Traditions. Most everyone’s got them. I love the Christmas traditions that my husband and I have created for our family. They’re very different from the ones I had as a child. Unlike my children, when I was a kid I did not have Christmas Stockings. I was vaguely aware that other kids did stockings, but never thought much about it. Our family tradition, passed down from my English mother, was that you laid an empty pillow case at the end of your bed and in the morning it would be full of presents. I remember the joy of waking up, realizing it’s Christmas, and then spotting the bulging pillow case.
We had a set routine for Christmas morning. The night before, my brother and I would barter with our parents on the earliest time that we could get up. They always won and we could never get them to agree to any earlier than 7 am. My brother would then set an alarm for 6:30, wake up and then tiptoe into my room, shaking me awake, whispering, “IT’S CHRISTMAS!!” My eyes would pop open and I would look and see my bulging pillowcase. My brother had his with him. We would then quietly walk out to the Christmas tree, dragging our pillowcases with us. Under the tree there were some other presents, mostly for my parents, but maybe a big present or two with our names on it that wouldn’t fit in our pillowcase. We would set down our pillowcases and check the time. 6:33. We had to wait till 7 to wake up our parents. That last half hour seemed to last for about 2 years. Simon would go in the kitchen and put the water on to boil. My mom had a requirement that we had to bring her a hot cup of tea when we woke her up. So we put the water on to boil and by 6:45 the tea was made. Fifteen more minutes. We went and stared at the presents. Squeezing some, looking to see whose names were on the big ones, looking into our pillowcases with longing…..WHEN WOULD IT BE 7?????
Finally at 6:59 we would figure we’d waited long enough. Rushing down the hall we would fling open their bedroom door yelling MERRY CHRISTMAS!!!! IT’S CHRISTMAS!!! WAKE UP!!! HURRY UP!!! My dad would inevitably make some comment like, No, it’s not Christmas, you’ve got the wrong day, that’s tomorrow..NO!!!! GET UP, GET UP!!! My Mom would smile at our enthusiasm and tell us to wait for them in the living room. OK!! BUT HURRY!!
Several long minutes later my mom would come out in her robe and head straight to the kitchen to put the water on to boil again. I’m not sure why she asked us to bring her tea in bed because she was never satisfied with our luke-warm, weak, over-sugared tea and she would always discreetly pour it down the drain and make herself a fresh cup. More long minutes of waiting…AAAACKK!! Then my dad would make some comment like, I’m just going to shave and take a shower first.. And we would about fall over in a fit of impatience. NO DAD!!! JUST COME!!! Finally, a lifetime later, both our parents would be in the living room sitting on the couch and we could finally proceed. We would each take turns, my brother and I arguing over who got to go first. I would open my present, show everyone what it was, lots of exclamations from the family and then the next person would open one of their presents.
There were several traditions we did that were different from my other friends. My mom would always get a fruitcake or make a fruitcake. Fruitcakes, in my young opinion, were very disappointing things. They looked so pretty, so promising with all those bright colors, but every time I took a bite, it continued to taste like Yuck. My mom informed us that us not liking fruitcake just meant that she could have more. My mom would also make some kind of fancy fruit bread: yeast bread with nuts and raisins, shaped in some pretty way. One year she shaped the bread into a wreath and decorated it with hard candies which melted into sugar glass when she baked it.
The other tradition we did faithfully all through my growing up years was caroling. My dad would bring his guitar and my mom would have a hymn book or maybe photocopies of the most popular carols. We would usually try to invite other people along, but sometimes it was just our family. Usually we visited elderly people that my parents already knew. I loved climbing out of the car at night, feeling the strangeness of hearing the guitar strum out in someone’s yard or on their doorstep and the fun of singing. Usually we would end up going inside to say hello and we would end with a rousing, “We wish you a Merry Christmas, We Wish you a Merry Christmas, We Wish you a Merry Christmas, and a Happy New Year!” Then back to the car to head to the next destination.
You know, Christmas is about Jesus and I am all about keeping him in the center of the holiday, but it’s also a holiday. I think God is all for holidays. He certainly gave the ancient Jews plenty of celebrations and feasts to fill their year. I love the Christmas season. I love Christmas trees and stockings and presents. I love Christmas carols and the story of Jesus’ birth. Wise men, shepherds, angels. I love special food that only comes out once a year, and the feeling that everyone should be happy. I love how people reach out to be kind to others during this season. Angel tree gifts, filled stockings for children in need, Christmas parties. To me, it’s just all one big party, and I like to think that Jesus is sitting in the middle of all my blinking lights and tinsel and grinning at me while I happily write Christmas cards and wrap presents for my children.