I have wonderful memories of Christmas Eve. As a kid, we always went to Grandma and Grandpa’s in Gahanna for a big meal. It was one of the only times during the year Grandpa dressed up. The house smelled heavenly when we came in. Ham baking in the oven, pies, mashed potatoes, and veggies and dip while we waited.
Dinner was in the dining room (which we didn’t use the rest of the year except to play vintage boardgames like Mystery Date Game and Risk). It wasn’t a low-rent buffet. We passed everything -no matter how hot or heavy the dishes were. The expectation was simple. Classy dinners were passed clockwise. No arguing.
After dinner, we went to church. We were careful during dinner not to spoil our clothes which were often homemade dresses with lots of ruffles and lace (my brother looked pretty silly). The garden outside the church was cold and sometimes icy, but as soon as we stepped inside, we were greeted by warmth and hugs from life-long friends. I don’t remember much about the services except singing lots of carols and the candlelight. The fire and melting wax smelt wonderful and lit up the whole room. I spent the entire time with butterflies in my tummy thinking about opening gifts afterward. Service ended and each kid was given a small box in the shape of a house with old-fashioned candies inside. They weren’t my favorite candies, but they were special, and a part of a magical day, so I remember them with fondness.
After church we went back to Grandma and Grandpa’s to open presents. They always got us too many. One year, they got us a piano (which is now in my house). My mom said, “Don’t expect any presents this year because the piano is everyone’s present together.” We completely understood and were just excited to get the piano. When we arrived, there were still presents under the tree. We assumed they were for friends and other relatives. After dinner, we went into the living room and grandpa handed me a present. I thought, “Well, I guess I do get one present.” I opened it and it was sort of a precursor to the monster high dolls of today. It was a punk rock doll with colored hair and black clothes. Today, it wouldn’t be a big deal, but in the 80’s, it was pretty weird. I thought, “I’m getting one present and this is it?” I looked around the room not knowing what to say. Grandpa started laughing and said, “I thought it was funny.” Grandma said, “Jim! Give her another one!” I got a bunch more presents. Seems Grandma and Grandpa didn’t stick to the “no presents” rule after all.
After presents, we loaded up the car. We had to get home quickly and get to bed before Santa came. That was a warning we all took very seriously. On the way home, we laughed and sang carols. As soon as we got home, we put on PJ’s and snuggled up on the couch for Dad to read ’Twas the night before Christmas. Mom always took pictures and gave us hugs and kisses and then we hustled to bed.
Although Christmas day has never been a let down, I think I love Christmas Eve more because it’s the anticipation of the big day I love the most.
As an adult, not much has changed. Recently I asked Anna what her favorite part of Christmas is and without hesitation, she said, “Christmas Eve at G.G.’s”. My Grandma still hosts Christmas Eve dinner. She still gives too many presents and goes to church with us. I love that my own kids have the same memories I do about Christmas Eve (minus the old-fashioned candy of course).
Why did I write this? To reminisce a little, but mostly to serve as a reminder. If you’re a parent, don’t stress about making Christmas perfect for your kids. Even weird candy can become a favorite if it’s part of your Christmas tradition. The things your kids will remember will be being together and laughing and eating yummy food the love you share together. And that will be perfect.