I Will Always Believe in Umpa: Hanging on to Holiday Magic

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Just a little over a week ago now, we unpacked the Christmas tree from its yearly resting place under the stairs. My daughter ripped through the decorations, hunting for Umpa, our beloved Elf-on-the-Shelf. I couldn’t remember whether my kids had seen the original Umpa’s replacement after a run-in with our puppy left part of her head chewed off last year.

In haste, I’d purchased a replacement elf on Ebay, hoping she’d look the same. Much to my chagrin, her cheeks were rounder. She was quite clearly not the same. Instead of risking the drama of my children catching on and a clunky explanation of why, I packed the stand-in with our Christmas decorations. In a year, I figured, they’d forget, easily enough, what Umpa really looked like.

I unpacked an assortment of ornaments, each with its own memory of when and by whom it had been added to the collection. Bekah made her way upstairs, puzzled at why Umpa was in a box, not quite asking me why. She pulled off the last of the twisty-ties that confined her to the box and commented to me, knowingly, “Umpa doesn’t look different, at all.” 

A few days after the impostor had been unpacked, Bekah commented on how she wasn’t moving at night. No funny poses. No mischief. She even composed a letter to Umpa, asking her if she didn’t like us anymore. Afraid of letting the magic fade, I contrived a few shenanigans, and we were back in business. Umpa was very much alive and with us again. I’ve noticed, however, that I’m not alone. Bekah has begun to move her too, placing her in silly spots, as if she’s catching on.

As I spread the frosting on her cake tonight, I realized that Bekah didn’t ask for a special cake. She made no requests for Hello Kitty or mermaids. She didn’t mention cake at all. I tossed some blue sprinkles on the chocolate frosting for effect and smudged a bit on Umpa’s nose, all the while, thinking, she knows.

Three years ago, I picked up a silly stuffed doll, smaller than a Barbie with a quirky side-glanced smirk. A year had gone by since my world had collapsed. Hanging in the balance of an uncertain future, I wanted to build some new traditions. This odd little doll was one first step. But it was mine, at least my idea. And it became ours.

I thought about all this tonight as I frosted her cake. The magic of Umpa is fading. I see my little girl in an age-old saga we call “growing up.” And what I find beautiful is that I see her wanting to believe, hanging on to the notion, despite her apparent doubts, that maybe, just maybe, it could be true.

She marvels at Umpa’s antics, and I respond flatly, as if it’s old hat. That Umpa, she’s so silly. But she loves you, oh so deeply. Happy 8th, my sweet, sweet girl. I will always believe in Umpa.

*Originally published on December 11, 2015*

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