Holiday traditions are as wonderfully diverse as the families who practice them. In conjunction with my new release Bear Creek Christmas, allow me to share some of mine!
The following excerpt is taken from Bear Creek Christmas.
Levi awoke to the wind’s moans and whistles as it tore past the cabin. Given the light level in the room, Knox had let him sleep in, and he turned to look up into his mate’s stormy blue eyes.
“Good morning, love. Merry Christmas!”
Knox framed his face with both hands and kissed him.
“Merry Christmas. I got the best gift ever this year.”
At length, they got up, turned on all the colored lights, and made a fire in defiance of the still-raging storm. Levi tuned in to some holiday music, and they teamed up to prepare a breakfast featuring banana walnut pancakes. Thus fortified, the giddy lovers returned to the living room to begin their celebration. First, Levi took the filled Christmas stockings from the mantelpiece, handing one to Knox.
“Our family has always filled them with candy and small gifts, but you can’t have any until Christmas Day. Next year, you get to decide what goes in them.”
Later, Levi picked up the only gift under the tree and presented it to his mate.
“You’re a hard man to buy for, so don’t laugh!”
Knox removed the wrapping paper and opened the box to find a Christmas ornament inside. It was a dancing black bear, wearing a holiday sweater and a red bow on his head. On the bottom, he found the date and an inscription, Knox and Levi – Our First Christmas.
As a kid, the worst part of the holiday was Christmas Eve. It must have been the only day of the year where I longed to go to bed—but only so the magic could begin when I awoke. While the waiting seemed interminable, there were things going on behind the scenes I knew nothing about until much older. Bit by bit, my parent’s enormous stash of gifts had been secretly wrapped and tagged by my older siblings, hidden away in mom and dad’s bedroom closets. They already knew Santa wasn’t real so they became honorary elves and helpers. Since I was third from the last, I only got to do this a few times and it was enormous fun being “in the know” and keeping secrets from my siblings!
I also didn’t realize that mom had been collecting candy—something Santa was supposed to provide when he showed up with the loot. Seeing the empty stockings hanging there for DAYS was another test of my childhood patience. It had to have been a considerable amount to fill eleven of them to the brim, though I never discovered mom’s hiding place.
Following midnight mass (yeah, I had to endure that too), it was a race to get into bed. We all knew that Santa would not come to our house unless we were all asleep first. I remember a couple of times when dad remained outside, tossing rocks onto the roof. Mom must have been in on it, because we were told that the noises were coming from Santa’s reindeer, and we better hurry up and get to sleep! Coupled with the phony radio and TV announcements of Santa “sightings”, we were convinced it was real.
Christmas Day didn’t officially start until eight am—at least that’s when we were allowed to get up and prepare to run downstairs. If someone had miraculously overslept, we’d go down the hall banging on bedroom doors to get everyone up. Once we had permission, the whole troop raced down the steps and into the living room to see the spectacle. Every available space under and around the tree was taken with gaily wrapped gifts of all sizes and shapes. Others leaned against the wall or were stacked up, leaving a good portion of the floor covered.
The other early excitement was being allowed to have our stockings—now filled to the brim with candy and topped with the largest oranges mom could find. Warnings were given regarding how much of it we could eat, but it didn’t prevent some horse trading between siblings. We’d dump them out to see how many of our favorites were included this year. Most of it was individually foil-wrapped—the only thing preventing wholesale gobbling before breakfast.
Next came the wait for Grandparents to arrive so we could open gifts. I swear, it took them longer ever year to show up! When the time arrived, my siblings and I would find a spot to claim on the living room floor while the adults sat on the couch and chairs where it was safer. Once the gifts were all handed out, the show was ready to begin; highly anticipated by everyone for the entertainment value if nothing else.
With movie camera in hand, my dad called out the countdown of “three, two, one—GO!” and the room erupted in a frenzy of shredded wrapping paper and shrieks of delight. Meanwhile, dad was filming the event in wide, fast sweeps of the camera that usually only captured the mayhem instead of individual moments. Across the room, multiple thanks were shouted to the gift givers—literally shouted, because there was no other way to be heard over the din.
Mom and dad loved this, having spent a lot of money to make this day special for us, year after year. Each of us got at least one big and small present from them, perhaps another from Santa, and then one more from a sibling (we picked names out of a hat once we were old enough to earn money). Unfortunately, we also received something from my grandmother and her husband. No, not socks or other practical gifts, but flea market items with dubious value. They did what they could, but what a disappointment to a kid looking for a shiny new whatever.
When all the hubbub settled down, it was our turn to be quiet and watch as mom opened her gifts. She usually had quite a few and made a point to ooh and aah over each one, no matter what it was. I honestly don’t recall my dad opening anything, though I’m sure he must have had gifts too. He was more concerned about his kids enjoying Christmas, and remained annoyingly difficult to buy for his entire life.
The main meal that day was in the evening. In my younger years, mom would duplicate the Thanksgiving menu, though desserts were more plentiful at Christmas if I remember correctly. We’d crowd around the main dining room table, with the younger kids seated in the overflow in the corner. Like the gift opening, it was a loud, high-intensity affair with everyone eating and engaged in overlapping conversations. In later years, the menu switched from turkey and dressing to spaghetti and meatballs with garlic bread. Yum!
The other parts of the day were filled with table games, watching sports on the TV, or nibbling on snacks or candy. As our family grew to include in-laws and babies, some of the dynamics changed a bit, but we always seemed to have a lot of fun. I miss that holiday vibe from my youth, and at times, wish I could capture it once again for just a little while. I guess I’ll have to be content with old photographs and fading memories. Whatever you and yours do on special days, make the most of them while you can.
Your turn to share. Please tell me what you and yours do for the holidays!