Sunday, December 7, 2008

Christmas Traditions

I’ve been banished to the bedroom so that Mouse and Hubster can wrap my Christmas gifts. I’m certainly not unhappy to be banished as I’ve grabbed a fresh cup of coffee, a morsel of dark chocolate (and yes a morsel, 2 small squares) and my laptop and am comfortably situated on my bed, with a few minutes to myself. Ah exile, it’s a good place to be.

Since I will have a longer than usual time frame for writing, which will hopefully be uninterrupted, I'll warn you that this post will likely be longer than normal. So, go get another coffee. Go ahead. It's ok. I'll wait.

As my Christmas CD loads into iTunes, I’m thinking of the music I’ll be hearing soon. No, it’s not some hip star singing rocked out Christmas songs. I’m not that cool. I had my Mum make me this CD a few years ago from albums that we used to listen to every year. Songs I missed at the holidays when I moved away. It’s John Denver, Living Strings and Living Voices, and Nana Mouskouri. And yes, I know all the words. Not cool for anyone else and I don’t care.

Growing up, we didn’t live very close to our extended family so we didn’t often have that gaggle of cousins, aunts, uncles and grandparents that seem to embody a typical traditional holiday. Our Christmas’s were much more subdued but no less magical because my parents made an effort to start traditions that helped our holidays feel special – like the family time it’s meant to be. It gave us special things to look forward to, things we only did at the holidays.

Surprisingly Santa didn’t play a huge part in our Christmas. He was never “pushed” but was more of a suggestion. We were never threatened with “Santa is watching!” to get us to behave. I don’t know if I ever really believed in it, but I liked the thought that a magical person could actually exist. We did talk about him and did “receive” gifts from him but, really, I think we always knew it was our parents.

Every year, we’d decorate the tree together as a family. Once Dad had the tree set up (a real tree) in the stand with the lights (mumble, mumble, ARGH, &^@#), we’d start to decorate. We loved opening the boxes of ornaments and admiring all the familiar decorations. My Dad’s decorated duck egg, my brother’s little pompom snowman from when he was a baby, my felt tree decorated with alphabet macaroni that I made in kindergarten. They held so many memories and brought their own magic to the season.

We always made gingerbread people cookies to hang on the tree with our friends/family members names on them; people we couldn’t be with at the holidays but who were in our hearts. We usually didn’t eat the cookies, but pretty much every year some poor cookie that was hung too low got eaten by the dogs.

My Mum always made butter tarts, jam thumb print cookies and Dad made pumpkin pie. We had turkey and all the fixings for Christmas dinner, which was served with good china and silver at a decorated table, usually by candle light. We changed from our pjs into nice clothes. Yes, even though most of the time it was just us 4.

My parents held a ‘come-and-go’ holiday party for many years. They invited all their friends, co-workers, neighbors and when my brother and I were old enough, we invited our friends as well. We’d decorate the house, prepare lots of food and just visit with our friends. It was always so festive and loud and fun.

Each year, we’d pick out a big complicated puzzle and set it up on a board to work on over the whole holiday. I remember the day after school let out for the break, we’d be getting the puzzle out and sorting pieces.

This was the one time of year when we’d have pop (soda) in the house. My folks would stock up on cans of Coke and Ginger Ale and store it in the basement. Little bro and I would often sneak an extra can when we were playing down there. Yeah, our parents knew so we weren't exactly that sneaky.

Of course, little Bro and I loved all the Christmas shows, and back before recording devices were really popular, we had to wait and watch the tv guide to see when all the good ones would be on. Rudolf the Red Nose Reindeer, Frosty the Snowman, Santa Claus is Coming to Town, Miracle on 34th Street, and of course, growing up in the 80’s meant we loved Garfieldf and Garfield's Christmas was no exception.

Even into our early teens we used to get chocolate Advent calendars – a tradition I’m carrying over with my girls because nothing says Christmas like eating a piece of chocolate every morning. One year my brother opened all of his doors and ate the chocolate in one day, but pretended that he opened and ate it each day. I guess that’s his prerogative, but it’s funny all these years later.

We didn’t start going to church until my brother and I were a bit older, like about 7 and 9, but once we did, Christmas Eve service became a part of that tradition as well. When we were younger, we’d go to the 7 pm service which was always chaotic with kids running all over the place. The church was always jammed with families and brimming with Christmas excitement. Our gentle and kind minister would stand at his pulpit beside the enormous, shining tree and tell us the story of Christmas and lament that again this year he was shopping for his family at the last minute that very day. When we were older (early teens), we’d go to the 9 pm service which was quieter but just as meaningful.

