The informant is a 21 year old girl, and one of my closest friends. She told me about a tradition she takes part in at Christmas time every year.
Informant: So, every year, the day before Christmas, since we were little, my mom acts like she is the elf… And puts out Christmas presents and rings a little bell. We all run into the living room, and there are presents. And they are our Christmas pajamas to wear so that when we wake up we are all matching in Christmas clothes.
Me: You used to think it was an elf though?
Informant: Oh, definitely I used to think it was an elf.
Me: And then she told you?
Informant: Well it was her handwriting. Back when I thought it was the elves, I really thought it was them. I pictured them as the little ones, you know? Little guys with green and red hats and little outfits with little boots. Like the size of… a pencil… that height.
Me: When did you start practicing this?
Informant: As long as I can remember.
Me: When did you figure out it was your mom?
Informant: Probably in 4th or 5th grade I figured it out.
My analysis: When I first heard this story, I was not very drawn to it. Christmas is somewhat the “go to” topic when talking about different traditions. Looking back, though, that in and of itself is what makes it so interesting. Once I interviewed another informant (transcribed under: Hungarian Christmas), I ended up coming back and rethinking this tradition. Both of the informants talked about a very very similar Christmas tradition, but one learned it at her home in North Carolina and the other in Budapest, Hungary. The concept is the same: some figure puts out presents the night before Christmas, a bell is rung, and kids can go see those presents the night before. Which one of these cultures started practicing this first is beyond me, but the fact that they all do gave me a newfound appreciation for something I originally did not think much of.