The Story Of How A Family Christmas Tradition Nearly Killed Me

Self, Family

I loved opening my gift on Christmas Eve, but that gift always made me scared for my life.

One of my favorite and strangest Christmas memories was the curse of the Lanz nightgown, a family tradition. My mom always wore Lanz nightgowns to bed (and I think she still does)—flannel ones all winter long and cotton ones in the summer. They were usually red or blue striped, with flowers going down the middle of the stripes. They had white eyelet trim around the collar, yoke, and front placket as well as around the shoulders making little eyelet angel wings that stuck out over the puffy shoulders.

I think they were always long sleeved with eyelet ruffled elastic cuffs at the wrist. These gowns went all the way down to the floor. My dad bought them for her, my sister and I for Christmas every year. They were adorable. Not really my taste now, but as I a kid I thought they were so elegant.

We were always allowed to open one gift on Christmas Eve. Our new Lanz nightgowns were always the one gift we opened. We'd come home after the Christmas Eve service to our house smelling like ham or wassail (Swedish mulled cider or wine), or often, both. The tree would be glowing with lights and a crazy assortment of homemade popsicle stick, yarn, dough and glitter ornaments collected over the years.

After a nice meal, we would be allowed to open our one gift. We'd tear in to them as if we had no idea what we would be getting, and every year we would exclaim, "Oh, a new nightgown!" I was always happy to get the gown, because it meant the next day was Christmas morning and Santa would be coming. Those Lanz nightgowns symbolized the precursor to the most wonderful morning of the whole year. 

We would put on our nightgowns and get into bed so that we had them on in the morning when we woke up. It was tradition to all wake up with lovely matching gowns for the ladies, a new set of pajamas for my brother, and a new robe for my dad. I would get all tucked in and feel so happy and excited; then, the ugly truth about those nightgowns would start to set in. Lanz nightgowns were trying to kill me.

The thing is, when I sleep I toss and turn ... a lot. I guess you could say I am an active sleeper. I'm a good sleeper, just a little busy with my legs and arms. So, when I slept in a full length gown, if I tossed and turned even a bit, that gown would slowly ride up, twist and turn into a literal tourniquet around my chest, rendering me almost breathless by the morning.

I remember thinking I would surely perish in the night each and every Christmas Eve. Death by nightgown asphyxiation. People would ask, "How did Jennifer die?" and mom would have to say, "It was the nightgown. The nightgown killed her. If only we had known the danger, we would have bought her pajamas like her brother. Oh, poor, poor Jennifer!"

Needless to say, I hated the length of those gowns; but, they were super cute and made my mom so happy. I didn't mind suffering through Christmas Eve, waking up twisted within an inch of my life to take family photos with my mom and my sister and our new matching gowns. I would smile as if I didn't almost just die in my sleep.

Then, after all the gifts were unwrapped, before Christmas night and time to die (errr ... I mean sleep again), I would quickly get to cutting my gown in half. It was a bit more bearable to wear when cut to the knee, even better as a mini, and yet even better if worn as a night shirt with shorts or sweats underneath.

Every year my gown would make its slow climb from my ankles to my knees. Wait for night, sleep, twist, bind, choke, and I'd cut it to my thighs. Wait for sleep again, twist, bind, and I'd cut it to my waist, put on shorts and sleep soundly. Ahh perfect. Until next year.


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