December 24th has always been an important day in my family. Of course there is the anticipation of Christmas, and all of the last minute preparations for the holiday extravaganza. Usually there is some sort of celebration already starting, like visiting friends and family, maybe even opening presents. This photo is of my brother, sister and I all dressed up at Grandma Katy’s house, ready to go to Aunt Mary’s. And importantly – it’s my baby brother’s birthday. It’s always felt like a bit of a super-holiday – overfull and overexciting – almost too much, but not quite.
Growing up Christmas Eve meant some sort of gathering with Dad’s side of the family. There were snacks and sweets, Christmas music, and family. When I was younger this was always at Aunt Mary’s house, and included my grandmother’s siblings, their kids, and their kids kids. Aunt Mary had a little buffet set up in the kitchen, with ham, cocktail bread, cheese balls (I loved the port wine one), and sweets. There were bowls of “chicken feed” (aka Chex mix) around the house. I got in trouble more than once for picking out the cashews! Uncle Jimmy played bartender in the laundry room – always laughing and telling jokes. We always had to dress up, and be on our best behavior,and remember not to bother Aunt Mary’s schnauzer – he did not like children!
As the years went by the big family gathering became a smaller one, at Grandma Katy’s house. There were still cheese balls, chicken feed, cookies, fudge and family. Grandma always had a fire going too, and I loved sitting on the hearth, just as close as I could get without blistering, to listen to the pops and watch the sparks flying up the chimney. We always got to pick one present to open, and I was always terrified I’d open a package of new underwear in front of everyone. I don’t think that ever happened, but it always worried me. The photo at the top is of my brother, sister and I all dressed up at Grandma Katy’s house, ready to go to Aunt Mary’s. The one right above is of my baby sister and my mom a few year’s earlier.
As my brother’s birthday just happens to be December 24th, we celebrated that too, each year. He complained quite a bit, but I never really thought about how annoying that must have been. The rest of us were excited about Christmas, and I know he got a lot of presents that were “for your birthday AND for Christmas.” More than once his birthday cake was a holiday cake from the grocery store and his birthday presents wrapped in Christmas paper. My grandmother, holding my one-week old sister, and my Aunt Beth are singing happy birthday over a Christmas stocking cake in this photo. He and my sister, who’s birthday is just a week before his, always called Christmas “Screwed Out of a Present Day.” Nowadays we try very hard to differentiate birthday cakes, gift wrap and celebrations, but there will always be a bit of blurring on what we’re celebrating.
Now that I’m all grown up I’m faced with finding new Christmas Eve customs. I’m married, so there’s my husband’s family to incorporate, and finding a balance between the two families is a work in progress. We don’t yet have true traditions, but we’re working on it. In some ways it’s stressful. I miss the comfort of tradition – of knowing what will happen, where we’ll be when, who we’ll be with. In other ways its exciting! I get to choose what traditions I want. (OK, we want – gotta include the hubby in there.) I look forward to piecing together a comforting quilt of holiday traditions to snuggle under with the folks I love.
I wish you all a happy, comfortable holiday, with all the love you can stand. And if you need to add a cheeseball to your traditions, Grandma Katy’s recipe is below. (I don’t think they make English Chateau cheese spread any more, but I think it was a cheddar-y kind of spread. Heck, I’m not sure what you can find in the way of cheese spreads, but here it is anyway.) Happy December 24th!