There’s nothing I love more than hearing about my new (and old) friends’ family traditions around Christmas Day. Some get dressed to the nines and attend midnight mass, some cook lobster over an outside stove and some open their stockings in front of the tree the day before. It piques my interest and warms my heart because everyone is so passionate about what they do, excited about what they cook and purposeful about how they plan. Each moment leading up to and during the main event is special, fun and heartwarming all because it’s theirs.
My family grew up in Southern Maine. We are a family of four – Dad, Mom, Sister and me. We spent every Christmas as a family and I still to this day can give you a play-by-play of each hour surrounding Christmas Day. Which I will, because it still means as much to me this very moment as it did 20 years ago.
I feel fortunate that we had many white Christmases. My own children have never seen snow, so I often think I took it for granted growing up. Christmas Eve could be a fun-filled morning of ice skating at the nearby outdoor pond, sledding down the local golf course hills, or building a snowman (carrot nose and all). After hours in the snow, my sister and I would come in for marshmallows with hot chocolate … yes, you read that correctly. I don’t know how we got away with it, but I am quite certain the mug was 20% hot cocoa and 80% Kraft mini-marshmallows. My mom would be making her famous peanut butter cookies with Hershey Kisses in the middle. At one point early on, I believe we were fired from our job of unwrapping the Kisses for her because there were too many missing!! Christmas Eve was always a traditional fondue. We would have chicken, steak and shrimp with crusty bread and cooked vegetables. I look back and think “how did we pick fondue?” I have no idea, but it was the dinner I looked forward to most throughout the year.
My sister and I always got to open one present on Christmas Eve. And along with the present came … wait for it … matching pajamas. I think I actually dreaded these, as you truly never knew what you were going to get. Let’s just say I could always tell when Dad picked them out versus when Mom did the shopping (think neon orange plaid versus cute reindeer prints). We, sometimes reluctantly, put on our PJs and headed to our rooms. Stockings would lay on the end of our beds, where Santa shockingly filled and left them without us hearing a thing. It was like … magic.
Christmas morning began very early in our home, thanks to me and my genuine excitement and curiosity. I would come running into my parents’ room (sometimes at 4 am, yikes), stocking in hand, to tell them I SWORE I heard someone on the roof in the middle of the night. Each year, we would open our stockings on my parents’ bed, sitting in a circle and everyone opening one gift at a time. My parents always made us wait until my dad “turned on the tree lights” to go downstairs. I now think it was their way of double checking no one had left any evidence. Once getting the green light, Sis and I would go straight to the fireplace to find crumbs, a half-gnawed carrot and a lovely note from Saint Nick saying how pleased he was with our behavior that year. Cinnamon Rolls would be cooking as we opened our gifts, one after another. After the last present, there were always envelopes in the tree with cash for us children. As we grew older, this cash became a necessity for our December 26 shopping spree.
While I feel like this is a long-winded version of my family Christmas traditions, I also feel like I could tell you so much more. I encourage you to write down your cherished moments as well, so one day your children (or your children’s children) can see just how long ago their peanut butter cookie making or stockings in bed started. Whether you celebrate with a family of 25 and do a white elephant, or it is just you and your spouse, take in an extra breath today and cherish the traditions that you’ve created (or are creating) on this very special day … xxx