By Liz, waiting for Santa Paws with Penny and Molly! (The cats are kind of cynical at this point…must be old age.)
I love Christmas Eve. It’s kind of a given as an Italian – it was always the biggest part of the celebration. When I was a kid, we always had Christmas Eve at our house and my parents made it special every year. My grandparents were there, and while sometimes we had relatives from my father’s side of the family, more often than not it was me, my brother, my parents and my mother’s parents.
And of course, that meant a lot of traditions. This year especially, I’ve been thinking a lot about the holidays and their different iterations over the years. I think no matter what form they’ve taken during different times in my life, the feeling of Christmas – and especially Christmas Eve – was seared into my person by the first 20+ years of my life doing it my family’s way. And despite our differences over the rest of the years, when I think of what the holidays feel like, I’ll always think of our house in Methuen, with the two trees (one upstairs, one down), the massive amounts of decorations, the Christmas classics on the stereo.
So today I thought I’d do a few top five lists of my favorite things, in honor of all those Christmases past. Starting with overall traditions:
- Picking out a real tree at a neighborhood farm and decorating it on my birthday weekend (the last weekend in November)
- Watching Dr. Seuss’s The Grinch Who Stole Christmas on Christmas Eve
- My mother’s homemade fudge
- A game (or three) of 45’s (if you’re not from Methuen or Lawrence you probably don’t know what this is, but it’s a card game – my grandfather’s favorite)
- Going out to look at Christmas lights at least twice during the season (I found this gem below this weekend by chance!)
Of course, there are the Christmas carols. My top five classics, in honor of my dad:
- The Christmas Song – Nat King Cole
- Holly Jolly Christmas – Burl Ives
- Suzy Snowflake (my mother and I used to play this on the piano together)
- Rockin Around the Christmas Tree
- Sleigh Ride
- Honorary mention – Blue Christmas (not my favorite, but my dad always sang it)
And finally, a tradition we started when I was older: Watching Christmas movies on Christmas Eve before dinner. Some of our faves:
- It’s a Wonderful Life
- A Christmas Carol (Patrick Stewart version)
- Dr. Seuss’s aforementioned The Grinch Who Stole Christmas
- Frosty the Snowman, because what’s Christmas without Frosty?
- And one of mine – Love Actually.
Finally, since we’re in the Christmas spirit, I thought it fitting to share with you the cover of the next Cat Cafe book, since it’s Christmas-themed.
Thanks for letting me share some memories with you. Wishing you all a very merry Christmas and happy holiday season!
Share some of your favorite holiday memories with us below!
Those are wonderful traditions and memories, Liz. And I love the cover! We’ll both have Christmas books out next year – I’m looking forward to that.
In my house growing up, we always opened the present from my mother’s mother up north, because it was always new handmade nightgowns or pajamas. So you had new flannel to wear to bed while waiting for Santa. On Christmas morning, we four kids had to wait until a certain hour (6? 7?) before opening our stockings. Then we got dressed and had a special breakfast before opening presents. In a family of big readers, everyone always at least got a book and we’d spend the rest of the day reading!
Merry Christmas to you!
Thanks Edith! I love that everyone got a book 🙂
I think I’ve written here before about the Christmas Eve tradition my family had. Quick recap: The extended family would gather on 12/24 at my grandparents house in Newton, MA where we’d have a big meal and exchange presents etc. Later it was moved to my aunt’s house in Marlboro when my grandmother (my grandfather had passed by this point) decided it was too much for her to put on herself in her advancing age.
As the family expanded and the adults got older, we had more and more younger kids so my uncle started dressing up as Santa for the little ones. There’d be games, fun, laughter and good cheer.
My uncle was also a Christmas themed troublemaker so one year his presents all came with labels saying what was supposedly in the box. Which horrified the foreign exchange student my aunt and uncle were hosting one year because her box said “Underwear”. Obviously it wasn’t that but the look on her face was priceless. She wouldn’t open the box until others opened theirs and she saw that the label was just a lie.
Then as everyone got older, we switched to a Yankee Swap for everyone over 18. Some years we’d theme the gifts. Other years we had a costume theme such as your favorite Christmas character. I was Rudolph the year they wouldn’t let me dress up as the Ghost of Christmas Future.
And then of course there was my personal favorite Christmas Eve tradition the last few years of the gathering before it ended. My aunt’s “World Famous Chicken Dish”. One year I was looking forward to it so much that I gave her a plastic container when we arrived for the event. She said, “What’s this for?” and I told her, “You can put my leftovers in that now.” She burst out laughing.
When we got home (as kids), my parents would let us open one present before bed. When I was old enough to be informed of the truth, I got to keep the secret and stay up later to help lay the presents out.
These days, with my parents gone and the extended family gathering ended, I don’t really do much at all. However, my trivia team partners have invited me over to their home for a small gathering the last couple of years so I go to that.
What wonderful memories of wonderful traditions.
I love those stories, Jay. So glad you’re spending time with friends. Merry Christmas!
I’ve told these stories here before, but I love thinking of how we adapted to the sometimes less than ideal situations and made them into memories. The year we got stuck in a motel for 3 days over Christmas, the pink pig story, the Christmas Eve on a train, and the 4 days our daughter got stuck in a hotel (with her cat) because the connecting flights were all cancelled. They are all what we call war stories, but they are what have kept our family so close-knit. Most years, things go according to plan and we just have a wonderful time being together, eating pumpkin pie, reading the Night Before Christmas to our daughter (who is 49 this year) in bed on Christmas Eve, visiting our very small family and generally just enjoy the season.
Have the Merriest of Christmases and the most Joyous Chanukah, and Kwanzaa everyone!
War stories – I love it. Every family has some, right? Merry Christmas!
My grandmother’s nut roll. I tried to replicate it once and got close…but not quite.
🙂 At least you tried, Liz!
Your memories sound great.
I’m working for the first one ever on Christmas Eve, but only for 3 hours. The car is packed, and the instant the time is up, I’m heading up to spend the rest of the week with my family.
Hope your workday is short and uneventful, Mark! Merry Christmas.
Love this, Liz! I love picturing you and your mom playing the piano together. I didn’t even know you played. Our Christmas eve always includes pizza for dinner and driving around looking at lights.
I played for 15 years! Haha. Your Christmas Eve sounds fun 🙂
When I was little, Christmas Eve was going to Candlelight service. We got up super early to open presents, and the grandparents and my dad’s aunt and uncle came for dinner. As we got older, we started opening gifts on Christmas Eve. My immediate family is gone now so I’m watching a Christmas movie and reading tonight and going to my sister-in-law’s tomorrow. Have a wicked Merry Christmas.
When my kids were little, after lighting the Chanukah Menorah we’d bundle them up and head out to see the lights in the nearby Italian neighborhoods. One family in the Canarsie area owned a Funeral Home and their house across the street could be seen from space. Mid 70’s animitronics that boggled the mind.
My wife and I still go looking even now.
You gotta love Christmas traditions. Oh it’s never Christmas without the Grinch! And It’s a Wonderful Life of course. Great post!
Getting together with family to eat pie and play games the night before a holiday.
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