Everyone who celebrated Christmas has a story which starts, “In my house for Christmas we…” This is mine.
Christmas in our family started the night before on Christmas Eve. We kids were allowed to open a single gift this night, and that gift was always the one from Kitty Marie. As the name suggests, this was the grande dame of the family felines. Each year Kitty would “give” the kids new pajamas to wear on Christmas Eve. After dinner but before the evening movie (most likely one from Father’s extensive collection of
The Christmas Carol) we would search under the tree for the gifts wrapped in the cat paper then, once everyone had found theirs, tear into them. Naturally there was no surprise as to what you’d receive, nevertheless you were excited just by the prospect of something new. Immediately afterwards, newly PJ’d, we kids would grab our Christmas TV-watching quilts (handmade by Mom) and settle in for the evening’s entertainment.
In some families, Christmas morning starts whenever the kids wake up, race to the tree and start inflicting a brief but brutal swath of destruction upon the gifts beneath the tree. Such was not the case for us. However early you got up, neither you nor anyone else was allowed into the living room until you heard the music start. Not just any music. The record (later tape, later CD) which kicked off festivities was always The Glorious Sound of Christmas by the Philadelphia Orchestra, directed by Eugene Ormandy. We kids would all line up at the very edge of the living room carpet, in that liminal zone which is neither kitchen nor living room, looking at the lit tree overflowing with gifts, the crackling fireplace topped with stuffed stockings, impatiently awaiting the first notes of “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing.” By this time Mom and Dad had already been up for a while, rearranging the gifts under the tree, lighting the fire and baking the homemade cinnamon rolls.
When the music (finally) started we would race out to the living room. There was usually one unwrapped but bow-bearing gift before the tree for you, the tag signed “From Santa.” This gift and your stocking were all you were allowed to touch for a while. Everyone worked their way through their stockings, munching on fruit and cinnamon roll. After all the trash from that round had been picked up it was time to turn our attention to the tree. Each person would be handed a gift and once everyone had one (and everyone had the same number, you can be sure) we could start to open them. Gifts were admired, photos were taken, trash was picked up, more gifts were handed out. Repeat. This continued until everyone had only one gift left. The big gift. This was the piece d’resistance of the event, the bigger ticket item which you’re most likely least expecting. Big gifts were always specially wrapped, with fancy bows and tags and often included some extra decoration like a small stuffed animal.
After all the gifts were opened and everyone had plenty of time to start fiddling around with their new stuff the kids would get dressed and head across the street to the Morgan’s house, the nice old couple who lived across the street. We’d take them cinnamon rolls and talk for a little bit, then zip on home again so we could hop in the minivan. Gotta head to Grandma’s house, an hour and a half away, to open more presents and eat with the extended family. Grandma A would roast a turkey and have the usual items to go with it, but the highlight always was her homemade ravioli, filled with ground beef and covered with parmesan cheese and melted butter. Of course cookies, pies, candies and other desserts were plentiful and you could eat as much as you wanted of any (and usually all) of them.
Following Grandma A’s place we’d head home, probably napping on the way to help sleep off some of the food. This was required because once you got home Mom started work on the best tradition of all: the Christmas pizza. Handmade crust and loaded down with far more toppings than ought to be allowed by law, the Christmas pizza blows away any festive turkey, goose or spiral ham your friends might have. Let them have their mashed potatoes. We had pepperoni and sausage. Pop would be opened (a rare event in my household), pizza eaten, PJ’s donned, more Christmas movies watched all as everyone is once again going through their presents and the dog and cat are sleeping near the fire.
When I actually set it all down in words like that it sounds very Rockwellian. Though they weren’t always that perfect, I can say with complete honesty that Christmas in our house was a good time, one which someday I wouldn’t mind passing on to my own kids.