I love holiday traditions, and Christmas is one of those holidays that carries a lot of history. Growing up, Christmas celebrations were HUGE! My mom and dad are both one of 6 siblings, so I have a lot of cousins on both sides.
On Christmas Eve, we’d always go to my Grandma’s house. Most of my dad’s family was local, so there would be about 15 people huddled around the kitchen as my grandma cooked her ham. As night approached, my little brother and I would get antsy and start bugging my parents to take us home so Santa would come. We were worried that Santa would skip our house if we weren’t there. We knew the faster we went to bed, the faster we’d wake up to presents!
As we got older, my dad’s side played Grab Bag. There are a lot of variations, but most of our Grab Bag items were gag gifts. Everyone would bring a wrapped gift and put it in the big black trash bag. Each person got a turn to grab a gift out of the bag. Sometimes they’d get a roll of toilet paper, sometimes they’d get granny panties, sometimes they’d get a $20 bill! It was funny to see what new gag gifts were added to the bag each year. I believe the granny panties stayed in rotation for several years!
Before bed on Christmas Eve, my little brother and I would leave a few cookies and carrot sticks on the kitchen table for Santa and the reindeer. We’d write a short note to make sure he didn’t forget our most wanted gifts. I think my mom shared those notes with me a few years ago. I’ll have to dig them out and make copies to show my kids.
On Christmas morning, my little brother and I would wake up before the sun came up. I can remember being awake at 4am some years. We’d grab flashlights and sneak out to the living room to see what we got. We weren’t allowed to open anything without mom or dad, so we’d go back to our beds and wait patiently until 6am…7am…8am…or whenever my parents would finally get out of bed. I don’t know if my parents knew we did that. There were a lot of silent celebrations at 4am growing up!
One year my older brother spent Christmas Eve with us. It’s the only Christmas morning I remember with the three of us. We slept on the pull-out couch in the basement next to the wood stove. Because we didn’t have a fireplace, I remember my brother telling us how Santa would have to sneak past us to get upstairs to the tree. He had a very elaborate story about how Santa could fit down the chimney, into the wood stove WITH the burning coals, and not wake us up. Of course we believed every word he said. I wonder if he remembers that story?
Another year, as my little brother and I were approaching the non-believer stage, my parents set up the video recorder in front of the tree. They recorded all night. The next morning we watched back and sure enough, Santa came! We heard him jingling up the stairs, walk into the kitchen to eat his cookies, then walk into the living room where he covered the camera with his hat. After a few seconds, he removed his hat and the entire living room was covered with gifts! It was a miracle! How could Santa set up ALL of those gifts in just a few seconds? My parents said it was Santa’s special power. It was only a few years ago when I realized that my parents utilized the “pause” button on the camera. That video is by far the BEST Christmas memory.
After opening Christmas presents at home, we’d drive over to spend Christmas dinner with my mom’s side of the family. For many years my grandma would host at her house. Again, there were a lot of cousins, aunts and uncles hanging around so it was quite the gathering. When we were younger we would play Secret Santa. The aunts/uncles would pick among themselves and the cousins would pick among themselves. All of the kids would exchange gifts, then retire to my grandma’s TV room (and usually fall asleep on the day bed). I’ll never forget the laughter from the adult gift exchange, it always sounded like a great time.
As I’m writing this post and reflecting on the memories, I’m realizing it wasn’t the traditions that made Christmas great…it was the feeling of love. Spending quality time with the people you love is what makes a holiday special. One day, when Bobby and I have our own kids, I hope to create a similar atmosphere.
What are your traditions?