Monday, December 22, 2008

Traditional and Crazy Christmas Traditions

Originally uploaded by katzeye

homemade tamales. my dad worked downtown, near the music center, and on Christmas Eve, he had more time off, and he would go to the music center and listen to music and go to the local places he knew so well for authentic, homemade tamales. He'd get a bunch of them. I don't remember if we had them on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. Maybe that depended. But we had them.

wooden shoes and clogs. Dutch tradition. Sinter Klas would appear in the area starting December 6th. I think his sidekick was Black Pete, but there was a Dutch name for him, that translated to something like that. So, sometimes on that date, we'd line up wooden shoes (they had a dutch name too, trying to remember that, z something), or clogs, or any roomy shoe if one did not possess a wooden one (I had wooden clogs up until recently, actually). We'd put carrots and straw in the shoes for the reindeer. In the morning (the 7th or the 25th, depending), there would be a small surprise in each shoe to replace the carrot or straw.

Cookies and Milk for Santa. We'd leave notes for Santa, usually notes of thanks and instruction and information about his cookies and milk. In the morning, the milk would be half gone and there'd be at least one half-eaten cookie left on the plate.

Angel hair pasta (usually on Christmas eve)

Crackers. British Isles tradition, usually in the morning at Christmas breakfast, which would include such things as hot, spicy cider, egg nog, croissants, eggs, bagels, home made cinnamon rolls, hot chocolate.

Stockings (these were usually filled with oranges, walnuts, candy canes, and a few little surprises)

Frosted cookies. We'd make them ourselves from scratch. I can do without this one, as they are very buttery rich.

Pajamas. On Christmas eve, Santa would sneak into each of our rooms to place a soft, wrapped gift at the end of each of our beds. In the morning, we'd wake up, rub our eyes, and put on the new pajamas that we found in those packages.

Christmas morning. We'd usually wake before our parents, and we learned to not go into the living room yet. We'd put on our new pajamas and find much of our breakfast on the table, ready for us. When our parents got up, they'd make the eggs, the hot chocolate, the spiced cider, etc. We'd wait for our Grandma to arrive. Then, we'd line up in order of age, the youngest first, and file into the living room that was brightly lit by my dad's bank of lights so he could film us. Our films show us blinking, squinting and shielding our eyes!

Gift Opening. We'd start with the stockings. We'd all dig into those at the same time. Then, we'd take our seats in the living room and one gift at a time would be handed to us. One person at a time would open. It took most of the day! After that, we'd play with our toys while the Christmas feast was prepared (Tamales if they weren't enjoyed on Christmas Eve).

Thank you notes. My mom would spread newspaper on the dining room table, usually on NY's day, and we'd gather around the paper, paints, and pens and create Thank You cards and art to send to relatives and even brothers and sisters who gave us gifts. There'd be music playing and we'd immerse ourselves in the creativity of it.

Later "traditions." When we were all teenagers, we added a few new traditions such as the Tree Decorating: Our parents would leave the room to watch TV while we threw tinsel all over the tree. We loved the randomness of how it fell.

Also, we would sneak things out of each others' rooms to put on the tree, for instance, I remember that a wallet-sized photo of a girl none of us had ever seen before had appeared on the tree. On the back, it said, "To Mike, love Cindy xxxoo." That was a real find since Mike, our youngest brother, had never mentioned this Cindy to any of us. That HAD to go on the tree, along with someone's hidden report card, or a really garish necklace that someone had given our mother and she was too polite to give it away, and someone's speeding ticket, and the Barbie doll that my sister still kept in her underwear drawer, the one that had lost most of its hair.

Gift Wrapping: If it was too big to fit on the tree, it was wrapped and put UNDER the tree. Jeff's old stuffed animal that he had when he was four, and the fur was all rubbed off? Wrapped and put under the tree with his name on the tag. Mike's car keys? Wrapped and put under the tree! My favorite record album? Wrapped and put under the tree! The object was to fill up that space with as many shiny gifts as we could! But we tried not to be too cruel about it, so, for instance, my brother was only looking for his car keys for two days, and was borrowing his brother's car in the meantime, the brother who had put his keys under the tree, of course. However, one year, a week before Christmas, I took my sister's electric razor, the one she counted on daily for smooth legs, wrapped it in a shoebox-sized box and put it under the tree. We'd be wandering around all week, wondering where we'd misplaced our stuff, all the while looking for more things to wrap.

I'm not sure how my parents survived all of us, but they seemed to manage by telling each other that one day this would all pass.

But I will never forget the look of relief on my sister's face when she opened that gift and found her beloved, long-lost electric razor, which she immediately hid under her long lost sweater.

It was a great tradition, as it made us appreciate what we had. (Each other!)

What about you?