In general, the tree is up but not decorated. This has turned into a yearly event at which time mom and I decorate with ornaments that span the ages and play all the holiday cds we own. Personal favorites include the League of Decency's A Swingin' Christmas, A Charlie Brown Christmas, and VH1's The Big 80's Christmas. We really like our Christmas music...really.
Oh Christmas tree, oh Christmas tree, you are so frea-kin' beau-ti-ful!
On Christmas Eve, we venture to our grandparents' condo, along with our O'Halloran kin, for caroling and seafood gumbo. That's right...caroling...in south Florida. We go from building to building in the complex singing all the Christmas tunes we can muster. Deck the Halls is sung while on route to the next group of people in their pastel pink and plaster structure, that was obvious made within the last 15 years, to accommodate the ever-growing population of those we call "Snow Birds", permanent or otherwise. This is always ended with a trip into the last building to catch a glimpse of the train and surrounding mini-town where the mini-people enjoy their own Christmas day, everyday, of the holiday season.
Caroling isn't complete without looking like a shepherd -- this century or ones past.
The night before Christmas is when last minute gifts are wrapped and stockings are stuffed. And I suppose that doesn't necessarily count as our tradition, but something about that time between singing and the ripping of paper, sitting in the glow of the Christmas tree, with hushed voices for those who have retired early, and Mitch Miller singing about catching his mom kissing Sandy Claws -- well, that time is ours. And sometime during that period, the number of presents under the tree doubles, or at least seems to double, because the tree we see the next morning is so obviously not the one we were left with the night before.
Uncle Gerry: "Must...catch...every...reaction...on...tape."
Christmas morning starts around 9AM, when grandma and grandpa come over after church and Aunt Sarah and Uncle Bruce drive down from Sarasota. The rest of us heathens finish catching Zzz's and get prepared for the first of two feasts that day: The Breakfast Feast. Presents are unwrapped and everyone begins tinkering with their new toys, all the while having the Chipmunks sing of holiday glee. And then the napping sets in. It's around noon when people start to feel the effects of being up late the night before and so there are at least three people who end up napping for a good couple of hours.
He was always the sleepy child.
Later on, lets say 4PM, dinner begins which is really just Thanksgiving redux but who doesn't love the occasionally thrown-in ham and cranberry jelly with the ring of the can still intact? It's after this feast that the Christmas music starts again, people mill around, and slowly the lights dim, the music softens, games get played, and we are enveloped by the glow of the Christmas tree with it's wonderful array of colored and white lights and ornaments of past and present.
Cousin dogs sit and wait for what is coming to them -- sit and wait for their fair share.
Traditionally, we stick to traditions.
But not this Christmas.
With Andrew getting married in April and a changing of jobs in the O'Halloran household, holiday travel became a financial impossibility. I'm sure everyone has been feeling the crunch this year.
Our family was also hit with the loss of my Uncle Bruce just this past May from cancer. This was the first Christmas without him for everyone, but especially my Aunt Sarah. Having been in a somewhat similar position when my father died, I knew that I didn't want to force my aunt into holiday cheer as that pissed me off something fierce the Christmas following his death...and any of the first holidays for that matter.
So caroling was out, so was seafood gumbo, and without any young kids in the house the number of presents was drastically reduced. This was actually a blessing as I entered the holiday season with a negative balance and wouldn't have been able to contribute much to the ceremonial destruction of wrapping paper.
Instead, Christmas Eve was spent with Mike (Mom's squeeze) and his family at his house where we gorged on hamburgers, drinks, and were generally merry. When we got back to our house, Andrew, Alan, mom, and I proceeded to watch GI Joe PSA's and the Sealab episode about the Feast of Alvis. Yes, that is how this family rolls.
Christmas morning mom made one of the best breakfasts a college student could ask for complete with biscuits and sausage gravy, eggs, tater tots, and much more. We then proceeded to open gifts and cards and everything was done by 10:30. I was pooped. And I had only been up for two hours.
After a wonderful nap, we headed to grandma and grandpa's for our Christmas dinner feast which consisted purely of Italian food. And, dear lord, everything was delicious. There was not one bad item of food on my plate. In keeping with the Italian theme, I had made lemon gelato the night before that, despite using a fairly jacked-up recipe, turned out pretty nicely.
And so Christmas is over. And although I was not wholly convinced that the holiday would be delightful due to the changes in people present and the numerous alterations to the norm, it was a wonderful holiday. There are people who are no longer here that we all miss dearly, but what I learned this Christmas is that breaking from traditions, from routines, does not mean that they are forgotten. You are not leaving those people behind by changing the way in which you celebrate. If anything, you are bringing those people closer to you by preserving the memories you once had and allowing that time to stay sacred in your mind.
Because this Christmas was different, and it only makes sense to have celebrated it in a different way.
I hope you all had a Merry Christmas and see you in the New Year!
P.S. This Christmas was also made brilliant by the fact that I was able to catch the Doctor Who Christmas Special before the clock struck midnight. Wahoo!