What Christmas Traditions Do You Have?

Assuming you observe Christmas (if you don't, I assume you would skip this post), do you have any favorite traditions?

Growing up, we always got to open one present on Christmas Eve, before bed. Then on Christmas Day, we'd get up for hot chocolate and open our stocking presents. Then we'd have breakfast and open the rest of the presents. We always had a "manager", normally my mom since she knew what everybody was getting, who made sure that everybody had a present ready to open. One person would open a present while everybody would watch. We'd take turns. Being a small family, it stopped after that. Sometime around 10 or 11, we'd be done, and that was the end of Christmas. For a few years we'd eat lunch at the base mess hall, since they had a good spread. My mom was cheap and didn't like to cook or clean up, so that was a real bargain for her. We never had dinner, since my mom didn't like to eat after lunch. Seriously, some Christmas dinners consisted of sandwiches since my dad, my brother, and I all had bodies that enjoyed some sort of evening norishment. Normally after we finished opening presents we'd just take our presents back to our rooms to play with, then call friends and see what everybody else got.

Contrast that to today, sharing Christmas with my wife's family, and those were the good old lazy days. Today, Christmas is a whirlwind of activity and appointments. Last year, Christmas ended up in 4 locations! That was a lot of driving.

In my wife's family, everything starts on Christmas Eve with the 7 Fish Feast. As I understand it, this is an Italian tradition. This is normally held at the fire hall, as it encompasses the whole extended family plus friends. It gets pretty large. I don't think there are 7 actual fish, but there are fillets and shrimp and scallops and pasta and wine. That's good enough for me! In previous years, I tried to take Christmas Eve off when possible, but I'm new on the job and don't have a big vacation balance built up, so after work today, I have to drive from Philadelphia to home, then down to my in-laws' house, then to the fire hall. I expect a lot of traffic. I always preferred to just get to my in-laws' around noon and sit there all afternoon to avoid traffic, but that's not an option this year.

After that, we go home. In the last two years, we were afraid that the kids would fall asleep in the car so we had to stay at the fire hall until about 8 PM so we could put them in their pajamas and nighttime diapers and let them fall asleep in the car. This year the kids are a little older (3 and 4), so we could probably leave around 7 without fear.

Christmas Day we wake up the kids and go to open presents. My wife makes hot chocolate (I need my coffee too) and we usually eat a Stollen when we can find one. We can't dawdle, because around 10 or 11, we have to be at one of my wife's aunts', uncles', or cousin's houses for the more immediate family. There we eat leftovers from the 7 fish feast and exchange presents. One day I might start tracking how many candles get regifted from year to year. After that ends, we head to the in-laws' house for more presents, then hang out there until dinner. After dinner, I have to load all of our stuff in the car, and for some reason in New Jersey the weather likes to give me a cold rain right about this time. Then we go home.

Last year varied. After leaving the immediate family, we went to the in-laws' for the afternoon. Then my wife's sister wanted to host dinner, so we drove over there. For some reason, my wife was sick, so I had to leave to drive her back to our house, then go back to attend to the kids. I remember that the heat was cranked all the way up, about one setting below "Christmas in August". When I sat down to dinner, I was asked what I wanted to drink. The coldest thing in the house was beer, so I asked for beer. I still look back at the irony that I drank a beer at Christmas dinner, not to drink beer, but to keep myself cool. Seriously, it was hot in there, and honestly, the beer helped because I also had to attend to both kids.

Unfortunately, when Christmas falls on a Sunday, the running around precludes church attendance.

This year, hopefully things will be simpler. We're doing Christmas dinner at our house, so we'll get up, open presents, to to cousin's, come back home, open more presents, then have dinner. Of course, the trade off in driving is cleaning up. I'm not spared from having to load presents in and out of the car in the cold rain, because we brought ALL of the presents, like for everybody in the family, home on Sunday night, when it was really cold.

Merry Christmas, or happy unspecific cultural observance, whichever you prefer.

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