Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve been asking my kiddos at work about their plans for Christmas, the things they like the most, their traditions. Some of them have very specific things they do, and others just shrug. Whether looking forward to traditions, new experiences, or just two weeks off, the excitement has been palpable, to the point of pain for the staff. Now that the kids are gone for two weeks, I’ve been able to sit back and consider my own traditions, how they’ve had to change throughout the years.
I grew up as the youngest of three occasionally angelic children. We were (and still are) about as different as is possible, a perfect three year gap between each of our ages. Around Christmas, however, we banded together toward one common goal.
My brother, the oldest, six years my senior, was in charge, although my sister, three years older than me, might disagree with that. We were hardcore in our Santa drills. They started weeks ahead of time. We would have “secret” meetings, planning, making diagrams to plot the best route for stocking retrieval.
Then came the dry runs. My sister and I would lay in our beds and pretend to sleep. My brother would creep in and “wake us,” then we would practice finding the least creaky routes down the stairs. I’m sure we were plenty loud, but I remember the pride I felt when my brother would look back in surprise. “I didn’t think you were still behind me, you were being so quiet, Rena!” Hint: If you step on the outside of the stairs, they are less squeaky.
Christmas Eve night, we always got to open one present before church, usually my parents’ choice. That was enough to tide us over until bedtime. Not long after that, it was go-time. We weren’t allowed to check our stockings until after 1am. Because Santa was on a schedule, of course. It was always closer to 1:30 by the time my brother tip-toed into our room to lead the mission to the living room, but I always figured that he just wanted to be absolutely sure Santa had already come.
It wasn’t until years later that I learned he always went down before us and emptied all our stockings to compare prizes. Because he cared, probably.
After checking out our stockings (and maybe eating some candy and possibly spilling paint on the carpet), we’d head back to bed and try to sleep until 6, when we were allowed to wake our parents to open presents.
We always opened in age order. Of course, I always voted for youngest to oldest. I won sometimes, but not always. We had to take turns opening presents, and watch whoever was next. In fact, the person usually wouldn’t start opening until everyone was paying attention. My sister, ever the perfectionist, I think got a special thrill out of opening each present as carefully as possible, not ripping the paper, causing my brother and I to twitch impatiently. We oooed and ahhhhed over every present, and spent the rest of the day lounging, playing with our new treasures.
Now that I’m an adult, this has obviously changed. We stopped Santa drills when we left Ackley, IA, though the present opening stayed the same for years. These days, present opening is usually me and my parents, taking turns as we used to, but it’s different with three of us. And we tend to do them all Christmas Eve. I haven’t gotten to witness the excitement of a kid Christmas morning for many years, except once about four or five years ago when there was a terrible blizzard that snowed me in at my sister’s house for Christmas.
Sometimes it’s a struggle to capture the magic of the season. Life flies by too quickly. I am as guilty as anyone of getting caught up in the busy-ness of the season, and it tends to sneak up on me. But not matter what, even when I wake up surprised it’s already time for Christmas, there’s always that glimmer of magic. Now it’s my turn to leave stockings for my parents, my job to plan for Christmas Eve feast and Christmas morning brunch. It’s different, but still good.
What are your holiday traditions? How have they changed? What has changed that you miss the most?