Hide the Leprous Reindeer

December 11th, 2022

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Every family has its own holiday traditions. In mine, we don’t do Elf on a Shelf, but we have our own casual game I like to call “Hide the Leprous Reindeer.”

When Jon and I married and combined our assets, those assets included (and were mostly limited to) boxes full of Christmas tree ornaments we had each been collecting down our family lines. In my corner: a box of handblown glass ornaments my mother had gifted me over the years, some sentimental pieces handed down from my grandmother, and special one-off ornaments various friends have given me that I cherish. In his: a collection of truly adorable felt-and-sequin animal ornaments, wooden Santa and elf heads for our mantle, and, this:

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This is Rudolph the leprous reindeer. Once, I imagine, he shone in all his sparkly, bepearled glory as the star of the ’50s deluxe tree. But many decades later, all that remains is a styrofoam reminder of a reindeer mottled with dull brownish remnants of glitter and a hideous, out-of-date strap made of fake plastic pearls. As my friend Karen said, “That thing looks like it’s made out of asbestos.”

This ornament is offensively ugly, but for some reason, it is far and away the absolute favorite of both of my daughters. Every year, the same scene ensues. We put up the tree, string the lights, and break open the boxes of carefully packed away ornaments. Quickly, they find Leprous Rudolph, gasp with a dramatic inhale of delight, and rush to put it on the most prominent spot on the tree. I cringe, attempt to talk them out of it, glance at Jon sideways (he is not invested one bit in the outcome of this argument), and smartly resign to play my only hand: I go to bed later than they do.

That night, Kris Kringle–style, I sneak into the living room, remove Leprous Reindeer from his post, and slide him around to the back, where I tuck him way, way deep into a crevasse between branches where he will, hopefully, never see the light of day again.

Nevertheless, when I glance at the tree the next day, there he is. Back up front. grimace. 

Thus ensues the weeklong tradition: I move Leprous Reindeer to back-of-the-tree purgatory every night. My daughters resurrect him every morning. There’s some Christmas symbolism in there, but I’m not sure what it is or what role I’m playing in it. Am I Judas here??

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