A few days ago I was wondering what the perceptions my nearly grown-up kids had of our family Christmas traditions. We have a set of traditions, but I’m not sure they even realize that we do. So I took stock of our Holiday Celebration, and set out to find out what their thoughts and memories were of it. I had to be a little stealthy, because calling a family meeting to discuss such would have been a disaster.
So we went out to eat last night, and (as I had a captive audience waiting for food…) I dove in. I asked each of them to tell me one favorite Christmas memory, and to pick one of our family traditions that they like. The oldest son thought for a moment, then – with a childish grin – told about a Christmas morning when he was about 5 when Santa brought him a Nintendo 64! He said it was the best present he’d ever gotten, and was the Christmas-morning memory he’d always remember. The middle son recalled a Christmas when he got great presents, and the caboose went on about all of the great Christmas mornings he could remember. (Go figure, he couldn’t pick one.) Their replies had a common theme – how Santa was so awesome, and brought them things that mom and dad would NEVER have gotten. All agreed Santa was the BEST!
I also asked them to tell me which of our family Christmas traditions they liked best. Middle-boy surprised me by saying he likes decorating our Christmas tree. Our tree is a collection of every decoration and ornament the kids ever made in school, as well as ornaments collected on our family’s travels. So as we pull things out of the box, there’s a story or memory behind every piece. As certain ornaments come out of the box, sometimes one of the kids will shout out that they “have to hang that one!” Each construction paper angel, handprint ornament, and macaroni creation is marked with the kid’s name and year it was made. There are ornaments from my own childhood, including one of the plastic ones that my mom bought when I was a toddler and kept pulling down the tree, a special Snoopy ornament given to me by my BFF in high school, and things from recent years, like the beer-drinking-Santa I carried back from Germany on my lap, and the shiny, hand-decorated orb given to me by a friend the Christmas before she went to heaven. From a decorator’s perspective, it looks a bit like a garage-sale creation, but through a Lucky Mom’s eyes, it’s perfect.
The Memory Tree
My oldest son said he liked the way we open our presents. Santa brings the gifts to our house wrapped. (I asked him to do that many years ago after a particular free-for-all on Christmas morning that left several things unnoticed.) We take our time, unwrapping one at a time, appreciating each one as it’s received. The process takes about 45 minutes, and in that time our boys are children again, anticipating the next present like it’s going to be another Nintendo 64! (The year my husband was in Iraq, we got him on Skype, and set the laptop up next to the sofa, so he could be there to share the morning with us.) It makes for happy memories, and great photo ops. It also keeps things from getting inadvertently thrown out with the garbage.
My youngest son said he likes our “party.” We have Christmas dinner at our house, with family and close friends always in attendance. The house looks very fancy, and I set the table with our finest china and linens. There is lots of food, lots of treats, and lots of love. Over the years our crowd has changed (especially after Katrina when many of our relatives moved to Houston), but the essence of the day has stayed the same. Celebrating Christmas with the people we love the most.
My husband said he likes frying the turkeys. (That’s the part of the tradition he brought in!) As soon as presents are open, he heads outside to start the oil, and stands watch over that pot to keep it at the perfect temperature. He’s done it in rain, and in snow (2004!). The birds soak in a spicy brine for a couple of days, and come out of the pot with the perfect combination of spicy and juicy! He hears oooohs and aaaahs all afternoon as we pick those suckers to the bone!!
I should've taken the photo before the ice went in, before the spices turned the water dark!
My favorite tradition is going to Mass on Christmas Eve. That’s the evening we get dressed up (and get to Church early so we can get seats). We sit together, greet friends and neighbors, and admire the beautiful decorations while waiting for Mass to begin. The Christmas Eve readings have become so familiar over the years that the kids will usually comment before we get there about hearing the names of Jesus’ ancestors read again. I hope it’s a tradition they keep when they’re grown up.
My husband brought these pieces back from Germany about 20 years ago. He shipped his clothes home so he could fill his suitcases with presents for me!
Despite the things mentioned above, we work hard to keep the Holiness of the season as the focus of our events. Our Advent Wreath sits on the coffee table, and we do devotions as often as we can. Our Nativity gets a prominent place, right inside the door. We adopt families, make donations to St. Jude and the USO (while giving thanks to God for our healthy children and for the soldiers who spend holidays away from home). Most of all we give thanks to God, for loving us enough to become Man and walk among us.
I’d love to hear about some of your family’s Christmas memories and traditions. Please share a few!