Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Christmas Memories

I read today about a poll in which families were asked what they left out for Santa. 48% said milk and cookies, 29% said just cookies, and the rest left milk, cookies, and carrots. It got me to thinking about our experiences with Santa. When we were kids, we always left out milk and cookies, and on Christmas morning we were thrilled to find that Santa raided the liquor cabinet too. He was a messy fellow, leaving crumbs all over the place, and liquor bottles scattered around the dining room table, some on their sides, some on the floor. After the first time it happened, we thought that we could minimize the mess by leaving him brandy as well as the cookies and milk, but that never worked either...Santa likes variety, and although he drank the brandy, he always got into the other stuff too. One year I was doubting that Santa actually existed, so he wrote me a letter in Chinese and that put all my doubts aside. It didn't click until years later that my Grandfather was there that year, and he was raised in China.

I've been thinking a lot about the traditions that we had when I was growing up. We were far away from all of our family, so at Christmas it was just the four of us. My parents worked so hard to make Christmas a special time for us, and it was never just about the gifts. We had rituals that we would do on and around Christmas, and it just didn't feel the same if we didn't do it just right. My Dad and I would spend a lot of time at church, and my Mum and brother would bake, and cook brunch for us on Christmas day. On Christmas morning my brother and I usually slept in (I was tired from a long night at church, I was usually there from 4 till well after midnight). When we got up we would open our stockings, and read the letter that Santa always left for us. We could tell that he was drinking, usually by the end of the letter his writing was illegible. After the stockings, we would have a quick bite to eat, and Dad and I would head back to church, while Mum and Andrew cooked brunch. When we got back from church, we would all sit around the table and eat brunch, and my dad would drink gallons of coffee. He always said "Okay, after this cup of coffee, we'll open the presents" and he always had another cup. After brunch, if the weather was nice, we would all go for a long walk through the neighborhood. Finally we would get home, and open our gifts, one at a time. Usually we would be finished with the gifts around 4 in the afternoon. After that, Mum and Dad would work on supper, Andrew and I would set the table, and clean up the living room, before checking out our gifts a little more closely. Usually we would eat supper at around 7 (we were always late eaters). By time supper was finished, and dishes were done, we were all so tired that we'd just go to bed early. The way we did it, the day seemed so long, and exciting, and fun. I can't imagine how you would make Christmas feel as special if all the gifts were opened first thing in the morning, and everyone went their separate ways.

Now we need to come up with our own traditions for Mary. I'd like to do the same sort of thing for her as my parents did for us. I want Christmas to be more about being together as a little family than it is about the gifts. I guess we have some time before we really need to worry about it. Christmas for her this year is likely to be much the same as any other day...But next year she will be two, she will understand a little bit more, I think.

How did/do you and your families make Christmas special?


Kristeen said...
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Kristeen said...

Christmas Eve we would sometimes go to church- sometimes not. We would be allowed to open one present.
Christmas morning we had to wait until 9 before we got out of bed. We would go into the living room and wait for everyone to gather. Then we would all open our stockings (the presents in our stockings were wrapped). After that one person, usually me once I could read, would hand out the presents. Everyone would 'ooo and 'ahh' over everyone else's presents. After presents we would take our loot to our rooms while Mom and Gramma made brunch. After we ate we spent the rest of the afternoon looking over what we got.
Dinner was ALWAYS at our house and my mom's friend and her family would come over along with some other relatives.

Christmas is/was mostly about the presents in our family and that has (embarassingly) been hard for me to deal with as I've gotten older. I've always felt my childhood was full with material things and lacking in emotional richness. That is something I REALLY want to change with Saoirse. My mom thinks she's almost deprived materially and that she needs more toys...

Cori Quite Contrary said...

Christmas Eve we'd have a nice family dinner and then go to church; when I was very young we were allowed to open one present that night, but as we got older (and the presents fewer, since it's easy to buy lots of little things for kids) we just saved them for Christmas Day.

Christmas morning, there are stockings (for my parents too, now that we're older). My dad and I are always the first ones up, and eventually my brother and my mom will wake up and join us.

Then sometimes we have breakfast first and then presents, and other times presents then breakfast (depending on what other company we're expecting during the day). Christmas breakfast is my favourite meal of the year: christmas morning wife saver and home-made buns.

