Christmas has always been a magical time of year. My parents always made it a priority to make the holiday season as special as they could for my brother and I. It wasn’t about the gifts under the tree, even though we did get our fair share of presents. It was more about family and being together and remembering why we celebrate this time of year. I think that every family has special ways of celebrating the holidays. For my family, it was all about continuing old traditions and bringing in new ones when the time came for change.
Growing up Christmas break meant spending time playing with my cousins and visiting with family in preparation for Christmas Day. In the weeks leading up to Christmas, my Granny Willie (my dad’s grandmother) would always host a Christmas gathering at her house. This gathering usually included lots of people, lots of food, and lots of presents. There were easily over thirty people there each year. As kids, we used to spend most of our time playing outside waiting for the adults to call us in to eat. After everyone was full of delicious food and sweet treats, it was time to open presents. My Granny would usually delegate someone to hand out gifts under her watchful eye making sure everyone got the correct one. Once all of the gifts were opened, us kids usually retreated back outside to play until our parents were ready to leave.
At some point between Granny Willie’s gathering and Christmas Eve was the Christmas gathering at my grandma & grandpa’s house. This included my family as well as my dad’s brother and sister and their kids. It was a small group but there was always plenty of food. Grandma usually always had the meal ready to go when everyone arrived so we would eat and then get right to opening presents. After the gifts were unwrapped, us kids would spend the rest of the night playing with our toys while the adults usually made their way back to the kitchen to have dessert and visit until it was time to go home.
Christmas Eve was always at my MawMaw and PawPaw’s house. This gathering always included my family as well as my mom’s sister and two brothers and all of their kids. Over the years it also included the extended family of my grandparent’s brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, and cousins. On a year when everyone was in attendance, there were over fifty people! It remains one of my most favorite Christmas memories from my childhood.
As a child, Christmas Eve was just as exciting as Christmas Day for me. I would wake up early in the morning, get dressed, and walk to my MawMaw’s house. Her house was about a hundred yards behind mine so most of the time I would run! Most years my uncle and older cousins would already be there because they had spent the night before. We would spend the morning playing and helping MawMaw set out serving dishes and prep foods and desserts for Christmas Eve dinner. I can still picture exactly how everything was usually set up. There would be a card table set up in the kitchen with crackers, cheese platters, veggie trays, chips, and dips. There were Crockpots with little smokie sausages and spicy cheese dip in them. All across the kitchen counters were the main meal dishes and baskets of bread and rolls. Platters of ham and roast beef were near the stove where pots held rice, corn, and beans. The main table in the dining room usually held desserts of home made cakes, pies, and cobblers. There were also trays of cookies and home made fudge, divinity, and pralines. There was always so much food!
Everyone would usually start arriving around four o’clock in the afternoon and us kids would spend our time playing outside or running down the hallway in the house playing a game we made up called ‘Alligator’. My MawMaw’s house had a hallway that made a circle from the formal living room (which turned into a playroom after grandkids arrived) to the main living room (where the adults all congregated). This hallway made the perfect playground for us kids. There was a door that could be shut to separate the hallway from the main living room and when this door was closed, the hallway was pitch black. Our childhood game consisted of someone being chosen to be the alligator. That person would then have to venture into the dark hallway and hide, sometimes crouched somewhere down that dark hallway or just inside of a room or closet. All the rest of us kids would have to walk down the hallway and try not to get “eaten” by the alligator who would chase the group and try to catch someone to be the next alligator. The game usually ended when one of the adults flung open the door in the hallway and told the group of screaming kids to calm down and quit running in the house.
After everyone had arrived, eaten, and had ample time to visit with one another, it was time to open presents. Everyone would gather in the main living room and stake out a spot to open their gifts. Usually, one of my uncles would be designated to pass out the gifts. As the gifts were passed out, the room quickly became a mess of wrapping paper, boxes, and squealing kids all excited about what had been received. When the last gift was opened and the wrapping was all cleaned up it was time for fireworks!
Everyone would bundle up and head outside to set off fireworks. There were always tons of fireworks ranging from sparklers and sparkling fountains to the big artillery shells that shot into the air. We would spend upwards of an hour outside popping fireworks until all you could see through the haze of smoke were the pops of bright light from the fireworks. When every firework had been popped, everyone usually made their way back inside the house to gather up their gifts and head home to bed so Santa could come.
Christmas Day has always began early in the morning. As a child I would wake up and head straight into the living room to see what Santa had brought. Somehow my parents were always awake before I was and they were ready and waiting with the camera to capture every single moment of the magic. The first thing that we do in our family is open up our stockings. Santa always fills our stockings with fun treasures and sweet treats. When stockings are opened it’s time to open gifts. We usually exchange gifts that we have purchased for one another before we open the gifts that Santa brought. I was always just as excited as a child to give my parents the gifts I had picked for them then I was to open gifts myself. Once all of the packages are unwrapped everyone has breakfast and then we spend the morning exploring our new presents.
When I was a child we would always go back to my MawMaw’s house to have Christmas Eve leftovers for lunch and dinner! There was always so much food that everyone would gather back at her house to eat and just enjoy spending time together. It’s one of the sweetest memories that I have of my childhood. All of my aunts, uncles, and cousins just being together. Now that we have all grown older and many of us no longer live nearby, it’s more difficult to get everyone together like we used to. I’m so glad that I have those memories captured in photos and videos to look back at especially during this time of the year when I’m thinking of my family and wishing that we could all be together. It would be quite the crowd now with all of the new family members that have come along!