Posted by wendiwendy
My parents were super laid-back on Christmas night. We would go to bed not long after we got back from my aunt and uncle’s place – we went there on Christmas Eve, and usually got home around 9 pm. My brother and I would get into our Christmas pajamas (most years we would get new pjs on Christmas Eve) and try to sleep. Usually I was the first to wake, around 2:30 am, maybe 3:00. I’d wake Joey up and we’d run to the tree, where Santa had left our gifts. In the earlier years, they were unwrapped – Joey’s gifts would be on one side and mine on the other. We’d stare at them in wonder, and then run off to wake up our parents – the deal was that we could wake up and see our gifts, but then we had to get them up.
They’d stumble down the hallway, half-asleep but still grinning, as we ran ahead of them back to the tree to see exactly what Santa left. They’d sit in good-natured exhaustion as we exclaimed over our gifts, and then after probably 15 or 20 minutes they would announce that it was time to go back to bed. It was hard to get back to sleep after all the excitement but eventually I’d close my eyes, and we’d all wake up again at a more hospitable hour.
Even now, at age 48, I can remember the excitement I felt, the feeling that came over me when I woke up and realized Santa was here!, and the anticipation of walking down the hallway to the living room, where the lit-up Christmas tree glowed in the darkness.
Once I had my own kids, it really hit home how cool my parents were to let us dictate the time for waking up and seeing our gifts. I was a little more strict with my kids, and I don’t remember any 2 am gift-opening extravaganzas. Truthfully, they usually slept in – I don’t know if it didn’t occur to them to try to wake me up at 2 am (if they did get up and wander out to the tree), or if they really just did sleep through until morning.
Santa always wrapped the gifts in our house, and I definitely didn’t want to miss the sight of the kids seeing their gifts for the first time, so my rule was that they had to wake me up before any gift opening occurred. Some years I was actually up before them (that was always fun, to see them walking into the room and laying eyes on the gifts for the first time) and other years I would wake up to a child standing next to the bed, quivering with excitement as they waited for me to get up. Usually they would open Santa gifts right away, and then there would be a little break as coffee was made for the grownups before the rest of gift-giving commenced. We always opened gifts before breakfast though – I couldn’t bear to make them wait longer than that!
My first husband (the kids’ dad) and I split up when they were really young – Paige was just past 2 and Eric was a few months past 6. Any Christmas traditions we were setting in place kind of got tossed out the window, for the most part. It used to really pain me, that nearly every Christmas was different – some years they were at their dad’s on Christmas Eve, some years with me, some years I didn’t see them until the afternoon of Christmas day so there was no “wake up and see what Santa left” situation for them at my house. I hated that I wasn’t making memories for them like I had, where the routine on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day was just about always the same.
There were some things I tried to always do – read ‘The Night Before Christmas’ on Christmas Eve night, if I had them, and once I met Dave, we started our own traditions. For a number of years we would take the kids to cut down a Christmas tree, and we started making homemade cinnamon rolls part of Christmas breakfast quite a while back. Even now though, Christmas is usually up in the air. We never know for sure when the kids will be here, although the past few years we’ve been lucky enough to have them here for both Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.
What I found out, though, is that I was still able to make memories for them even without the exact same itinerary every year. I realized this when I asked one year if he would be here for Christmas and Eric told me he couldn’t imagine celebrating it anywhere else, because we celebrate Christmas “just like in the movies,” how he imagines it always should be celebrated. And when Paige helped me decorate the house this year (a fairly firm tradition, always done the weekend after Thanksgiving and always with the same plentiful amount of decorations), then said she wants to make a lot of money when she starts working, so she can give her kids the same kind of Christmas she had growing up. (I told her not to worry – it doesn’t take a lot of money, just a lot of attention to detail and planning, because I purchase gifts throughout the year and when they are on sale.)
This is probably our most frugal Christmas ever, and it doesn’t feel any less than any other year. I look around at the decorations we put up every year, some of which I remember from my own childhood Christmases, and it all feels so abundant. All I need is to see the Christmas tree glowing in the darkened living room to be transported back to the magic I felt as a kid. We make our traditions without even realizing.