there was no questioning the magic of Santa Claus....
My dad thought that children should be home for Christmas so that there was no questioning the magic of Santa Claus....and also so new toys could be played with and enjoyed. This meant everyone on both sides of the family came to our house for Christmas dinner until I was older. Having everyone there meant overnight guests and lots of excitement. When I was very small I was sent to bed right after supper (I never knew it was so early until I was much older) because there was much for "Santa" to do. You see, he not only brought our gifts on Christmas Eve, but also the tree! In the morning I would have to wait for my parents to wake up before I could make my way to the livingroom to see what Santa had brought. I already knew he'd come because as soon as I'd wake up I'd take a big breath......pine! The tree was here. We'd spend the morning opening gifts and family members would begin to arrive before noon. Dinner was eaten between 12:00 and 1:00 with family members squished in on both sides of the long table and a card table set at the end to serve as the kiddie table. Dad was one for taking a before picture of the whole clan sitting at the beautifully set table, heaped with food, and looking our Sunday best. Each year there is also a picture taken during or after as well. We all used to laugh and grumble, but I treasure those pictures now that the family has changed so much.
We moved closer to Dad's family when I was 8 and that meant we added a new tradition to our Christmas celebration. Wassailing! Grandma Andrews had lived in the same house for 50 years or so at the time. Her children had grown up with the neighbors' children. Their children all knew each other. It was like having a really big family. In fact, none of us kids called any of the adults Mr. or Mrs., everyone was Aunt or Uncle whoever. Anyway, the whole neighborhood had a lovely tradition that had been going on for years. They called it wassailing, though I'm not sure it was in the strictest sense. One family would be chosen to begin the evening and all would gather at their home (at it's height, there were well over 50 people) to enjoy a lavish buffet, fellowship and fun. After a half hour or so, the adults would decide which house to visit next and that family would slip out to get everything ready. Then someone would say it was time to go and we'd all pile into our coats and walk through the snow singing carols. This would continue until we'd visited everyone's house, usually 8-12 of them! By the time we were getting to the last few houses, someone would start teasing us younger ones about Santa coming. They'd tell us they heard sleigh bells or say we'd better get home to bed or Santa would pass us by. That would get us in a real panic and we'd start trying to hurry our parents along. It'd be quite late when we'd get home and it was during those days that Santa stopped bringing our tree on Christmas Eve, though he continued to bring the presents after I went to bed until I got married and moved away. Wassailing continued right up into the 90's before the passing of the older ones and the distancing of families finally put an end to it. There are still a lot of us left in the neighborhood, but these days we aren't like family and we all have our own Christmas Eve traditions.
Somewhere along the way, we stopped having both sides of the family together at our house for Christmas dinner. Mom's family started getting together at Nana and Pappy's home either the weekend before or after Christmas. We'd all gather there and stay over and it was wonderful! Nana really knew what hearth and home and family were all about. We'd play games and carry on and it was such fun. As I reached my teens and my cousin's children were small, Christmas Day with Dad's family moved there and I guess for me that's when it started to lose just a bit of the magic.
My family's Christmases are much smaller these days. I'm an only child, Dad and Pappy are gone, my aunts are divorced, have no children and live on opposite sides of the country and my cousins on my dad's side don't come home often. Sometimes I'm sad because my kids don't have the kind of holidays I had, but we try to give them their own traditions that I hope they will look back on as happy. On Christmas Eve we go to church and for several years have been getting together afterward with church friends. Since we left the church this past spring we thought that was probably a thing of the past, but our friends have invited us to join them again this year. Christmas Day we are up bright and early (the kids never ever sleep in) to open presents by a roaring fire. By noon Mom and John are here and most years Nana, too, though I think we won't be taking her out of the home any longer. Sometimes my dad's sister or some friends will join us, but usually it's a small gathering and quiet. Cousins may stop by later on. We usually get together with Tim's immediate family (which numbers close to 30) on Christmas Eve afternoon. For years I've been trying to get them to change because it's such a rushed time for everyone and we're together only 2 hours at most before everyone is off to church programs, choral concerts, or other families. This year they've finally moved it to the day after Christmas so we can all relax and enjoy the time together. Hopefully, we'll be adding one more tradition this year. Tim still has 4 days of vacation time left and if he is approved to take them the week between Christmas and New Years' it will give him 11 days off because of how the holidays fall.