The Joy of Christmas as a Child: Reflecting on Family Traditions

When my family celebrated Christmas, it traditionally included a car trip to Southern California where my grandparents lived.

We set up a tree with lights at our own home, stacked tons of presents under it, then… packed all the presents into the car. We left on Christmas Eve morning, climbing into the backseat in our jammies, pillows and blankets in tow so we could sleep on the way. Getting up around sunrise to beat traffic and get there at a decent hour was the intention.

I remember arriving at my grandparents house with my aunt finishing up her cookie baking she’d done all day. The house was empty because everyone had left for my great aunt’s house because her birthday was on Christmas Eve. It was part of the holiday tradition to have a party there with a pig roasting over a pit in the backyard (my grandpa is Puerto Rican) music playing in Spanish with all the great uncles and aunts dancing around the house speaking Spanish, drinking and laughing while the kids ran around.

One of our other great aunts would always have a gift for EVERYONE! It was amazing to be remembered in a sea of relatives (my dad had 9 brothers and sisters and most of them had kids, plus my dad’s cousins and their kids!) I always loved those gifts even if they were just random trinkets, the thoughtfulness always touched my heart. 

After all the partying and eating, we went to midnight mass. My grandma raised her children Catholic and she was devout. Everyone went out of respect and in honoring their mother. It was so strange to be in church in the middle of the night.

I would be asleep by the time we got home though always aroused by the excitement that “Santa was coming!” The presents under the tree created a stack which spread out far beyond it. We could barely pass through the living room as a result. 

My aunts and uncles all took the rooms. Cousins and that aunt or uncle still single, all took spots to sleep on a couch or inflatable mattresses. All floor space covered with a sleeping body, we settled down to rest for the night. Lucky were those who got to sleep in the room where the Christmas tree was. Eventually I found out that my grandparents’ bedroom secretly became Santa’s workshop, strewn with wrapping paper, gift tags, bows and scotch tape.

I inherited doing things at the last minute from my family. So all the shopping that had been done that day & postponed wrapping was happening in that room and sometimes until dawn.

In the morning the kids were the first to awake, myself included. The shouting of “Santa came!” rang through the house. Kids would wake those parents still asleep and morning rituals would commence. Showering, teeth brushing, and getting dressed. Coffee making while anxious children picked through the gifts stacking up ones for themselves, dispersing those for others. 

There literally was a “ready, set, go!” announcement that gave permission for the mass opening of presents to begin. Paper flying, thank you’s with hugs and kisses, wow’s and “look what I got!”, all happening at once. 

My grandparents were at the heart of it all. Their stack was usually the highest and they had the hardest time keeping up with the unwrapping. Every child of theirs had gone out of their way to pick a perfect, very generous gift for their parents. My grandparents were truly loved and appreciated. They were like celebrities. After all, they were the ones responsible for all of us being there.

Eventually things came to a lull. Wrappings were gathered, batteries were inserted. Clothes were tried on, people began cooking breakfast. Saturation point was reached but for those unhappy children who didn’t quite get what they had expected.

I grew up with abundance. Abundance of love. Presence and presents. Delicious food and warm blankets and pillows. Playfulness and affection. Attention and generosity.

I don’t take that for granted for a minute. 

I hope you are enjoying and celebrating holidays in ways that resonate with your heart. And if not, there are always ways to reclaim, rename and reinvent traditions so that they suit your values and needs. Staying connected to ourselves enables us to connect with others in ways that work FOR us instead of challenging us with difficult circumstances and situations. Spend your time, presence and money wisely for those are the resources you have to express your stance and integrity in the world.

Wishing you love, abundance and playfulness from my heart to yours.

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