Christmas Traditions

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Christmas is cool and fun.  We all like Christmas, and if you don’t you are a bigger prick than I am.  That isn’t necessarily bad, it is one hell of an accomplishment, but I wouldn’t brag about it.  Funny thing is you don’t ever find two Christmas celebrations the same.  And we all alter our own as our family grows.

When I was a kid we had a very predictable Christmas experience. It started around midday on Christmas Eve.  We would be at home getting ready for our evening.  A nice sweater and pants and maybe even clean ourselves up a bit.  The tension growing in us, pure excitement of a child about to be bombarded by presents.  My Dad would be racing home from a house he was taping so he could get ready as well.  One year I even got join him in that race from a house being built to our own house for prep.  From there we would load the car full of presents for all of my cousins and a dish for the family pot luck dinner.  Off to Grandma and Grandpa’s house for our family Christmas celebration.  The Rempels were a tight knit clan that enjoyed a large celebration mostly centred around consuming tons of good food.  The food quickly shuffled into the basement and set up for the meal later.  Then we would race off to church to sing and fidget.  It was special to Grandma that we attend church prior to gorging ourselves on food and engaging in the finest material traditions of the season.  Our family usually was there nice and early, and most of the others from the Rempel clan right behind.  But we have one set of relatives who always ran behind.  Not an unusual site to see them joining the choir, the only empty seats remaining, for the entire church event.

Straight from church it was back to Grandma’s house for the food and presents.  Their basement would soon resemble the results of a pipe bomb as items would be everywhere.  All the children ripping through presents from all the Aunt’s and Uncles at the same time.  Paper and toy packaging everywhere.  In a true form of self punishment, to start this disaster ritual, Grandpa would dress up as Santa Claus, only coming down after we sang well enough to make it worth his while.  I wonder how they survived the anxiety brought on by the mess created in their home.  The Adults laughed and traded gifts in a name exchange as well.  Most of the years blend together, nothing earth shattering happening, mostly the same thing Barb’s meatballs, toys from everyone and loud chatter.  One year sticks out a bit for me though.  One year Grandma and Grandpa had a dish prepared using a sterno tray.  While grandpa was negotiating the stairs with the fuel ignited he dropped it and started a fire at the base of the stair.  Two results were possible, terrible christmas headline of a bunch of shivering children crying in the snow, their parents trapped in the basement of a burning house (the window would have only fit the kids) or the adults leaping into action.  One of the my Uncles leapt over the fire and found a towel to extinguish what was a fairly large fire at this point.  They smothered it with a towel quickly.  My Grandpa was on fire and I remember my Uncle Al wrapping himself around Grandpa’s leg and smothering the flames in the stop drop and roll method.  I was pretty young at the time, but I remember the incident fairly vividly.  It was scary.  To be honest I don’t have a lot of stories about Al that are heroic but this one sure was a good one.

At the completion of the Christmas Eve at Grandma’s mom and Dad would pile us into the car.  At this point we would be wearing the new PJs we received as our first gift of Christmas from our parents.  Dad would flip on the radio and we would listen for the Santa sightings. Our excitement from the evening drifting into tiredness.  Our parents hoping sleep would be quick for us.

I am ashamed to admit often my Dad had to wake us up for Santa the next morning.  But we got  to the tree eventually.  I don’t remember our family being wealthy or well off but I don’t remember a Christmas that we weren’t spoiled in.  We always had a tree full of gifts to open and enjoy.  I remember weird things, two green hockey sticks and a GT snow racer.  I remember getting a sugar candy that was a lump of coal in my stocking.  After we rifled through the presents at home, definitely never thankful enough it was back to Grandma and Grandpas for brunch and a big gift from Grandma and Grandpa.  I remember 2 years very well.  Getting Nintendo from them, that was just awesome.  The other one was the year we had outgrown Grandma and Grandpa presents. They gave us each a crisp $100 bill.  Pretty big money for me for sure but a little sad that we had outgrown an awesome tradition.  We now watched the younger cousins enjoy the gifts.

Back home for a Turkey dinner and to bed to rest up for a week of Macs tournament watching.  Was an awesome childhood.

Now I am a married man and have heard a lot about my wife’s traditions in Kamloops.  They sent the gifts home with relatives to open Christmas day and Christmas dinner was at Granny’s house.  In fact my in-laws have very rarely made a Christmas turkey.  No PJs  there, instead they get an ornament for the tree on Christmas Eve. We always rammed through our stockings last but her family started with the stockings and moved to the gifts.

As grown ups we hosted both days this year.  It was nice to host both.  Our new traditions are fun.  My wife and I exchange ornaments and give to everyone else.  My Mom brings everyone PJs on Christmas Eve,  We have a nice dinner prepared by the host and then we battle. We break into teams and play a family board game for the trophy my sister gets engraved.  We have played some cool games.  Following that my wife preps the wife saver for the morning breakfast.  We crawl into bed and get ready in the morning.  Each family exchanges gifts at home and then works their way over to a brunch and my parents house where we do our gift exchange.  A developing semi-secret Santa that sounds like it is in for an alteration next year.  My sister ring leads the thing and makes the rules.  She does great organization and makes it a ton of fun.  Mostly though we watch my niece open the present mountain and then we watch my sister and her husband lecture Mom and Dad on remembering limits.  They have a serious problem, admitting it has actually not been a productive step.  Our wonderful little Niece this year punctuated the experience with such great lines as “hmmm, Ok, that makes it my turn to open one.”  And a stop midway through to play with sparkly play doh that is only ended when she is reminded she can rip through more presents.  Last year she had to take a nap before completing the task.  This year we went back to our house and prepped a Turkey dinner and had everyone over, it was really enjoyable.

I love that our Christmas changes a little every year.  I love the chance to enjoy my family’s company and certainly the chance to convince my Niece she had magic powers today.  Having the tree hooked up to a WeMo plug in we had her magically turning the tree on and off.  She can see into our back window from across the pond and even magically turned it on and off from home!

I am lucky, I have a really awesome family.  A sister and brother-in-law with a great sense of humour and big hearts.  Parents who have spoiled us from infant through today.  A family that gets a long and has been lucky enough to add two beautiful nieces in who make things very special.  My favourite tradition is quickly becoming watching my niece enjoy the season.  Christmas is truly magical through her eyes.  For the first time I held my month old niece today (I have a real fear of breaking her), and we just chatted as a family while she slept on my chest.  Hopefully one day soon I will hold my own son or daughter at Christmas but for now, that may have been my best Christmas moment, no crying just cuddling for a while.  I realize that not everyone has it as good as I do, but too bad for them, I am not sharing.

I am also very lucky to have met a woman who is willing to share my Christmas with me.  My wife who brings great new traditions to my life and whose presents I worry I get wrong every year.  The woman who remembers our dogs need gifts too and who does all the cooking to keep this fat guy jolly.  Tomorrow I will essentially leave her to her own devices for a week.  She will fill her days with all kinds of thing while I watch hockey, she will even come watch some games with me just to spend time with me.  And every year she decides she will stand me for another Christmas, that is the best present of all.  I am sure who New Years resolution usually involves finding a good dump site for my body, but for now cuddling her and watching One Magic Christmas on Christmas Eve is the perfect way to enjoy my holiday.

Merry Christmas everyone, and yes mine was better than yours!

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