Before we moved and had children, my husband and I would spend Thanksgiving with my parents and Christmas Eve and Day with his parents. My sister always alternated Thanksgiving with her in-laws and I thought our way made things much simpler and fair for everyone since my family didn’t celebrate Christmas. After we moved and decided to stay home with our kids for Christmas so they could wake up in their own house, things changed for us, but we still kept several, if not all of my husband’s family’s traditions that my husband brought to our family.
Our tree is usually decorated before Christmas Eve, but if it isn’t, this is when it gets done. Judging by how things look this morning, I believe that will be the case today. Since I will be at the Nativity Vigil Mass tonight, we’ll have to work on this throughout the day, probably with some hot chocolate and tea and some holiday music to keep our spirits up as we decorate and wrap the remaining gifts.
We usually have a pretty late night on Christmas Eve. There’s always one more thing to do. The kids are usually more cooperative on Christmas Eve than other bedtimes because they know that Santa won’t come if they’re still awake and he can’t stay out all night – he has his own Christmas dinner to get to. We will put on the NOAA Santa tracker and try to guess from the radar when he will get to our neighborhood. The closer he gets, the more panic-stricken we all get as we see what wasn’t done. Once or twice we were still wrapping presents and baking cookies long after midnight. If the kids awake when he gets overhead, they know that he skips our house but hopefully he will come back after they are in bed asleep.
Our dinner of choice every year for Christmas Eve is Chinese take-out. We even have a Chinese take-out box ornament on our tree. Since it is a special night, we will sometimes get something new to try or something that we don’t usually have like fried wontons or beef sticks.
Dinner is usually a little later than a regular night because we won’t eat until after I get home from Mass. I love the Christmas Eve Mass. It starts with the caroling, and depending on which mass I attend, the baby Jesus is brought in to be put in the manger where Mary and Joseph are already waiting. The three wise men are all the way across the altar and throughout the twelve days, they travel across, slowly until January 6th when they are right beside the Holy Family.
This year, as with several of the past few years, there is a Doctor Who Christmas Special that we will watch as a family. Later on this evening, my husband and I will try to catch up with Netflix’s Sense8 two-hour Christmas special, a small preview before season two begins in May.
After our dinner, fortune cookies, a little ice cream, and Doctor Who, the kids make cookies for Santa and leave him a couple on a plate with a glass of milk. Before bed, they get to have one or two cookies themselves as a Christmas Eve treat.
While the cookies are in the oven, the kids take the special reindeer food that they got from the firehouse Santa and sprinkle it outside with one or two carrots for the reindeer so they can also have a little snack. For the past couple of years, my oldest son usually does the cookies with his younger brother and sister, but this will be the first year that he’s not at home Christmas Eve. He’s an EMT and he will be working the overnight shifts both into Christmas Eve and into Christmas Day (two separate shifts).
As much as things do change as they grow up, and bring home significant others and need to make room for jobs and their own social obligations, the more the traditions mean and remain basically the same – family, food, friendship, and fun.
Everything is finished, the living room is even clean and decluttered, and we can finally relax, waiting for Santa and looking forward to tomorrow’s traditions.