I’m certain that all families who celebrate Christmas develop their own traditions, probably like my family, a blend of practises that my parents agreed upon early in their marriage. While I can’t say for certain which of my parents was responsible for which tradition, Christmas was always a magical time. Annually, we would follow the same pattern each year.
Everything started with the compulsory visit with Santa Claus. This was important for two reasons: one, my parents wanted a photo of their children posing with Santa even if it might have a bit over-priced; and, two, I had to let Santa know what I wanted for Christmas. While I can’t say that I was all that interested in the photo, reason number two was extremely important.
The real excitement began to build early on Christmas Eve. Although I don’t remember it as a must-do, annual ritual, the family would often bundle into the car for a leisurely trip through the surrounding neighbourhoods in search of houses with Christmas lights. The more splendid the display, the longer the pause to take it all in. My parents also knew that the certain radio stations would be broadcasting NORAD ‘reports’ on the progress Santa was making, followed by my gazing skyward to see if I could spot him and typically, I was certain that I could.
Christmas Eve at my childhood home didn’t include any special dinners or snacks rather, it was the one night of the year when I didn’t dare complain about having to take a bath. On the assumption that I had somehow managed to remain on Santa’s ‘nice’ list, I saw no reason to blow it when the ‘finish’ line was in sight – complaining, I firmly believed, might be just enough to tip the scales and shift my position from ‘nice’ to ‘naughty.’
Dressed in new pajamas following the bath, it was downstairs to the Christmas tree for the evening’s formalities – the hanging of the Christmas stockings. We didn’t have a fireplace to hang stockings, in fact no one in the neighbourhood had one but it didn’t matter as somehow Santa had always been able to work around that problem. No, I hung my stocking over the living room sofa – a bright, red felt stocking with my name ‘written’ across the white top with glitter. This always meant posing for another photo that was followed by the leaving of milk and cookies as Santa would likely require nourishment after carrying large amounts into my living room and positioning them perfectly under the tree for me to enjoy the following morning.
Sleep never came easily on Christmas Eve. In fact, I can recall at least one occasion when my younger brother, Bob, insisted that I go downstairs shortly after midnight to see if Santa had already stopped at our house – he hadn’t!
Christmas morning always started early – 6:00 AM was considered a late start. I made sure that I excitedly informed my sleepy parents that Santa had indeed visited us before I ran downstairs to dive into the toys and gifts. My favourite part of Christmas morning though was going through my stocking. It always seemed to be filled the the most amazing assortment of small games and toys, candy and, filling the ‘toe’ end of the stocking was always the largest apple or orange that I had ever seen. The stocking content would change over over the years but the large apple or orange was always sure to be found. Although I would never understand the reason Santa put that large fruit into the stocking first or even why he would think that it would be something I really wanted, there was an odd sense of comfort in knowing each year that it would be the last item to pull out.
Following a day filled with trying out all the new toys and games, Christmas dinner was turkey and all the trimmings, topped off with plum pudding with rum sauce – my father’s favourite. Some of the memories of family Christmases seem to fade a little as the years go by – but the feelings never do – that sense of family.