Saturday, December 17, 2005

A Christmas Story: Family Traditions

One of the reasons I love Christmas (despite my atheistic ways) is because I have so many fond memories of the season. As a child, it was a time when everything was right with the world. We did nothing but hang around the house, make and eat cookies, work puzzles, play games, and enjoy each other's company. When Mr. Geeky and I got together, we spent many Christmas's with his family, who do it differently. They get up really, really early, open presents, then go down to his grandparents house, open more presents over punch and donuts, then they go to another relative's house for Christmas dinner, open even more presents and finally go back home. Each event involves increasing numbers of relatives, some so removed you barely know their names. By the end of the day, you're stuffed and exhausted from opening presents, remembering people's names, and being nice to old aunt Petunia.

At my house, we had Christmas dinner on Christmas Eve, usually after our Christmas Eve service, which started at 5:45. I sang in the church choir for years and I loved singing in the Christmas Eve service especially. In fact, my first solo was during a Christmas Eve service. My mother was terrified on my behalf. After a lovely service, we would come home and we'd eat a great meal. My mother was an excellent cook. We almost always had a similar meal to Thanksgiving: turkey, mashed potatoes, green bean casserole, bread. But usually my mother would experiment with something and, unlike Thanksgiving, we had pear salad, a half of pear topped with mayonnaise (or sour cream) and shredded cheese. I know, it sounds weird, but I liked it. Then we had grasshopper pie for dessert: vanille ice cream, creme de menthe mixed with marshmallows and cream and creme de cacao on top of a chocolate wafer crust. It's really good. I'll post the recipe, really.

We also started the tradition of opening one present on Christmas Eve. This started when we were really young and antsy and my parents used this as a bribe to get us to bed. Eventually, though, there was a present specifically meant for Christmas Eve, usually new pajamas. Mr. Geeky and I have continued this tradition with our own kids. Since we'd done all our formal duties--Christmas dinner, church--on Christmas Eve, Christmas morning could be dedicated to opening presents and playing with them. My dad would make French toast sometime around 9 or 10 o'clock and we'd take a break from playing to eat. None of us were out of our pajamas before noon. Friends would stop by. We'd call aunts and uncles and grandparents and thank them for presents and tell them what Santa brought us. We'd run around the neighborhood showing off our toys. Occasionally, there'd be snow and we could sled, or we'd have new bikes or skateboards. All in all, it was a truly joyous and fun time.

The first time Mr. Geeky and I decided not to travel for the holiday, Geeky Boy was 5 and Geeky Girl was 1. Though we'd spent Christmas before with my family and Mr. Geeky knew how I usually spent the holiday, now we had the opportunity to decide what our own traditions would be. Since I was doing most of the planning and preparing, I went primarily with my own traditions, making Christmas dinner on Christmas Eve, and leaving Christmas day to relax and enjoy our gifts. On Christmas Eve, after the kids had gone to bed, it began to sleet. The next morning, we got up, opened presents, and at breakfast. Shortly after breakfast, we lost electricity. The ice had built up to about an inch think on the wires. Thankfully, we had gas heat and most of the toys didn't require electricity. Mr. Geeky had received a James Bond DVD collection and had his laptop at home, so he spent the evening in bed watching as much of James Bond as his laptop battery would allow.

We only went to Mr. Geeky's family one more time after that Christmas and we all found it pretty exhausting, though there are parts of it that are really fun. Now, we all appreciate our own more relaxed traditions with its focus on the immediate family. I certainly appreciate having an extended family around and there are times when I miss the hustle and bustle of having all those people around, but there aren't too many other times when I get to really appreciate my husband and my kids. It took a few years, but I can say with certainty that we now have our own traditions.