Joyeux Noel, everyone! We’re in the midst of moving so Christmas did not exist in our household. No, this year was all about dusting off the Christmas tree to pack it in a better box. AJ and I got sugar cookies for Ellis and had dinner at a sushi bar so we didn’t not practice any traditions at all. But Christmas, combined with the odd sunny weather, felt like just another day.
Fortunately, Ellis is young enough to not understand but we cannot pull this next year. Next year, I’m planning on stuffing the entire month with tradition. Christmas Eve at my house went as follows:
- In my younger years, my sisters and I put up a fake tree and tore tiny pieces of wrapping paper apart to eventually get a full look at our presents. The year this photo was taken, my sisters and I got Mickey’s Christmas Carol, Candy Land, and a remote control car. As we half-put this tree up, my mother relented and let us open all the gifts. We never really had a ceremonial Santa moment. Later that night, as she talked on the phone, the phone battery started to die. To her surprise, the battery in the toy car or the car remote matched the battery in the phone so she exchanged them. It worked perfectly; only the little car buzzed every time she talked into the phone. It was hilarious. On another night, my mother played Candy Land with us as she breastfed our two month old sister. That was memorable.
- Shortly after that, my mother took us to midnight mass on Christmas Eve no matter what. We went to St. John’s Church downtown Stamford where the warmth of everyone in town crowding into the church made it impossible for my sisters and I to not nod off.
- Closer to the New Millennium, I saw a commercial for Roller Runners (or Heelys). I was a huge roller blader. I mean, I knew all the tricks. Unfortunately, I hadn’t seen Roller Runners in stores; only on kids networks like Nickelodeon and Cartoon Network. I needed “adult supervision” when calling in. Wanting Roller Runners was the first time I had ever wanted anything in my life. My sisters and I had already gotten our first computer because my mother was selling computers at the time. We were ecstatic about that but I was experiencing yearning something on my own. Imagine my bliss as my sisters and I clawed through wrapping paper when I discovered the photo of some cool kid gliding on his heels. The part that excited me the most was that my mother and my cousins knew I was going to jump for joy. I could hear them saying lowly, “Watch Sarah.” Keeping up with all of our reactions must have been hard. I remember all of my sisters being thrilled with what they got.
- Within that same era, my mother started a new job at the hospital. She worked night shift so that she could accomplish her motherly duties during the day. My sisters and I went to a small Catholic school in which the teachers and principal contributed a helping hand to my mother’s single motherhood. Further, we weren’t taught about Santa Clause; we learned about Saint Nicholas. To elaborate on Sacred Heart Parochial’s religiousness, in fifth grade, my eldest sister had to dress up as a saint for Halloween and write a biography on that saint which she read in front of the whole school (it was a small school so I don’t think she’s that scarred). Needless to say, the ABC Family 25 Days of Christmas claymation cartoons they threw our way in between IOWA Test studying was played in fragments so the teachers could explain to us that Rudolph wasn’t real. Anyway, things were moving relatively smoothly when my mother switched jobs. By the grace of our discipline-centered school along with my ten year old sister’s strange natural need to lead, we spent a lot of time home alone. Since my mother slept in the mornings, we set our own alarm clock, ironed our own uniform, made our own breakfast and our own lunch, fed the cat, took the garbage up on garbage day, and walked to the bus stop (or walked across town to school if we missed it). After school, we did our homework and stuff but a bit of our childhood was a cool hangout sesh complemented by violent fights our mother could only address when she discovered one of our fingers didn’t look right. In summary, Christmas during this time was a quick phone call by our mother directing us to “open the presents now.” And then we’d bake cookies. Although none of us believed in Santa, I’d set one or two on the windowsill merely out of curiosity. Every single program targeted for girls my age was rife with the magic of Santa. How could I not want to confirm?
- My sisters and I became “grown” eventually. Not too grown to not do the Christmas Show but we definitely understood what our budget looked like because our mother was very open about it. Christmas had never been about what we coveted. Well, she returned from deployment just in time for the holidays and our stepfather moved in with us. He introduced us to his own tradition– A Christmas Story. He watches it every year. I appreciated all the stuff she, our stepfather, our teachers, and our principal got for us but one memorable gift my eldest sister and I received was penpals. I’m really proud about owning a penpal for some reason. I was in sixth grade punching make-believe appointments and pretend alarms into my fancy penpal.
- Around 2005, I got really into photography so, for the second time, all I wanted was a digital camera. I got it and it got me into my first art exhibit in high school. That year, my sisters and I also watched The Family Stone together. We continued that as a tradition for the next couple of years but our sentiments as a family sort of trickled when my sister and I moved out. These were the years we stopped going to midnight mass, too.
