The holiday season always makes me nostalgic. I find myself daydreaming of the days of my childhood, thinking about how we used to celebrate Christmas as a family of four. I remember fondly Christmas at my grandparents in Odell – always the first family gathering and present opening of the season - where we could count on Lucy’s slush which looked oh-so-tempting yet as minors were forbidden from trying and her taco salad which I refused to eat solely based on my own conspiracy theory that she was going to trick me into eating deer meat disguised as ground beef. Christmas Eve was the biggest event of the seasons in our house – our family traditions ran deep on that night and included a huge dinner, church, and back home for more snacks and present opening, and the legendary hunt for the pickle ornament. I can vividly remember the year I put two and two together, discovering that the magic of Santa had a lot to do with careful timing and clever planning at my parent’s hands. Our season usually wrapped on Christmas Day with a full day of merriment at Grama & Grapa Poke’s. The best part of the day was without a doubt the moment after family pictures were taken by the fireplace. As soon as that last picture was snapped the dress clothes were discarded and replaced with more comfortable (and usually brand new) attire. After I started dating The General the 25th of December became a marathon day – a noon lunch at GG’s, desserts at Grama & Grapa Poke’s in the late afternoon, and then more snacks (and presents) to end the night at Barb & Kenny’s.
Traditions have always meant a lot to me, and now that I am a parent I find it more important than ever to start our own Christmas traditions for our family. The traditions we have created so far are nothing fancy or exciting but they are important to me and I hope they will provide cherished memories for our girls as well. After Shortcake was born, I made the executive decision that we would not travel on Christmas Eve and instead we began hosting a Christmas Eve dinner at our house. Attendees for the past few years have included my parents, Big Bad, Munchkin, Drmmr7 and The Bride. I love having them as guests in our home on this night and the annual tradition has certainly provided memories that will last a lifetime (mostly because The General’s younger siblings can not let steaks kissed by grease fires and paperweight worthy crescent rolls go). The menu changes yearly, but the one tradition that seems to have developed from this gathering is overindulgence on wine and bacon bites to the point of physical pain. The main tradition for Christmas Eve is that the girls get to open their Christmas pajamas and ornament. My grandparents always had a new ornament for us each year, and it was a tradition I wanted to continue with my children. The giving of Christmas pajamas is something new for our family, but it’s one of my favorites. Who doesn’t love a new pair of PJs?!?
There are traditions for Santa-related events as well, of course. Santa wraps the girls’ presents in either red (Shortcake) or gold (Punkin), Christmas cookies are baked and then left out for The Fat Man before the girls turn in for the night on Christmas Eve, a Santa key is hung on the front door handle to allow for easy access into our chimney-less home, and oatmeal is thrown onto the grass for the reindeer to munch on while Santa unloads the goods under the tree. In their stockings every year Santa leaves behind a new toothbrush and a movie (although I hear he may be switching it up to Wii games this year). I had to compromise and make a break from one of my own childhood traditions; the one rule The General insisted on was opening presents from Santa on Christmas Day. The rest of Christmas Day is spent much like we did when we first started dating - lunch at GG’s in Blackstone and then into Dwight for a late afternoon open house at my grandparents’ house.
All of this reminiscing about traditions jogged another memory for me Saturday night. About a week before Christmas Eve, my parents (actually, I only remember my mom using this tactic but it may have very well been both of them that resorted to it) would begin the threats of “If you aren’t good, Santa isn’t going to come to our house”. For added emphasis to the notion that Santa knows all and sees all leading up to the delivery of Christmas goodies, my mom would instruct us to look out our garage door and up in a south-easterly direction from the corner of our house. At this position in the night sky there was always an unmistakable red light: Rudolph’s nose, according to my mom, leading Santa’s sleigh on a little covert mission to check that nice versus naughty list one last time. It was enough to scare me into submission. Why I didn’t realize that light was there the other 51 weeks out of the year or why I didn’t question the fact that Rudolph’s nose never moved much beyond the exact position of the downtown location of our village’s water tower is beyond me. I think I was too scared at the prospect of not receiving any presents to press my luck by doubting my mother’s claims.
I was reminded again of this little tradition as we drove home from our nephews’ birthday party on Saturday night. Mesmerized by the simultaneous flashing of over a hundred red lights atop the newly installed windmills on both sides if the interstate, I couldn’t help but wonder:
How much would it freak my girls out if I told them the same story about red lights in the sky being Rudolph’s nose? Would it traumatize them to think Rudolph has been cloned infinitely? Or would they prove once again that they are much smarter than I was at their age, calling my bluff and expertly informing me that, no mother, those are actually windmill lights. Duh (*with exaggerated eye roll for added insult*).
Luckily for our daughters, I’m not quite as evil as my own mother. I would never use such a silly threat. I prefer to keep my threats more concrete, somewhere along the lines of threatening to cancel Christmas altogether if peace and harmony aren’t restored immediately. I will admit, though, that I think the Rudolph trick used by my mom was more effective than my idle threats. Maybe it’s all in the delivery.
What Christmas traditions did you love as a kid? And which ones have you continued or created for your own families?