Late afternoon, after the menfolk have napped and the women have gossiped, is the big family (and sometimes friends) dinner, and then the annual vicious, no-holds-barred, trash-talking game of Oh Hell! (knock out whist).

And eventually, late in the evening, we scatter to our various homes.

I love Christmas.

Anne R. Key said...

Christmas at my place usually involves various forms of alcoholic beverage starting with champagne and orange juice with the rum pancakes for breakfast and then onto the hard stuff for lunch and wine for supper. There might be presents involved...usually...and there's something about a tree and it's usually got some crap on it. Lights and stuff.

Visitors? We don't anybody around here after supper. It's too late. And I'm not going out either...

Yer fuckin' right yer not, yer impaired, you stupid jerk.

Fuck you, bitch. I'd kiss yer ass, but your own head is in the way?

And so it goes. It's a RIOT!

Emmett said...

My family does everything on Christmas Eve, which I thought was normal (it is in Europe) until the other kids looked at me funny when I said I usually slept in on Christmas Day.

We have coldcuts on rye bread, usually -- a really light meal, as the big schnitzel dinner is for Christmas Day. Then we move into the living room and prepare to open the presents. Mom starts off with the guilt: all the cooking she'll be doing tomorrow, how she had to decorate the tree herself, how nice it is to have the whole family together and how the rest of the year is so quiet with my brother and I never visiting. My brother and I sit there and listen to this spiel uncomfortably, waiting until inevitably my Mom and Dad get into an argument over the camera. See, he always buys the fanciest new camera and it never ever works properly. Or its charge is too low. Or he forgets the film. And so Mom yells at him until finally he futzes with the camera enough that it works -- sort of. Since the digital cameras display pictures now, Mom demands to see each one and criticizes them individually or complains about how she looks.

Then we open presents. I'm usually the one who hands them out, everyone getting one at a time. Mom is fun to watch, here, as she giggles and cackles with glee as each present opens. She's always pleased with whatever we get her, which is nice. Dad is quiet and you can never tell whether he's pleased or not, he just politely says thank you and seems eager to get out of there.

So we listen to German Christmas carols, Mom feels homesick and cries a bit, my Dad wanders off to use his computer and my brother and I sit in the living room and slowly get drunk and somehow it all seems really positive and peaceful and I find myself loving my family despite all our peccadillos. And that's our Christmas.

Delicious said...

For me Christmas is really about the big family dinner. This rarely actually happens on Christmas Day (or Eve) but somewhere between Dec.20-30). My mom is a nurse and often works the holiday. Dinner was always at our house. All my mom's brothers and their families and any tag-along shirt-tail relations who didn't really have anywhere else to be (including my mother's ex-husband) will be there. Everybody brings a dish and we set up extra tables and have a big potluck. Usually there are about 25 people. Presents do eventually happen and games and gossip after, but mostly its about the meal.


Raven said...

We, too, followed the European tradition of celebrating on Christmas Eve.
Our immediate family would have an early supper and then go to Church. After getting home, we'd enjoy hot chocolate (or stronger beverages for Mom/Dad/older kids) and Christmas baking, and all gather around the Christmas tree listening to carols on the record player (way back when) or CDs.

Once people had relaxed and gotten into the spirit of the evening, we'd start opening presents, with the youngest going first. Everyone opened presents one at a time, so we could all "oooh" and "aaah" appropriately. Interspersed with photos and chatting and more munchies and reminiscing, this would usually take us well into the night. Then kids would go to bed, and Mom and Dad would clean up and finish any bottle of wine that they'd opened.

Christmas morning there were always the Stockings, but they'd be filled with little things, like new shiny pencils, or flavoured chapsticks, dinky toy cars, and of course, socks. Basically, stuff to keep kids occupied and let Mom & Dad sleep in. We'd go to Church again in the afternoon, but the day was very laid back. Maybe we'd visit relatives, maybe we'd go for a walk. Some years we'd do a big family dinner (if it happened to work out on Christmas Day) but usually the big dinner was on the Sunday closest to Christmas. Then there's be the Boxing Day Fondue party, which was way better than Christmas Dinner.

Shani said...

My foster parents were very Catholic, but not that holier than thou catholic. My favouritist memory would be opening one present with them Christmas Eve, being our new pj's, then sleeping in, waking up to a birthday cake and singing happy birthday to baby jesus who appeared in the manger overnight, then feasting on cake for breakfast.