Christmas Traditions

Today is Christmas Eve, my favorite day of the year. I’m a huge Christmas person. I love the Christmas season with all its magic and sentiment – as long as it doesn’t start until after Thanksgiving, of course. I don’t think Christmas should feel like every regular day – it should feel special, magical, exciting. That’s what it always felt like to me as a child, and although I’m sure many grow out of that, I never did. Obviously the thrill of Santa can wear off as one grows up, but I don’t believe the Christmas spirit and pull of family should have to.

As a child my favorite Christmas traditions involved my Grandma Toots. Her house was always the center gathering spot for all of my mother’s side of the family, which was a very close family back then. The excitement for me would start with going to Grandma’s on Christmas Eve or the day before to help her frost sugar cookies. We’d talk and listen to Christmas music. It was a special bonding time. Then in the evening of Christmas Eve, all my Aunts, Uncles, cousins, Great Grandma, Great Aunts & Uncles, and us would arrive to Grandma’s for the big Christmas celebration. We wouldn’t have a sit-down meal that night; instead her dining room table would be covered in snack foods and desserts. There were cookies, fudge, popcorn balls, peanut brittle, cheese and crackers – and well I don’t really remember if there were any healthy choices or not because as a kid I just concentrated on all that candy. In my eyes, that was so much better than any pot roast or ham. After mingling and snackage, we’d all head into the living room for present opening. The way it worked in our family was that everyone bought presents for the kids and then all the adults drew names and bought for that one person. Usually one or two of the kids would serve as ‘elf’ to hand out the gifts from under the tree. I had lots of cousins and all us kids would be sitting on the floor surrounded by crinkled wrapping paper, totally excited over our new gifts. The grown-ups would sit around the room in all available chairs, visiting, watching their kids, and taking their time opening their gift. Looking back, it was probably utter chaos, but in that moment, for child-me, it was pure happiness.

The teen years were quite different. We had moved away from the small town where the whole family lived, to another state. Then Christmas Eve was either driving through a snowstorm in my parents old 69 Chevy Impala trying to get to Grandma’s on time. Or, it was just my parents and I at home. Those threesome Christmases were lonely at first and I longed for the noisy gatherings at Grandma’s. But eventually we started new family traditions I benefited from greatly. Since it was just the three of us, and my parents now had better-paying jobs, I got a lot more presents! A couple nights before Christmas my Dad would suggest we should open one present because he was too excited to wait. Score! And it was in those years my favorite tradition of all began – decorating the Christmas tree. I loved helping my mom decorate the tree and wrap presents. After I moved away to college, the hardest day my mom had was the first time she put up the Christmas tree without me there to help. She called me, told me she wished I was there, and cried.

So now I am all grown up and have tried to keep traditions from my childhood alive. Every year I listen to Christmas music or watch my favorite Christmas movies while I decorate the tree. National Lampoons Christmas Vacation, A Christmas Story, and Elf are the must see choices to get me in the mood. Now my kids are helping too. They decorate the tree with me — yes, of course I re-arrange the ornaments when they’re not looking. And they help my husband bake sugar cookies. And whereas most families only open presents on Christmas Day, I fought to keep my Christmas Eve excitement alive. And so we have our hors d’oeuvres and desserts, and open presents from each other Christmas Eve. Then wake to Santa’s presents and stockings Christmas morning. Next we go to the in-laws Christmas Day for more presents and great food. Heck, who wouldn’t want to have two days of celebration, right?

The sad thing is, we don’t have the huge family gatherings anymore. The family is spread out over the country, and even those close by have their own little family gatherings to attend. Unlike in my day, my kids don’t have cousins around to share the excitement with either. Good thing I am kid-like-enough with my Christmas spirit to keep it lively. This year I even pulled my Dad’s old trick and gave my boys one present to open early – Christmassy pajama pants to wear tomorrow morning.

What are your favorite Christmas traditions?

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