Its early. My house is still completely quiet, well … except for the washer and dryer. But that’s such a background sound, I never hear it anymore. Abby has to swim this morning and I am going to coach as my boss has the flu. Christmas Eve morning and the whole house is dark except for the twinkle lights everywhere. Jangle the Elf waved goodbye to me this morning as he headed back up to Santa’s. We had the final party last night at friends’ house and all that is left for today would be the traditions of Vigil Mass, an amazing dinner at my mom’s house, and the excited trek back home from grandmother’s house we will go. The kids will shriek about, gathering the plate, the milk, the carrot (for the reindeer) and scamper off to bed. Its fun to watch, because this night is when the “big kids” finally get into it. They love the leave-the-note-for-Santa and put-out-the-stockings process.
Of course, before we leave for church, there will be a whole other set of traditions to run through. I suspect every family has this same type of tradition.
“Mom, I need tights!”
“Mom, will you straighten/dry/brush/do my hair?” (As I stand dripping, freshly showered, in a towel.)
“No Lizzie, you may not wear the jeans with the holes to mass at all, much less Christmas Eve mass.”
(I could go on and on here, but you get the point.)
There are other, more poignant (and way less stressful/frustrating) traditions. Ones that seem very important to continue and nurture in my kids, especially now that Dad is gone. The kind that I want my kids to do with their kids. The Uncle Ed Story is first on that list.
My grandfather would always give us money. Cash. The first person to “unwrap” the gift of cash was subjected to the story of my grandfather’s Uncle Ed who was given a five dollar bill. Now, back in the day (can we assume the early part of the 1900s?) five dollars was a LOT of money. Careless as Uncle Ed was, the five dollar bill got lost in the wrapping, thrown away, never to be seen again. “Greenpa” (as my children and my brother’s children always called him) loved to tell that story every Christmas, and honestly, we loved hearing it. Most of our cash gifts these days come in the form of gift cards, but the story is no less relevant. Uncle Ed (my children’s Great-Great Uncle Ed) will live on forever, I hope.
More specifically to the memory of my dad, is our annual football game of present opening. Hilarity and laughter along with witty puns and clever comments go part and parcel with this. There is a “halftime” (time to refill coffee), there is a “too many players on the field” penalty (when more than one person is opening a gift – we do open one at a time), there is an “offsides/false start” penalty (when “Santa” gives the gifts out in the wrong order) – this one can also be known as an “interception.” When someone runs out of gifts they have to leave the game “injured,” if someone is in the bathroom and it is their turn it is “delay of game.” Every year these phrases come out, slung from one end of the room to the other. Every year, we laugh and remember.
A few years ago, I instigated the idea of not cooking on Christmas. We had our exceptionally nice standing rib roast dinner at my mom and dad’s (always hosted by them) for Christmas Eve complete with sides and two desserts. This year, my sister-in-law was bullied into making her amazing chocolate pudding and I made Hummingbird cupcakes. We eat off china, with silver, and drink lovely wine from my mother’s crystal. We sit around the table augmented with three leaves that my mother has spent all day setting, usually with a new ornament for everyone, or English crackers, or some other sort of momento, and fight over the end of the roast (mine!) or the middle, most rare part (Mom and Jeff!). We tell stories and make plans for the next day, tell the kids to stop running around, and walk around Mom’s neighborhood gawking at the overdone Christmas lights.
And the next day for Christmas brunch/lunch? We eat sandwiches. Out of plastic baskets lined with wax paper (a particularly brilliant gift from my sister-in-law one Christmas). All of us standing around my kitchen counter, lunch meats and cheese, pickles and condiments, chips and juice spread before us. I call it “clean food.” Not greasy, not cooked, just easy and healthy. Its a nice balance, I think. Trash is thrown away and voila, my kitchen is clean again. Dinner is usually lasagna (which I make the day before), stuck in the oven at some point, brought out and left to rest, eaten off paper plates if we so choose. A simple dinner of simple food gives direction to the otherwise anticlimactic part of the day, and brings closure with warmth and happiness.
Its gonna be an awesome day. Today, I will make the lasagna, make a loaf of bread and the cinnamon rolls for tomorrow’s breakfast (another tradition), garlic smashed potatoes and stuffed mushrooms (my allotment for dinner tonight). I made the cupcakes yesterday, and will make the icing (cream cheese!) this afternoon. I plan on decorating them at my mom’s after church so they don’t get smushed. Abby and I have practice this morning, and the rest of the day will be devoted to God and family.
Let’s just hope I can find Lizzie some clean tights.
What are your family traditions?