Growing up, our Christmas celebration centered more around Christmas Eve than Christmas day. I mean, sure, getting a bunch of presents was cool as hell, but Christmas Eve was when the really awesome stuff happened.
Each year, our extended family would gather at my great-aunt and uncle’s house (and later at my grandparents’) to spend the holiday together. For most of us, this just meant driving across town, but for my mom’s cousin and his wife, it meant making the trip from Buffalo to Pittsburgh with a van-load of children. The Buffalo cousins are close in age to my brother and I, so this was always a blast. Plus, our younger cousins would be there too. They lived nearby at the time, but I still got excited every time I’d get to see them.
Each year we spent Christmas Eve the same way. First, we’d get all dressed up and head to church for the Christmas Eve service. I’m not much of a church-goer, but I love Christmas Eve service. The candlelight service and singing the songs of the holiday just warm my heart. After church, we’d head back to the house. I loved this short drive, where we’d see the houses all lit up and the beautiful luminaria lining the streets of the neighborhood.
Back at the house, my grandmother and great-aunt would have a feast waiting for us. Ham, turkey, and all the fixin’s, not to mention enough sweets to give us all diabetes. It was amazing. We’d stuff ourselves until we couldn’t eat any more, all while excitedly bouncing in our seats because we knew that the best part of the entire Christmas celebration was coming up next.
I don’t know who has connections with the jolly man in a red suit (though I suspect it’s my grandmother), but someone managed to talk him into stopping by before he started his night of globe trotting. Each year after dinner, we’d hear the distinct jingle of Santa’s bells, followed by the ringing doorbell. (Clearly, someone had an “in” with him, since it was casual enough for him to use the front door.) He’d waddle through the door, plop himself in a comfy chair, and dig deep into his sack of gifts. Each child (and sometimes a well-behaved grown-up or two), would be called up to sit on Santa’s lap and receive one early gift. He’d bring the rest of the loot when he stopped by again later that night on his usual route, but he always had a present for us to open on Christmas Eve before we snuggled into bed. Wasn’t that just so thoughtful of him?!
I know, I know. There is an awful rumor going around that Santa Claus isn’t real. It’s crap. Don’t believe them. I can assure you, he exists. And if you know someone who knows the right people, he can even be talked into knocking on your front door if you behave yourself in church. (I know there are many, many pictures of this somewhere – I just wasn’t able to dig them up. But I promise, there is proof…somewhere. I’ll find it.)
What is your favorite Christmas tradition?