Unlike Thanksgiving, Christmas is a holiday I have only missed once. The year I missed Christmas I was in Durango, Colorado and was a bridesmaid for my close friends Emrys and Sara Tyler. It was a fantastic wedding on the 23rd (or was it the 22nd?) and was the culmination of days of celebration and eating. For Christmas, we organized an orphan dinner at our friend Theresa’s house. Put a group of people in a kitchen around a turkey–none of us had even been responsible for cooking the turkey before. I carefully followed my mom’s instructions, but spent the whole day poking the bird–just to make sure it was okay. No bird (outside of Gene Shepard’s The Christmas Story) has even been basted quite so much. We made stuffing and green bean casserole, bread, wine, there was dessert. And most importantly–Trivial Pursuit. We ate about 3 hours early, which meant that the object of a two year long crush of mine didn’t come. If only I’d set aside of a plate of Turkey and Mashed potatos… alas, I’m in London and not in Durango. Oh well, I couldn’t function around Aaron anyway–we went out once and I drank about a gallon of coffee and ate only one bite of my omelette.
Christmas Eve belongs to my grandparents on my dad’s side. A couple weeks after Thanksgiving, we’d decorate their tree–always a 7 foot tree. Christmas at the house was a traditional affair, wrapped in red velvet, red suspenders, mistletoe, and accented with poinsettas. My grandparents had a fantastic nativity scene that we set up in the center of the desserts. The pieces were properly weighted and felt on the bottom, like a chess piece. The desserts were enough to feed an army–pumpkin pie, apple pie, mince meat, a fruitcake, and of course–green stuff. I mentioned it in the Thanksgiving post, green stuff was the best dessert–green jello, whip cream, marshmallows, and maybe fruit. For dinner there was probably a turkey, ham, mashed potatos, and oyster stew. I never actually tried the oyster stew. Sitting at the kid’s table with Jenny, Libby, and Ry–we were allowed to eat tuna salad sandwiches cut diagonally.
We were just treading water and waiting for the GIFTS. One year, so many members of our extended family came, the presents were piled under the tree and for 20 feet down the dining room. Piles and piles–that was probably the year of the Dustbuster. The year that everyone gor everyone else a dustbuster, but some how my family didn’t get one. I think my grandparents got two or three and my aunt Trudi got the same number. Good ad campaign, huh? Then there was the year we got my grandpa a bubble gum machine to keep black licorice jelly beans in. We each carefully wrapped a roll of pennies in big boxes and small boxes, tiny envelopes. There were five of us to get through before he got the penny gumball machine, which he kept filled and on his desk until he passed away.
There was mistletoe between the kitchen and dining room and the grandkids would go up the backsteps in the kitchen, run across the top floor and down the main staircase in the front room to avoid being caught for a kiss underneath. And we would sit on the orange vinyl stools, drinking coca cola and waiting for dinner. If you lean on the counter with your elbows and sat on your knees, you can twist and turn on the stool all night. Then your hands are free to pick at food before it is served. For many years, the last stool was reserved for my great aunt Gertrude. She gaurded the back door with a glass of scotch and a pack of cigarettes. “Hey, Uncle Jimmy’s here.” She would say every time I walked in the door. My Uncle Jimmy has a large nose and that was her nice way of saying I had a big nose–which I don’t, but I didn’t know. I was secretly relieved when she passed away, because I would ever hear her say that again.
After another round of dessert and packing up leftovers, peeking out the window to make sure it was snowing for Santa, we would head home to wait for Christmas day. Christmas was just our family in the morning. We were like any other family, getting up super early to open presents. Sometimes having to drag my brother out of bed so we could get down to the business of opening presents. We ate breakfast out of our stockings and out of the fruit bowl–clementines and tangerines with chocolates and candy canes. We would rip through the stockings and then everyone would open their gifts. One year I took charge of stuffing the stockings and got things like de-icer for everyone, responsible stocking stuffers. Eventually, Mom would get the Christmas eve leftovers out, or make ham, or eggs and we would have a proper breakfast–well past noon. Around 5 or so, it was back to my grandparents for a less formal Christmas dinner.
After my grandparents retired, Christmas Eve was less set in stone. Would we go to Reelsville? Texas? Church? Seattle? We found things to do. Once year, before Rayne got married, we were sitting around the living room after church. I am the most impatient gift giver–after it is wrapped, I can’t stand the anticipation, I want it opened. I don’t care about opening my own gifts so much, but I do care about other people opening gifts I got for them. Sometimes they don’t even get wrapped (Nate’s birthday present, I lasted exactly 30 minutes before I got it out of my suitcase… and really, only 1 minute after I had access to my suitcase.) So, we decided that since it was just the four of us, we could each open one present. This was not tradition in my family, we open ALL presents on Christmas morning (immediate family.) Well, one present was followed with one more and another… then there were no presents to open on Christmas morning.
This year, I’m in London and my sister is hosting the first christmas at her house. Now that she is married and has china and silver of her own, I think it might be moved to Decatur for the next few years. She told me the menu, which sounds amazing and delicious. All of my packages arrived on time and since they are all so patient, gifts will be opened in an orderly manner on Christmas day. I am sitting here, waiting for mine to arrive with presents from coworkers on my desk. Under my christmas laptop. Tonight I am going to a party at a columbian family’s house to dance the night away and practice my spanish.