Every family grows up with a certain Christmas process. Whether yours begins Christmas Eve or as soon as the Thanksgiving meal has been put away, you know when your Christmas season starts.
Our Christmas season always started on Thanksgiving day and the next. Thanksgiving day was the earliest anyone in our house could drink egg nog. I still find it somewhat sacrilegious when egg nog finds its way onto store shelves at the end of October. But while having that first thick, sweet, spiced glass of Christmas spirit we would begin the process of finding Christmas. We had boxes and boxes of decorations, ornaments, and assorted plates and other nick-nacs. My dad has always had a great eye for spacial reasoning, which made him an expert decorator. My mother, though, would often state once the house were sufficiently full of Christmas, “Well, Christmas has thrown up in this house.” Which, of course, has remained our way of saying, “The house is fully decorated for the festive season.”
For a while, my dad did the 12 days of Christmas with us. Now, the church calendar has these after Christmas, but my dad did 12 days leading up to Christmas. (Which means it starts on the 13th, because I suggested it should start on the 12th, and it ended on the 23rd. I learned a valuable math lesson that year.) He and mom didn’t have many ornaments their first year of marriage, so my dad made sure that my brother and I would have plenty when we had houses of our own. We would get either an ornament, a CD, a book, or something else each morning signed from “YTL.” (Your True Love, if you haven’t heard the song lately.) And I can say that I have about two trees worth of ornaments, but that means that each year my Christmas tree is wildly different, but for all the right reasons.
We had our favorite movies that we would watch at least once each season. “Rudolph,” “Frosty,” “Santa Claus is Coming to Town,” “The Santa Clause,” and, of course, “How the Grinch Stole Christmas.” Another glass of egg nog would accompany these annual re-watches as we snuggled into another time of family and warmth.
Christmas Eve usually found us at church, enjoying a candlelight service with our church family and extended family. Then, we’d all head over to Bear’s house – Bear being my mother’s father. He’d have King’s Hawaiian bread and ham with tomatoes and lettuce and chips and a box of pastries from a local bakery. Our whole huge family would eat together, swapping stories and news while we ate far too many sandwiches. Then, we’d cram into one of the rooms of his house and the gifts would begin. Each child would receive something, and every year was a surprise. Then, we’d watch Bear receive his gifts, and he would undoubtedly receive several containers of brown mustard, which he hated, and we’d all have a good laugh.
I remember lying awake, staring at the ceiling for hours after these family visits. Strung out on anticipation and sugary soda, I would wait for what seemed like hours for Christmas morning to arrive. And when I finally fell asleep, my parents had the hardest time getting me out of bed. I have, more than once, suggested that the presents just be brought to my room. That would never do, however, and my brother and I would make our way, pajama clad into the living room. For the record, my family never seemed one for wearing bathrobes. But on Christmas morning, we all had one most years, which I’m sure is an odd detail for some of you, but it stands out for me. With Dolly Parton singing sweetly from the speakers, my family would settled into unwrapping gifts, with “oos” and “aahs” and “wows!” Our stockings were always entertaining, with tiny things we never knew we needed, and yet once we saw them instantly realized the hole that they filled. And most years our stockings would contain “panties and socks,” by which my mother meant underwear and socks, but it always made my brother and I cringe, which made her laugh, so it stuck.
Finally, dad would make a filling special Christmas breakfast for us, which varied some years, but was always delicious. We’d sit and watch the Christmas day parade on the TV while we ate our tasty meal.
These are the things that made Christmas past fun and memorable. I am making new memories each year. I learned that real trees are deadly and cause my allergies to flare up and make for a long Christmas season. I learned that cats really enjoy nibbling on fake tree bristles. I learned that waking up my wife early on Christmas morning without a cup of coffee already in my hand is a grave mistake.
Regardless, Christmas still means family, still means Christ, still means a warmth that takes the edge off of the cold of winter.
What traditions do you have with your kids? What small things mean Christmas to you?