Friday, December 23, 2011

Our Family's Christmas Traditions

Growing up, my family traditions were numerous. Christmastime was incredibly special with so many rituals I am afraid I’ll miss mentioning several here tonight. There were the blue candles my Mom would place in our windows, giving each room a beautiful calm glow, and then there were the car rides around town in December to see the community’s Christmas lights. We'd spend the time picking out our favorite house displays. There were Christmas cards hung first on the stair railing and later on the front door when we moved to a new home. There were special ornaments and a little creche that to this day I refuse to give up even if the simple cardboard manger is worn out and some of the plastic animals are broken in parts.

There was the tradition of not going down the steps on Christmas morning to see the tree until Dad had gone down first to turn on the Christmas tree lights. Before he did this, everyone, including my two visiting grandmothers, had to be awake. We would then be allowed to open our stockings (In our stockings we always found gold chocolate coins at the very bottom), and just one present each before we all sat down to eat our breakfast. Opening presents would resume with an orderly "one-at-a-time, youngest-to-oldest" pattern which was a fabulous way to draw out the opening of gifts for several hours.

Going to Mass was sometimes different for each family member. With five of us children and later my older siblings' spouses all at home, I often went to an early Christmas Eve Mass with my parents or else I would opt to go with my brother and nephew around 10:00am on Christmas morning. Many of my siblings would attend the special Midnight Mass and they would not get home until the wee hours of the morning. I always longed to do that too, but by the time I was old enough to attend, the "Midnight Mass" was being held at 9:00pm.

Now that Eric and I have our own Christmas with our family, we have begun some new traditions such as with our Christmas village and snow globe decorations, our garland and bulbs hung in the windows, and our little white kitchen tree in addition to our big family tree. On a table sits a Christmas puzzle where you can often find Sydney and Emma taking turns to finish it before starting a new one and letters to Santa are answered each year with soot fingerprints left behind. We now attend a 4:00pm children’s Mass and sing in the choir, and we long ago trained our children to sing the phrase “Christmas lights!” every time we spot some in our nightly travels.

But I have certainly upheld many of my childhood traditions too. The children wait for Eric to turn on the tree lights on Christmas morning and we stop for a breakfast break after some time has been spent opening presents one at a time. My favorite tradition however is our annual Christmas Eve buffet. Years ago, in an attempt to make the night before Christmas even more special (and to take the focus off the gifts under the tree perhaps), my Mom prepared several appetizer-style dishes and put on a huge spread for family and dear friends. The dining room table was decorated and the food took over every inch. When Eric and I moved into our home I knew I wanted to continue the tradition, so each year I prepare the buffet. We invite my parents, in-laws, and often a few dear friends of my children. Before they passed, Eric’s grandmothers and Papa always came too.

I have spent much of today finishing my Christmas baking of cookies to fill a tiered tree of sweet desserts, a staple of the buffet. And I’ve begun preparing items for the menu. It is a labor of love. I’ll be up early in the morning and my daughters and I will start in on the list so as to have everything just about ready for our return after Mass. Eric will light a fire in the fireplace and the girls and I will get the food warmed up and placed upon the decorated table.

We’ll gather around the Christmas Eve buffet, say grace, and enjoy the food and one another’s company. As the food is put away, the children will begin writing a letter to Santa and will set aside a few cookies for him. It matters not that they have passed the magical time of childhood when Santa was real. They know the real magic is within the special beauty of family traditions.

Our Christmas Eve Menu:
  • crabmeat roll-ups
  • stuffed celery
  • meatballs & spaghetti sauce
  • meatballs & gravy (for Dad)
  • phyllo taco cups
  • phyllo cheeseburger cups (for Dad)
  • creton
  • cheese, pepperoni and crackers
  • chicken crepes (with apples)
  • chicken crepes (without apples for Dad)
  • steak teriyaki roll-ups with water chestnuts
  • shrimp cocktail
  • onion dip and chips
  • cheese fondue with french bread
  • deviled eggs
  • pumpkin bread
  • banana bread
  • chicken broccoli braid
  • chicken spinach braid
  • peanut butter cookies
  • peanut butter blossom cookies
  • sugar cookies
  • muddy buddies
  • peanut butter balls
  • needhams
  • frosted oatmeal log cookies
  • pretzel-kiss-m&m candies

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