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By Maya Jain

Believe it or not, Santa’s reindeer are oatmeal connoisseurs. I would know, because I’ve been part of the sibling team that has diligently fed them each Christmas Eve for pretty much my whole life.

The family tradition goes so far back that I can’t even remember its inception. It’s likely, though, that my older sister had come home from elementary school one day with a bright red half sheet of paper with Comic Sans instructions on how to make reindeer food. Probably something along these lines:

Ingredients: 

-oatmeal (can be instant, can be old fashioned rolled oats, can be organic or nah, I don’t mind, can be any ol’ kind of oatmeal, just preferably *stale*)

-glitter

-a whole lotta love

Instructions:

  1. Depending on the participants’ heights, you may need to scoot a few chairs up to the counter so they can reach.
  2. Pour oatmeal and glitter into bowls. The proportions of each don’t matter. But!! Be so, so careful to not spill entire tubes of glitter on the floor, because if you do, we’ll be cleaning it up ’til kingdom come.
  3. Allow the participants to mix the glitter and oatmeal vigorously with wooden spoons.
  4. Split the concoction as evenly as possible between the four siblings. Assure them that even if one sibling received a larger bowl than them, **it contains the same amount as their bowl.**
  5. Don coats, hats, gloves and winter boots over pajamas.
  6. Once outside, FLING that oatmeal every which way!! Leave no corner of the yard unadorned with the sparkling carbohydrate. An attempt will be made to avoid siblings’ directly pelting one another (this is a reindeer feeding, not an Oatmeal Battle Royale), but no promises can be made.
  7. Traipse back inside, secure in the knowledge that Rudolph’s red nose will glint off of the glittery oatmeal and guide the rest of Santa’s Dream Team to the house.

Sometimes the process gives rise to slight variations. One year, we kids were decidedly overzealous about maximizing the surface area of the reindeer food’s reach and decidedly under-aware of the need to respect others’ property. We threw the reindeer food all over our family friend Scott’s car that was parked in our driveway. Poor Scott — his precious Jeep was his baby, and on Christmas morning he was turning candy cane-like shades of angry red and shocked white as he gawked at the dry oatmeal and glitter scattered across the windshield.

One Christmas Eve when I was maybe 8 or 9, I had the (what I thought) brilliant idea to chop up carrots and add them to the oatmeal. Hesitant to waste good carrots alongside the stale oatmeal, my mom tried to nix the idea, but I insisted that the reindeer would appreciate some vegetables in their otherwise oatmeal-heavy diet. Not wanting to trounce on my creativity and nascent interest in reindeer dietetics, she kindly acquiesced to my request (albeit with a more limited number of carrots than I had hoped).

That’s the thing — nobody is more avid an enthusiast for feeding the reindeer than my mom. In our family, my mother is the keeper of traditions, the taker of photos, the one who can find delight in the smallest of moments. So, it’s no surprise that when I think of finding God in prepping and chucking reindeer chow, the image that comes to mind is of her beaming as she pulls out the glitter from the cabinet and asks her four “kidlets” — now ranging from age 21 to 30 — if we’re ready to feed the reindeer again.

Year after year, we are. And God is there in my mother’s unfailing smile, in her insistence on taking photographs of her adult children laughing, joking and playing like kids again as we toss reindeer food in the Christmas Eve darkness. God is present in the togetherness, the warmth and the sheer silliness of it all, shining like glitter in a handful of oatmeal you’re about to throw into the snow.

Maya Jain (she/her) is a writer and educator who has taught in primary, secondary and adult learning settings in the U.S. and abroad.