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Friday, December 15, 2006

An American Family's Christmas

By Alison, writing from Pennsylvania, USA

Part One

Christmas season in my family, just like other families, is very busy. I believe our Christmas season begins with our Thanksgiving dinner. It is then, when we start to discuss the two most important topics for the upcoming Christmas holiday: the decision about gift giving and who is making what dishes for our Christmas Eve celebration.

As I was thinking about my family, I realized that we are almost a cross-section of America. I have three families: my mom's side, my dad's side, and my step-father's side. When I look at the group as a whole, I realized how varied we are. The fact that they are three very different families is minor. Within all of the families there are differences in number of young children, religion, political beliefs, economic status, and even nationalities. Each of us brings our own personalities to the table which can make for a very lively holiday.

My mother's side of the family is very small. Both of her parents passed away years ago and all that remains is her twin brother. While my grandparents were still alive, he would spend Christmas with us, but in recent years he has chosen to spend the holiday with good friends closer to where he lives.

My late father's side of the family spends Christmas morning at my parents' home. The only way I can describe it is total chaos. Long gone are the days where my cousins and I were running all over. We have been replaced by ten children, ages 9 months through 13 years - although the attendance of three of them changes each year. After the wrapping paper and bows have settled, we sit down to enjoy our traditional Christmas brunch.

I spend Christmas Eve night with my step-father's side of the family. Compared to the following morning, it is usually a more reserved affair, but not because there is only one 12-year-old boy present. I say this with hesitation, because the men in the family have been known to get into the very lively "annual holiday discussion", usually about things you are not supposed to discuss during the holidays: politics, social problems, and religious differences. Over the years they have calmed a little, but the fire can still be lit at any moment because of their varying personalities. The women have learned to stay out of it and concentrate on the evening's festivities, the gifts, and food.

As Christmas Eve approaches, I started to think about my family's traditions. Last year, one of my step-aunts held the evening's festivities at her house. She wanted to give her elderly mother a break and let her enjoy the holiday without doing too much work. It didn't feel right, and this year's celebration will be held where it has been ever since I have been a member of the family, at my step-grandmother's home. I think my step-aunt's biggest mistake was that she broke with the family's traditions. Ever since I can remember, the evening begins with cold food served buffet-style: shrimp, antipasti, a vegetable tray, deli meats and cheeses for sandwiches, and a Turkish dish made by my uncle - a somewhat recent addition. The cold food is left out all night so people can go back and forth between the living and dining rooms, nibbling on the food as we are opening our gifts. Once that is completed, everyone congregates back into the dining room for my step-great-aunt's stuffed shells and any other hot dish that is being served.

End of part one | Part two | Recipes

Main | Chapter one | Chapter two | Chapter three

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