Once upon a time when I was a child, we had Christmas traditions that I very much treasure.
My mother would hide the packages. The trick was for me to find them before they got
wrapped (the top shelf on the closet was the best place).
One Christmas I found some but much to my dismay on Christmas, I realized that I had seen them all and had no surprises. I tried to act surprised but I had learned my lesson - it was the last year that I peeked.
My father, (who wasn't the most patient man), would put up the tree the day before Christmas. We never had much luck with tree stands. He would get a metal bucket and pour cement in it. My brothers and I would have to take turns holding the tree straight till it dried enough to hold it upright.
After the Holidays it was thrown on the lawn - bucket and all! Just try and do that now!
Then there were the lights. How tangled could lights get? The whole family would get ends and we would stand across the living room changing places and going under one another for ages (at least it seemed like that). We all decorated the tree. And then it was off to Gram's house.
She only lived a few blocks away. She had a parlor and living room. The huge tree that rose to the ceiling was in the parlor and no one (and she meant no one!) could go into that room until the proper time. I should say no one except Uncle Carl who helped her decorate the tree. He was allowed in so he could put the packages under the tree.
There were Aunts and Uncles, all the in-laws, cousins - everyone came. No one missed this event. In the beginning there were probably 35 or 40 of us. As the cousins married and had children the numbers grew and grew. Christmas Eve and April Fools Day (Grams birthday) were the only time some of the cousins got to see each other.
Everyone bought gifts for everyone in the early days. Later presents were just for the children and much later we drew names. Everyone always bought a gift for Gram.
Gram served cookies and liquid refreshments until everyone arrived. Then it was off to the dining room where we knelt around the table. We were several people deep, spilling into the living room and kitchen.
Some of the men would sit at the kitchen table saying there wasn't enough room to kneel but the sons wouldn't dare try that trick. Uncle Lou, her oldest son, would lead us in the Rosary. She always knelt right next to him. After we said the five decades we'd always say an extra decade for those not physically with us. Truth be told it was only the dead or someone having a baby that wouldn't be there.
When Uncle Lou went in the service (WWII) Gram appointed my brother Jim (her grandson) to lead the Rosary. What an honor! All the older men were bypassed. Of course, Gram always thought Jim was going to be the Priest in the family. (Eventually Jim married and had six children).
After the Rosary the door was flung open and the fabulous tree exposed. Uncle Lou would read out the names and the small children would pass out the gifts. Shortly after that everyone would depart for their own homes and midnight Mass and the wait for Santa in the morning.
On Christmas Day my mother served our family and my Dad's side of the family (and yes Gram and some of her family) a Christmas dinner. Mom was a very, very good cook.
We also would spend a day or two during the Holidays having a Progressive Party. We would go from one relative's house to the other to see their tree, share gifts and have goodies. I remember thinking Uncle Ed must be very rich because he had the most strands of lights on the tree. (We could usually only untangle about 3 strands before giving up.)
As the years have passed, we have become too large and spread out to continue the celebration and anyway, who would want to without Gram?
However I'd like to think that in some way we all still continue some of Gram's traditions in our own families. My immediate family and I go to Mass (usually an earlier Mass than Midnight) and then we all come home (I am now the matriarch of the family (smile), gather around the tree (smaller than Gram's), say the family rosary (yes, of course, we include the extra decade), have an elegant dinner (made by my one daughter) and open our gifts.
On Christmas morning Santa still brings his gifts, and on Christmas afternoon we go to my brother's house for a fabulous buffet, a gift exchange and lots of fun. Only now we are the aunts and uncles and the little ones keep the excitement going.
We are now about 35 people celebrating Jesus' birthday - birthday cake and all.
Throughout the season I still see some of my cousins and of course we all exchange Christmas cards.
I think they all remember and cherish Gram and her traditions as much as I do.
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