Christmas Eve has been a bit of a conundrum for me. Growing up my family knew the night before Christmas was spent at my grandparents’ house. Aunts, uncles, cousins, friends and family would gather at the family home and celebrate with gifts and good food. Pa would be standing at the stove all night cooking up the linguica. Nana would make sure there was a present for everyone under the tree, even just those who were passing through our lives, something for everyone. We would wait for Uncle Moneybags to show up before the gifts could be doled. He liked to make a grand entrance and have all of us wait on pins and needles for him to arrive before the wrapping paper could start flying. My brothers and I would take turns standing with our arm around Aunt Bobblehead to see if this was the year we would finally be taller than all 4ft. 7in. of her, without her catching on (she always did). Yes, it was a night of magic, a tradition grander than all others and one that I miss each and every year.
So, oh yeah, the conundrum. Well, I had sort of hoped that the tradition might live long enough for my children to experience it. But, alas, Pa is cooking linguica with the big guy upstairs, we don’t keep in touch much with the aunts, uncles and cousins, and we live (sometimes blissfully) 2400 miles away from the cast that made up those nights of infamy. What do we do when we have no family to spend December 24th with? What do we do to build up the excitement the night before the biggest day of the year? How can I make sure that my kids have a tradition, a grounding, that they will remember fondly for years to come? What’s a girl who misses her family to do?
We make our own party. We get party foods, we put on party clothes, we dance to party music, we make the night before Christmas as good a time as we can with only the 5 of us, two of whom are too little to really understand why Mommy is acting nuts. Sometime during the festivities the Honeybee will get a phone call from Santa (really Bub, his grandpa) that makes him shake with excitement. I really couldn’t say if I do it for them, or me. It is something that is a part of me, and a hole I feel in my heart now that those days from my childhood are over. Christmas Eve has to be more than just a regular night. It is supposed to be festive and loud and fancy. It is supposed to push your excitement level into overdrive so that little sleep will come as you lie anticipating the thrills to be had in the morning.
After our “party” the kids get new Christmas pajamas. We load them up in the car with a warm drink and a few cookies and we drive around the neighborhood looking at all the Christmas lights. When we get home everyone is mellow and ready for bed. We put out the cookies for Santa and hang his “magic key” on the doorknob, since we have no chimney. The kids go to bed and the magic begins. Playing Santa is my favorite thing in the world. I love setting up the stockings and the presents just so, to maximize wonderment on Christmas morning.
The last thing I do before falling into bed on December 24th is go out in the driveway with a set of sleigh bells and jingle them and “Ho! Ho! Ho!” under the children’s bedroom windows (yes, I realize you are probably laughing at me right about now). Then I make a bit of a racket coming in the front door, eat the cookies and eggnog that has been left and take one last look at the gifts under the tree and know that Santa did good this year.
What is your family tradition on Christmas Eve? Care to share, leave a comment!