Once some and eventually all of the kids were out of our parents house, we still had to come back to gather for Christmas Eve. It gets all of us together (although occasionally it’s on a dash-in, dash-out basis). Yes, we exchange gifts, but mostly it’s the rituals. There are certain things we MUST do.
As long as I can remember, Dad read us the Christmas story- and he still does. We are smart enough now to pre-bookmark the passage. You’d think it would be right at the beginning wouldn’t you?
I also think we were read the Visit of St. Nicholas from the start, but of course, as we got older we started reciting along (last night, eager to get home to the goats, I pushed the speed until the others complained).
At some point we started singing Rudolph the Red * **. You see, you aren’t allowed to say nose- instead, you point at your nose. You aren’t allowed to say Reindeer- instead you mime antlers. And you hold your hands around your tummy when you get to the line “Santa came to say”. I think there are a couple of other hand motions as well, but mostly it’s just laugh at the people who forget and say “nose” out loud.
And finally (actually the Bible reading is finally) somewhere along the line Mother started reading us King John was not a Good Man by A.A.Milne. She was really bothered by this poor shmuck who was neglected not only by most people, but by Father Christmas himself. I always felt badly for the kid who’s ball he got at the end of the poem (figuring that if it had really been from FC, it would have come during the night.) Mom actually used to mist up- (one suspects issues there), but these days we are less respectful. The word “Loser” was injected several times when King John was whining about not getting candy, nuts, or a “pocket knife- that really cuts”.
Traditions are different for everyone’s families- that’s our Christmas Eve.
When we were kids we had to go to be plenty early (it seemed to us) although probably normal bed time. I remember once my parents coming upstairs to find me awake, dressing and with my bed made. I’d slept and woken- not surprised at that time of year to find it still dark. One expects it to be dark at 6 am which is a good time to get up on Christmas. Apparently I hadn’t slept that long, they were just coming up, and sent me back to bed.
One year I woke around 5 and snuck down (we were supposed to wait for everyone to gather at the top of the stairs) to see what Santa had left. There was the doll house I had spent the fall asking for, but it was by my sister’s stocking! Clearly, Santa had gotten mixed up. No problem, I moved it, and also the Shirley Temple Doll I’d asked for. She also had a Shirley Temple doll, about 30″ tall, and looking like we saw her on the Shirley Temple Fairy Tales on TV. By my stocking was an ugly baby doll with buck teeth and curly blonde hair. I switched them.
When we all came down together, my mother switched them back. She explained that I had gotten a REAL Shirley Temple doll, and that it made more sense that Liz could get the doll house because she was younger and would use it longer. But I’d been asking for it, not her. Later that day at Grandmothers, there was an adult Shirley Temple Doll for me. My mother had wanted to share with me the Shirley Temple she grew up with, as opposed to the princess of my fantasies. It might have worked better had the doll she found (no doubt at some expense and with great effort) had been modeled after a 6 year old Shirley Temple, not an adolescent one. But mostly what I learned that one shouldn’t use Christmas to teach your kids about your childhood, but to focus on theirs. (There’s nothing wrong with that concept, but not at Christmas when dreams are supposed to come true. Intentionally giving them something you know that they don’t want in order to teach them a lesson is not good.)
I was depressed about it, and that’s how I figured out that my parents were the ones who left the Santa presents. I felt betrayed that they’d lied to me. I wasn’t convinced that there was no Santa, only that parents brought most presents. I’d already had the world-changing revelation that my parents could be wrong, so it wasn’t as big a deal for me as it could have been.