By Rachel, age 26, Connecticut
My favorite memories of Christmas revolve around the tradition that my family had about where we spent our Christmases. Each and every Christmas was the same but it was something that I always looked forward to as a child. First, let me begin by saying that I am from a large Irish Catholic family on both my maternal and paternal sides. As one would imagine, holidays in a large Irish Catholic are done on a large scale, meaning that every one of my relatives came to Connecticut for the festivities. Christmas was the holiday to top all other holidays in my family.
Christmas Eve would begin at about 2:30 in the afternoon with my mother getting my older brother and me into our Christmas outfits, me in a big, frilly, many petticoated fancy dress and my older brother into nice suit (of which my cousin Tito had the partner. My other female cousins, Leni, Mel, and Sam, had the same dresses that they would wear that night as well.)
At 3:15 in the afternoon, my father would leave with my older brother and me for the 4:00 p.m. children's pageant mass at our parish, St. Bridget of Kildare. The Sunday school children in grades Kindergarten through fifth grade participate in the pageant. We would arrive by 3:30 in our parish hall to have our angel and shepherd costumes put on and to line up by grade with our CCD classes. Mass went from 4:00 to 5:15 p.m. It was after mass that was the most exciting though. After mass we returned to our home and met up with my mother and my younger brother. We would then as a family pile into one of our vehicles and make the 30 minute drive to Grammy and Grandad's house. The party at Mom's parents' house is the part of Christmas Eve that I have the most fond memories. All of my mother's family and my grandparents' best friends - the Gilmans - Betty and Mr. Gilman, their son and his wife and their two daughters (who were an extended part of our family) would all gather. Some years my father's family would also comes to Mom's parents' house on Christmas Eve which made things even better.
The house would be tastefully but beautifully decorated for Christmas, with the main focus being the Christmas tree, which was well over six feet tall and was decorated from top to bottom with ornaments. Grandad always had a fire going in the living room that warmed the entire house. The spread of food that my Grammy was preparing made the whole house smell amazing. All the adults would be standing around talking while my older brother, our cousins, and I ran amok all over the house. My cousins and my brother and I would eventually congregate in the finished playroom that my grandparents had in the lower level of their home. Some years my cousin Leni and I would go upstairs and perform a selection of Christmas music for all of the adults. We were always given a standing ovation, though I'm not sure we always got the lyrics right or that we were ever on key, but we loved performing. Throughout the night the food would start to be put out. The spread would include baked ham, turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, bread, gravy, salads, and more desserts than you could ever imagine. Even today I can still picture the dining room table covered with food. We would all eventually sit down and eat as a family, both dinner and dessert. After dinner my cousins and I would be posed somewhere in the house in our matching attire for the numerous photos that were taken of us in our ensembles, as the adults would tell us how sweet we looked. After the pictures, all of us children were excused to return to the playroom to play and hang out. Some years I stayed upstairs among the adults nestling into the side of either Grammy or Grandad. The atmosphere Christmas Eve was what I can only describe as absolutely magical.
The party would rage on until somewhere between 11:00 and 11:30 p.m. when my parents would pack my brothers and me back into the car for the trip home. By the time the car pulled into the driveway we children were sound asleep and would have to be carried into the house.
Christmas morning would dawn bright and early, normally somewhere between 6:00 and 7:00 a.m. My older brother and I would go running into our parents' room and jump on them to wake them up so that we could all go open presents. We would spend the early morning as a family - Dad, Mom, Patrick, Thomas, and I opening presents. Around 10:00 a.m. Grammy and Grandad, Aunt Beth, Aunt Kay, and Uncle Al would come to our home for Christmas breakfast. Once breakfast and our visit with Mom's family ended, we got ready and donned our Christmas Eve clothes again and headed down to Grandma and Pappa's house for Christmas Day.
Grandma and Pappa's house on Christmas Day was equally as magical as Christmas Eve. Going to Grandma and Pappa's was always a ton of fun because my dad is one of nine children. All of my uncles and my two aunts would come to Connecticut from wherever they were living at the time to spend Christmas together. My uncles and aunts would come a good few days before Christmas and would stay for four or five days after Christmas. My dad's oldest brother and his wife have eight children. The first three children in the line - Clare, Colleen and Brendan - are all about the same age as my older brother and myself. Clare is a year older than my older brother, then comes my brother. After that is Colleen who is a year older than me, and last but not least are Brendan and myself - we're the same age. The younger cousins from Michigan, as well as our Boston based cousins Rion and Katrin, are close in age with my younger brother.
Having our cousins around for at least a week, sometimes more, was always the best. In that week we would go ice skating on the two ponds on my grandparents' property, build snowmen (if it snowed), and we played a game we dubbed "Land Before Time" after the children's movie that we all loved. One person would be Sharp Tooth and the rest of us were the other characters, such as Little Foot, Petri, Sarah, and so on. The game was a fusion of hide and seek and tag. My uncles were always just like big kids themselves so they would play with my brothers and cousins and me.
Not only was there always fun to be had around Christmas time, and more specifically Christmas Day, but there was always a spread of food cooked entirely by my Grandma at meal times, but also throughout the day. Grandma was the best cook! The food was always full of fat and cholesterol, but it was always delicious. On Christmas Day, the food just always seemed to keep coming. The dinner spread that Grandma put out would make your mouth water. To this day, I can still smell the way her kitchen smelled with all of the food she would set out for dinner. Plate after plate after plate of turkey, bowls of mashed potatoes with her signature gravy, bowls of cranberry sauce, heaping bowls of stuffing and creamed onions ... I could go on and on. We would all sit down together as a family at Grandma and Pappa's house too. The adults sat at the adult table, while my brothers, my cousins, and I sat just behind them at the kids table which was a long picnic table. My uncle Thomas, being the cool uncle, would join us at the kids table so that we would feel important. Uncle T is the uncle we call Uncle Fun. At any holiday - Christmas was no exception - everyone wanted to sit next to Uncle T. Being from a large family means that holidays could be described in one way - LOUD - but any holiday with my dad's family was a fun holiday. My Grandma and Pappa were all about fun.
Things have changed since I was sixteen years old when my grandparents began passing away. My dad's siblings and their children do not celebrate the holidays with us for the most part due to the length of travel and price of gas and the coordination of trying to get everyone in one place, now that my brothers, my cousins, and I are older and are also scattered. Christmas Eve and Christmas Day are hosted at my parents' home, and Christmas has become predominantly a holiday we celebrate with Mom's family since we are all local. Despite the changes that have taken place, my memories from my childhood that revolve around Christmas, even now always leave me with a thrill. Whether we celebrate with Mom's family or with Dad's family, or whether we combine for the holidays, the one memory I have from childhood that will be consistent throughout the rest of my life is the memory of the love that has been and will continue to be shared through the years.