When I was a little girl, Christmas was all about tradition. The holidays were always the same.
On Christmas Eve, we would get all dolled up and go to my grandparents’ house, where it would already smell delicious. With Grandma’s dip on the table and Grandpa’s Singapore Slings on the way, we would always leave an hour or so to catch up with family before dinner, torture when I was particularly young and couldn’t take my eye off of the presents in the next room.
Dinner was shrimp louie, clam chowder, bread and plenty of wine… and it was never rushed. It wasn’t a traditional meal, but we were from the coast and my grandmother made the best clam chowder in the world.
Eventually, after no small amount of begging on my part, we would move to the next room for presents.
This was the best, but not just because there were presents involved. It was best because it took hours, each person taking their turn in a single chair at the front of the room, opening a single present, until the huge pile was gone.
My sister and I played Santa, making sure each present was carefully chosen to ensure the perfect rotation. As I got older, it was more about that time together than it was about the presents. I started to enjoy all the talk. I loved to choose each gift and call each name… to see my family so happy.
The evening would end just in time for midnight mass. We wouldn’t always make it… but we would always try.
When my sister and I finally crawled in bed, we would wait. Sleigh bells, footsteps; once or twice we even heard his reindeer on the roof. Long after I had stopped, my older sister would always make me believe. She was certain the noise hadn’t come from the direction of our parents’ room… and that our father could not have climbed on the roof. In the morning, our stockings were filled, cookies and milk sampled, and carrots gone (for Santa’s reindeer, of course).
That day we would go back to my grandparents’ house for a Christmas feast not unlike a traditional Thanksgiving meal. We would tell everyone what Santa had brought and swear up and down that we had heard him… he was real.
When I was a little girl, Christmas was magical.
With every year that passes, I feel that magic slip a little more, and I realize that I’ve grown up. My grandmother’s home no longer smells like chowder and freshly baked pies… but I haven’t made the effort I should to maintain those traditions that still mean so much.
So this year, I’ll try my hand at my grandmother’s clam chowder and shrimp louie. It will just be Mark and I on the 24th, but we’ll be happy to curl up to a quiet evening with a nice bottle of wine and a little Love, Actually… which we watch every year.
Our own traditions are coming slowly. It’s hard to let go of the past to embrace the future, but that is how we will create such amazing memories for our own children. And someday, maybe they will look back so fondly on the things that we did. As I begin to think about building my own family and my own traditions, I’ve never been so thankful for the things I had myself.
Christmas was magical. Christmas is still magical. I never want to lose that.