job anymore. And it wasn’t Shawn’s job either. That elf we bought years ago was gone, replaced by something similar, but not quite the same. And that bit of wonder that we had worked to create all those years ago…it was still around, but it was no longer my responsibility.
Gingee #1 is still missing. Maybe we’ll find her someday in an unused drawer or in a box in the garage. Or maybe we won’t find her, and we’ll just stick with Gingee #2 forever. Maybe I’ll lose Gingee #2 and we’ll have to have Gingee #3 next year.
I guess it’s all part of this crazy year. 2020 has had it’s share of horror for so many people, but for my family, there’s been unexpected happiness, too. Most significantly, this year has been about change for me and for the kids.
Gingee is just one piece of that change, I guess. But really, does it matter that this specific elf was stitched together in 2020, rather than in 2013? I guess I could say that there’s a larger significance here, that losing the elf Shawn once hid says something about me – and our family – moving on and changing into something totally different.
But I don’t think that’s true. Gingee #2 is not an exact replica of Gingee #1. But the boys didn’t notice. What they did notice were the funny things that Gingee did every night. And after a few days, Claire seemed to forget as well. When I watched her move the elf each night, conspiring with Chris to find the best spot, I could see only one thing in front of me:
A bit of Christmas magic.