This is my favorite time of year: Thanksgiving is over and everyone has turned his or her focus to Christmas. People are busy decorating their homes with lights, snow globes, and reindeer. It is the time of year when entire cities decorate their downtown area with images of Santa and lampposts are ablaze with multicolored lights. The spirit is strong indeed, but not as strong as my memories of childhood Christmas.
I grew up in a large family in the northeast. We were eight strong on most nights and a full house was all but guaranteed around the Christmas season. We celebrated in the traditional manner: tree, tinsel, ornaments, stockings, lights, Nativity scene, ginger bread house and 24/7 Christmas carols. This, I like to think, is where our traditional experiences end.
Whether it was our Christmas Eve open house or the Christmas breakfast of meat pie tourtiere, our family always did things a bit differently. Our traditions knew no cultural boundaries and included food and drink such as sangria, sushi, fried scamorza cheese, and even kugel, a traditional Jewish noodle pudding. This seemingly random selection of food and drink is something to this day that I’m thankful for as it has helped to open my eyes to many different cultures.
Perhaps our greatest tradition, and my favorite memory, is of waking up on Christmas morning. In our house the children could wake up and open stocking as early as they wanted but we had to wait until everyone was awake in order to open presents (we had a 9am mandatory wake up call for the entire house). While the stockings were emptied my mother would put the tourtiere in the oven and prepare the coffee and hot chocolate. Prepped with food and drink we would settle into our assigned seating plan; mom and dad on the couch, oldest brother in the oversized chair, and remaining kids on the floor. Presents were opened one at a time and in chronological order, youngest to oldest.
Christmas night was a more typical affair and was shared with family and our closest of friends. The evening concluded with several rounds of cards, which were highlighted with laughter and hilarity, only emphasized by the amount of wine consumed over the previous several hours (Christmas was one of the rare times that everyone had a chance to partake in dad’s famous home-brew). With light heads and full bellies we would find our way to our separate beds for a well needed slumber.
Now a little older, I’ve started to think of how my childhood traditions will shape my future children’s experiences. I like to think that some of my fondest Christmas experiences will get shared with our kids, but at the same time it is exciting to consider new traditions that we haven’t experienced yet. Even generational traditions started somewhere. With my wife and I due in late January, next year will likely be the start of even more wonderful traditions and experiences.
My childhood memories could rival anyone’s and I wouldn’t trade them for the world. And I know that one day my children will look back at their own childhood and wonder the exact same thing: which traditions will they pass on to their children, our grandchildren, and which new traditions and experiences will they create for themselves. I just hope that I’m around long enough to experience them and open-minded enough to enjoy them. At the end of the day my greatest memories are not of the presents I received but of the time spent with family and loved ones. And that is surely the greatest Christmas tradition of all.