Every year since I can remember, my parents have hosted a Christmas Eve party for all of my aunts, uncles, and cousins on my mom's side of the family. All together, it's a pretty large family; she has 5 brothers and each brother has a wife, plus most have at least 2 children. I guess if we're being precise, that means 5 uncles, 5 aunts, 9 cousins, my 3 siblings, 2 grandparents, and my 2 parents, plus significant others now that we're a bit older. It makes for a great size party and a house full of warm-fuzzies and fun every Christmas Eve. Folks start arriving around dinnertime with appetizers, desserts, and presents in hand, ready for our annual evening of quirky Christmas delights.
|Family at the 2009 Christmas Eve party.|
|My dad (with awesome Christmas tie), my sister, and my cousin.|
When we were really young, my grandfather -- we called him Pepere -- would dress up as Santa, gather us 'round, and hand out all the gifts, gifts that were actually from our aunts and uncles. We had absolutely no clue that this jolly man in red was actually our Pepere, who just minutes before had disappeared into the bathroom and just minutes after reappeared having missed out on the whole Santa visit. We fell for this trick for about 5 years. And it was wonderful.
As we got older, we switched things up a bit. Instead of getting several gifts from all of our aunts and uncles, each cousin would pick the name of another cousin to get one gift for, Secret Santa style. And while we did this, all the aunts and uncles would participate in a $30 Yankee Swap (aka White Elephant, aka Dirty Santa).
Five years ago, my sister was several months pregnant on Christmas Eve. She had bought a thoughtful gift for the cousin she'd picked in Secret Santa and was hopeful that the gift she would receive would be nice as well. Well, unfortunately, the cousin who picked her skipped out on the Christmas Eve party that year and Lauren was left without a gift. And because of her raging pregnancy hormones, she ended up on the stairs, in the corner of the house, crying because she felt forgotten and unloved.
My mom had an extra gift for the Yankee Swap, so she encouraged Lauren to participate with the aunts and uncles, to make up for her lack of gift. This cheered her up a bit. Then, my Uncle Bobby popped in, showed her the wrapped gift he had brought for the Yankee Swap, and told her she had to choose this gift, as it was the gift she deserved to have this Christmas.
When her turn came along in the Swap, she grabbed the gift my uncle had encouraged her to take, opened it, and to her great surprise, she found herself holding a framed picture of him. All the aunts, uncles, and cousins looking on were confused but also in hysterics over his silly gift. Lauren was also a bit confused, but she did as he said and held onto the gift for the rest of the game (though this didn't prove to be a very difficult task, as no one was interested in a framed picture of my goofy Uncle Bobby). It wasn't until the end of the Swap that my uncle revealed why the gift was perfect for her; he told her to take the back off of the frame and behind is she found a $100 bill folded inside. She was instantly in a much better mood.
Uncle Bobby struck again another Christmas Eve when he told my cousin, Nate, his son, to eat the big glob of green stuff off the sushi platter because it was a delicious treat. Ouch! His mouth was on fire for at least an hour. And we were all in stitches again. What a jokester, that Uncle Bobby.
Once our party wrapped up and the relatives headed home, we'd usually get a gift from our parents, Christmas jammies, to be worn to bed that night. We'd also put out a plate of cookies for Santa and carrots for the reindeer before heading to bed, which would always have big bites taken out of them by morning.
By 7am, we would all be awake and ready to greet Christmas morning by opening gifts under our tree. Though, not so fast, kids! My parents had a bit of a routine before we were allowed to go downstairs and see the tree and gifts in all their glory.
First, Dad had to go downstairs and put on a Christmas CD and set up that clunky, old video recorder. Then Mom would go downstairs next to make herself a cup of tea and get the camera ready for pictures, pictures, pictures! Meanwhile, us four kids would sit on the top stair together and wait for what felt like foreverrrrr for the parents to come back and take our pictures. And when they did, pictures upon pictures ensued. When Mom felt like she had taken enough, we were finally allowed to walk through the kitchen and into the family room, where Santa had left all of us good kids lots and lots of lovely presents. With happy hearts, we'd all find our spots on the floor near the tree and start picking out presents for unwrapping. Oh, and then Mom would take more pictures.
|Stair picture #1 - Me, brother Jeff, and sister Lauren with sleepy faces on |
Christmas morn' 2006. Camera shy: brother Matt.
|Stair picture #2 - Steph & Jeff on Christmas 2009. We were the only two |
"kids" who spent the night at the house, so we were the only two featured
in the stair pictures that year.
|Dad next to his not-so-clunky video camera (the cameras got smaller as|
technology advanced over the years) and my brother Matt.
Santa gift unwrapping was always a blast -- one gift at a time so we could each be a part of the joy of each others' gifts. Then, we'd get to dive into the little gifts in our stockings. And finally, we'd exchange gifts from each other. We'd spend the next hour playing with our new toys and enjoying cinnamon rolls for breakfast and then we'd scurry to get ready and out the door for Mass. And after Mass, we'd usually head home and pop in one of the DVDs we'd gotten as a gift and all lounge on the couch and just enjoy the free time together.
This Christmas, I won't be experiencing the usual holiday fun with my fam, as it's John's family's turn to have us this year. I'm a little bummed that I won't get to be a part of Uncle Bobby's crazy antics, or the million pictures on the stairs on Christmas morning, but I'm excited to experience a new set of Christmas traditions. Ya see, I've never been with John's family on Christmas, so it'll be a fun and different experience for me. I'm hoping I can pick up a few of their traditions so that we can blend them with mine for our own little family some day. John claims his family doesn't really have any special traditions, aside from vacationing in Florida with relatives and friends for the week of Christmas, which they don't do anymore. We'll see about that, though. I'm sure there'll be something special about it. Something special worth sharing with our kids someday. :)
How about you? What are your favorite family Christmastime traditions?