When my husband and I married, we naturally alternated families during the holidays. When we had our son, spending the holidays with our families became a struggle. And anyway, we started to wonder how parents (like we are) came to lead the holidays. I mean, at some point, my grandmothers stopped having Thanksgiving at their house hence the reason my sisters, my husband, and I fly to Florida for Thanksgiving as opposed to my parents flying to Connecticut and then all of us meeting in Connecticut. It gradually became about our parents governing the holidays. Of course, our son is very young. Having Christmas independent to our families at this point isn’t as necessary as when our son wants to introduce us to a significant other or when he hopefully wants to have children. At some point, however, we will need to make our own Christmas as our parents made Christmas their own especially because it is critical our son gets equal parts of our traditions.
My husband’s family reside in and around the same town so his Christmas Eve consisted of he and his brothers composing a menu, making dinner, and placing placards around the table for his maternal grandparents who would come over that night. Christmas Day, they’d wake up while the the morning looked like the middle of the night and open presents. Later, they’d have cinnamon rolls with paternal grandparents and then brunch, lunch, and basketball with paternal relatives. Afterward, his mother would record the special moments of that holiday season in her Christmas journal, pictures and all. Although I didn’t believe in Santa growing up, Santa is a part of my husband’s childhood along with the Easter Bunny among others. Our son could believe in Santa Clause but I’ll have to figure out how to incorporate Saint Nicholas, the birth of Jesus Christ, and the torturous death of Jesus Christ as my sisters and I learned it growing up. Still, we’re not too scarred.
This year we listened to a lot of Christmas hits so Christmas rung somewhere throughout our soon-to-be-vacant house. Next year, it’s gonna be better. If our son could have an almost perfect Christmas, it would consist of the following:
- The Christmas tree goes up on Black Friday per most American tradition. We don’t have very many ornaments because my intention is to fill the tree up solely with sentimental ornaments. My husband’s mother put a pickle in the tree for reasons I’ll explain in a minute. My mother always made the youngest place the star at the top of the tree so, as of now, Ellis will do the honors. I also send out the Christmas card after Thanksgiving– some simple shot of us sitting on the couch. Nothing too crazy.
- Christmas hits would commence a week before Christmas so as to not annoy us too much. I think the Christmas caroling went well this year– no overkill. I usually look forward to the oldies and *NSYNC’s “Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays.” My husband’s favorite is Bobby Helms’ “Jingle Bell Rock.”
- The week of Christmas, we’d watch a Christmas-themed movie every night. As cozy as binge-watching Christmas movies Christmas morning sounds, cozy could turn into bed rot real quick. We gotta do this in moderation. On our list, we have:
- Mickey’s Christmas Carol from way back when.
- It’s a Wonderful Life because my husband showed this one to me on one of our “dorm dates.” We actually watched it and I really enjoyed it. It’s a classic I’ve seen over and over on mainstream television without realizing it.
- The Family Man— another one my husband showed me. We love Nicky Cage and I la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la love this story.
- The Santa Clause. My sisters and I just watched this and Curly Sue throughout the year because they were the only VHS’s we were allowed to touch at our cousins.
- The Family Stone obviously.
- Claymation movies to serve as background noise Christmas Eve. If we could squeeze one in there, Home Alone is my sister’s favorite. We could do that.
- A Christmas Story to close the holidays out with a meaningful coming-of-age narrative.
- Haitians have a tradition of turning their houses upside down and cleaning every inch of it on New Year’s. Because I don’t like doing things just because it’s the start of the New Year, I like the idea of a head start on Christmas Eve. What else is there to do on on Christmas Eve? We basically cleaned this Christmas Eve. In moderation, however, we can do some light cleaning followed by a family-cooked early dinner, menus and placards and all.
- Christmas Eve night, we’ll go to midnight mass of course.
- Early in the morning on Christmas Day, we’ll open presents. Whoever finds the pickle first gets to open their first present first. Ellis is the only candidate in this mini competition as of now. Since presents would be coming from all directions (parents, coworkers, juvenile crushes from school), we’ll only get each other one sentimental gift. This year, my husband and I vowed to get each other one sentimental gift and then get Ellis two gifts each but that was a fluke in the whirlwind of my sister’s graduation and this move. I like the idea of moderating presents because I don’t want Ellis to become entitled. Additionally, while I value the thought in anything I’m given and there’s something to say about the merry season of giving, I sometimes find myself inconvenienced by the amount of the stuff I receive. I just don’t think it’s necessary to shower our son with “things.” I hope he understands and values that, too.
- Christmas day, we’ll have Christmas cocoa over Christmas breakfast and Christmas basketball all day.