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Sunday, December 17, 2006

An American Family's Christmas [2]

By Alison, writing from Pennsylvania, USA

Part Two

The food is not the only tradition that my step-father's family has. We also sit in the same seats every year while we are opening our gifts. Why, I am not sure, but we do. My personal spot is in a wing chair with the Christmas tree to my left and a fireplace to my right. The exchanging of gifts has dwindled over time. Years ago, everyone exchanged gifts, and the evening would last into the early hours of Christmas morning because they like to watch each person open their gifts. For the last 10 years, they decided to pick names and we would buy for whomever we picked within an agreed upon spending limit. This year, the adults have agreed not to exchange gifts, but to only buy for my younger step-cousin and their mother. All is not lost however. We usually do get at least one gift. This one is a special one from "Santa". This Santa is different than any Santa I have ever known. I would say he is "Santa with an Attitude". You never quite know what you are going to get. In the beginning, no one in my family knew who it was, but eventually we figured it out. One of my step-uncles goes to great lengths to buy appropriate gag gifts and write cards to each of us with the length depending on how much free time he has. Sometimes the gag is very mild and other times, it is not. I do remember one year very vividly. As I was looking at my gift wrapped up and panicking at its shape, I wondered if he really had the nerve to give what I THOUGHT he was giving me in front of my entire family. The blush on my face was becoming more intense by the second. Thankfully, it was not what I thought it was, and when I approached him later in the dining room about it, he claimed that the thought of what it looked like never entered his mind. My gift last year was very tame...a gingerbread man dressed as a chef.

Christmas Day morning has changed a tiny bit for me over the years. I no longer attend mass with my parents. They go early in the morning and return to their home so they can prepare for everyone later in the morning. I usually arrive at their house around 10:00am. If there is time, we exchange our gifts then, before my grandmother, aunt, cousins and their families arrive. Then, the chaos starts. My mother starts putting the finishing touches on the food; my step-father turns up the music and runs around at the last minute looking for the ingredients to make our traditional Christmas drink, the Bloody Mary. I usually have table duty, making sure the orange juice has been poured and that the confectioners' (icing) sugar, butter, and maple syrup are on the tables. Before we know it, the rest of the family starts trickling in, family by family. Within a half hour, everyone is there, the kids have started ripping open their gifts all at once and the wrapping paper and bows start flying.

After the bags of wrapping paper have been taken out and the area has been put in some kind of order, the meal begins. It is not an extravagant meal, but rather one that is very child-friendly. My mother has been making it for as long as I can remember. A few years ago, she made the mistake of substituting one of the dishes and I can remember my oldest cousin not being happy. We all really look forward to that meal; because that is the only day of the year we eat it.

Once the kids have been seated at the island in the kitchen and have started eating, it is time for the adults to sit down. The "older crowd" - my parents, aunt, and grandmother, sit in the formal dining room. The younger group - my cousins, their spouses and myself - sit at a table in a room connected to the kitchen so we can keep an eye on the kids. About halfway through our meal, the kids start to get restless and begin playing with any toy they might have received earlier that morning. Once the dishes have been cleared from all the tables, it is time to take a short rest before coffee and Christmas cookies. My mother usually has a nice assortment of different cookies, including those she bakes with my aunt - a tradition they have had every year since I was a small child. Finally, around 1:00pm, it is time to move on. My cousins have their spouses' family to visit, and my aunt and grandmother go to their respective homes, only to all congregate at my aunt's home that evening for their Christmas Dinner. I also have a tradition - one that started when I was a teenager. I help my mother clean up and then take a nice long nap before I head over to my aunt's home a few hours later.

Every family has their traditions. Some of mine I like, some I can do without. Hopefully, one day I will be able to share some of these traditions with my own family. Until then, this is how I will be spending my Christmas every year.

Part one | End of part two | Recipes

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