Merry Christmas, Everyone! Well, Christmas Eve, I guess, but for us growing up Christmas Eve was always when Christmas started. Christmas to us, as kids, meaning the first day we were able to open presents!
The first Christmas Eve’s I remember were always spent at Grams. She would make oyster stew, much to the disgust of us kids, but the grown-ups seemed to like it. One year someone found a pearl in their soup so then after that it was a little more exciting. Since my sister Tash and I are the oldest grandchildren, we started Christmas Eve’s off as the only kids in attendance. After the oyster stew there were presents and then there were ping pong tournaments in which people, mainly the men folk, would get super sweaty in Gram’s basement trying to beat each other. They were all good at ping pong, my grandparents having met at a ping pong tournament in college and passed their skills on to their children, and they were all very competitive. My dad was married in, but he was also very good at ping pong. Tash and I would watch from the sidelines along with everyone else (also mostly men folk, I think the women were doing dishes), and cheer and laugh because you could FEEL the excitement in that basement.
On Christmas Eve when we got home, there would always be one present to open. And it would always be pajamas. Some years they were pajamas Mom had made and some years they were Christmas-y store bought ones but they were always pretty exciting to us. My parents have lots of pictures over the years of us in our new pajamas in front of the Christmas tree.
It’s a tradition that I continued with Bunny while she was a kid, and my sister Tash gives her kids pajamas every year, too. I never made a single pair of them when Bunny was growing up (I already told you that Tash got all the crafty genes) but my sister makes pajamas for her kids all the time. My sister expanded the tradition so that everyone is now allowed to wear their new Christmas pajamas to the family Christmas at Mom’s on Christmas day. We have always met early, eleven am most years, and it makes the morning better when its just fine if you go in your pajamas.
We all make our own traditions, and part of what makes you feel like a family when you get together is that you all have those traditions in common.
J and I were talking yesterday about why we’re not feeling very Christmas-y this year. My tree has lights on it because J picked some up at Menards to save the day, but not a single ornament. The only decoration I put out is a piece of white cardboard that Bunny decorated for me when she was little with some cookie cutter shapes and crayons and it says, “Merry Christmas Mommy” in her cute little kid handwriting. Our tree has zero ornaments.
“Maybe it’s because we don’t have kids at home anymore,” he said.
We were sitting on the couch in the dark, looking at the lights-only Christmas tree. Last year we didn’t have any kids home either, but also, we were planning a wedding so we didn’t have much time for contemplation and all the kids were coming home for the wedding. This is really the first year we’ve noticed that we don’t have kids at home.
“In one way it’s kind of a relief,” I said, “like ‘Whew, thank god, I don’t have to do that anymore!’ but on the other hand its kind of sad, like, ‘it was fun while it lasted’.”
“No more getting up early on Christmas day,” J said encouragingly, “we can sleep in this year. Remember how little kids will get you up at like five or six am?”
J and I did not share our lives at those times of our kid’s lives, but everyone has the same experiences with their little kids.
“Bunny used to give Santa these complicated assignments like “draw me a picture, Santa, or answer my note.”
J laughed, “You never told me that before. Maybe she wanted proof that Santa was real?”
I had been trying to get us in the Christmas spirit by suggesting we sing Christmas songs by the tree. That’s another thing that’s different. By now, when you have kids, you have sung a million Christmas songs. The youth group has gone caroling, you’ve been to the school for the Christmas concert and/or play. There has been no singing of Christmas carols in my Christmas Season, no little kids in their Christmas best singing “Away in the Manger” to make my heart grow three sizes, so yesterday I made a point to sing “Hark the Herald Angels” to myself a couple of times for good measure and today I may sing them all in the shower. I have always liked singing, its something my family also always does, whether its around the campfire or in the car or at the cemetery.
J said he was too tired to sing, so we snuggled up on the couch instead. It was the middle of the night, officially Christmas Eve, because we had stayed up really late going to see the new Pitch Perfect movie. J knew I would want to see it, I fell in love with the Bellas in the first movie and now I am obligated to see them all and cry at all the parts even though all the movies are really all the same, so he offered to take me to the late show when I finished all my Christmas chores.
I did notice, that the amount of Christmas joy I am experiencing is also directly related to the number of chores hanging over my head. Yesterday, as I finished what needed to be finished, and wrote off what I would just have to let go, I could feel the relief and start to think about the impending holiday with a little more joy. I think I need less chores. (don’t we all!)
Today, the chores are done, and I don’t have any pajamas to wrap and we don’t have to be anywhere until dinnertime and it is snowing a beautiful, big flaked dusting. The house is quiet and I’m drinking coffee and writing peacefully and thinking about my family, and our kids, and our lives. Even though this phase of our lives is different, and there will always be a little bit of sadness at the days gone by, when we were the magic of Christmas for our kids, it’s still a pretty nice place to be.
Peace, goodwill and joy,