Christmas Traditions by Diana Gordon
My only siblings are far older than I—my oldest brother is a full 12 years older than I, while my other brother is 8 years older than I—and had stopped believing in Santa Clause by the time I was born, but they played along with great effect. It was only as an adult that I considered the ways that our Christmas Eve sleepovers prolonged the magic for all of us.
Christmas Eve always started at my paternal grandmother’s house. She lived in the same town we did, and much of our extended family lived close-by. My aunts and uncles, cousins, parents, and brothers would all be there, and we’d have dinner together before exchanging gifts. The house was always full—sometimes there would be upwards of 20 people packed into her home; it was the only time the family all got together, really, and there were a lot of us.
When I was very young, my siblings and I would sleep in the same bed on Christmas Eve. After we returned home from my grandmother’s house, we’d read a Christmas story or book, and sometimes we’d watch a movie. We’d giggle long into the night and tell stories to one another in the dark before finally falling asleep for a few hours’ nap, then we’d wake and sneak into the living room to see if Santa had been there yet.
Of course, such a tradition couldn’t continue forever. For one thing, we got far too large to all fit into even the biggest bed in the house. Once the magic of believing in Santa was over (and once my parents didn’t need my siblings to be sure I stayed out of the living room until after they could play Santa), we switched to a more typical sleeping arrangement.
We still laugh about the year that Gene’O and I said “looney tunes” over and over to crack one another up and drive our other brother bananas, about the many years that we’d sing “So This Is Christmas” loudly and annoyingly off-key, one of us picking up where the other left off.
But I always had a sense that our Christmas traditions wouldn’t last forever, that they’d have to change someday. Because of the age difference between us, Gene’O and Brian left for college when I was very young; that changed all kinds of things, even our Christmas traditions. While in years past the five of us had decorated the Christmas tree, now Mom and Dad and I decorated the tree on our own. I didn’t get to take last-minute shopping trips with my brothers anymore.
I did get to do a lot of new things, though. My grandmother and aunt began to want help making snack food and the traditional spread, so I would visit their house the night before Christmas Eve and spend the night there, mixing up sausage balls, peanut butter cookies, fudge, cheeseballs….All sorts of things. Mom and Dad and I started decorating the tree on Thanksgiving night together, a comfort after everyone was gone and we were left at home together.
Traditions changed even more as we got married and had children, but we always tried to spend Christmas morning together. Gene’O was no longer able to make the trip for Christmas Eve events with our extended family, but he and his wife would drive over late at night to be sure they were with us for the Christmas wake-up. Our other brother had two children, so he stopped spending Christmas Eve with us, but they lived in our hometown, so they would drive over first thing in the morning for Christmas festivities.
And then Little Jedi came along.
His first few Christmases were spent at my parents’ house, as we lived just an hour away at first, and then with my parents while I was finishing graduate school. I learned about Christmas in a whole new way, and traditions again had to be reinvented. I learned about sneaking presents out of car trunks and into closets; I perfected the art wrapping presents very quickly, if poorly. I debated whether it was too early for Santa to leave presents.
And then we moved to New Orleans.
Traditions had to change again. We’re too far away for the drive home to be practical on Christmas Eve. Now, we celebrate Christmas with my family on the weekend before Christmas. I can’t resist putting up the tree on Thanksgiving, so we decorate the tree and put up our other tchotchkes when we return from visiting family.
On Christmas Eve, we make cookies. We open our Christmas box, in which we all get new pajamas and snacks, and then we watch Christmas movies. We put out our milk and cookies for Santa, and then we go to bed. My husband and I debate whether or not Little Jedi is Actually Asleep, and then we play Ninja Santa, trying to keep the floorboards in our old home from creaking and our pup from barreling down the hallway. On Christmas Day, we open our presents and spend the day lazily enjoying them, and in the evening, my husband’s family visits to eat dinner and exchange gifts.
Traditions sometimes work that way. They don’t have to be set in stone, unchangeable. And that’s a beautiful thing, here at the time of a holiday that can be frustrating and lonely instead of merry and bright.
About the Author:
Diana is a nerd, a bookworm, a feminist, and a social media junkie. She is a freelance writer and researcher and the administrator of the blog Part-Time Monster. You can follow her on Twitter @parttimemonster or find her on Facebook at facebook.com/parttimemonster. She lives in New Orleans with her son, her husband, and one very energetic terrier.