After church, we would always drive around the city, up and down all of the little streets to admire the lights and decorations.

My Mum’s family used to open all of their gifts on Christmas Eve and so, to keep a part of her family tradition, we always got to open one gift on Christmas Eve. It was always so exciting to figure out which one our parents would select for us to open.

As kids, my brother and I left out milk and cookies for Santa and veggies (for the reindeer) and knew in our hearts that it was our parents eating it, but were happy to pretend it was Santa. Then we’d force ourselves to go to bed thinking that if we hurried up and went to sleep Christmas morning would arrive faster. Of course it took us forever to fall asleep and we’d be giggling and wiggling around in our beds for hours, unable to willing ourselves to sleep.

In the morning, our stockings were left on the end of our beds. It used to be that we would wake up at 4 am (or earlier!) to get the sneak peak on Christmas. In a beat of parenting genius on my parents’ part to save their sanity, they allowed us to open our stockings before anyone else was up. My brother and I always woke each other up to do it together though, and I’m sure many times my folks were awake in their own room listening to us frantically ripping into our stuffed socks. We were not allowed downstairs to the tree though until my folks were up and we usually got them up about 6. When we got older, we would wait to open our stockings all together (my parents did stockings for each other as well). It was fun to see all the little treasures and treats we found for each other.

Each year someone got to be the “elf” and hand out gifts to each person. As we got older, opening became less of a rip-n-shred kind of affair, and more of a leisurely thing, with each of us taking the time to watch the others opening their gifts. I think we all knew how quickly the gift opening would go after all those weeks of preparations.

While we weren’t ‘poor’ we weren’t exactly rich either. Both of my parents worked and worked hard. We didn’t get a lot of extra things during the year, but Christmas was a time when generally our greatest wishes were granted. We weren’t “spoiled’ but it was rare for us not to get something we asked for (within reason of course). We always had gifts sent in from extended family members as well and it was fun to know that Grandma had sent a special gift on the Greyhound bus for us.

I know I make it sound idyllic and yet it wasn’t all the time. There were tantrums from over tired kids, sulky behavior, and just general holiday over stimulation. However, for us, the holidays really were a special time.

When my husband and I got married, it was a bit difficult to find a good balance between our two families, especially at the holidays. We decided to spend Christmas Eve with my parents and when we lived in the same city, which we did for a few years, we’d still go to church and drive around to look at the lights afterwards. We’d go to my folks house afterwards and together started a new tradition. Since none of us wanted to eat two turkey dinners two days in a row, we’d have a whole meal of finger food at my folk’s house. We’d put on Christmas music, nosh on lots of yummy snacks and take our time opening our gifts, telling stories and sometimes playing games.

We’d spend Christmas day with Hubster’s family. Most of his extended family lived in town, so we’d truck over to someone’s house, either his Grandma’s or his Mom’s and have a big dinner with all the fixings. It was the chaotic family holiday – kids running around, cousins, aunts, uncles all crammed around the table. For me, that was a whole new experience and I loved being a part of it.

Now, we’re farther away and usually have Christmas at our house with a set of grandparents visiting us. We’re working on setting up our own traditions – a blend of old and new. I want our girls to have that same rich experience that I had – to look forward to the holidays and all the things that we can do together.

Some of our new traditions are:

When we’re ready to wrap gifts, Hubster and I get everything ready, grab a treat and something hot to drink and put in our favourite holiday movie: National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation to watch while we wrap gifts.

Because Thanksgiving in the States is so close to Christmas, we have started to have prime rib roast for our Christmas dinner – which is killer good. It’s such a treat for us and we enjoy having something other than turkey. We have to have garlic mashed potatoes, popovers with gravy and top it off with my yummy cheesecake. I throw in a gratuitus vegetable in there too - usually asparagus or something like that.

We still drive or walk around to look at the lights, make finger food on Christmas Eve and the kids get to open one gift. I still make the gingerbread cookies. We don’t push Santa, but Mouse has started talking about him and on her own decided to make a list this year. Our girls are a bit too young for a few of the other things that I used to do, but I hope that we’ll be able to carry on a few and continue to start some more of our own.

So, if you made it to the end of this very long winded post, tell me, what are your traditions? What do you do to help make your holiday special?

1 comment:

becprints said...

I was just thinking about our Christmas traditions when I was a kid,last night. We decorated the tree on Christmas eve, my mom always made chilli, my sisters and I always slept in the same bed on christmas eve. Except we didn't sleep, we stayed up all night and one of us would leave the room sometimes after midnight to find the Christmas stockings which were hidden somewhere the dogs couldn't reach. And, John Denver's christmas album is one of my favorites :)