There are Christmas family traditions that we do every year by choice or just because it was done that way as long as we can remember.
As long as we had an artificial tree, it was in the box in the storage area under the steps. I’d like to tell you that the tree assembly was a family affair every Christmas but I don’t think so. We’ll settle for "many" times. While the Griswolds were trudging through hip deep snow, while Ralphie’s parents were talking about "them balsams," the Brocks were snug in their nice warm house digging branches out of a box.
The extended Brock family gathered for Edna’s birthday on December 23, Christmas Eve, and Christmas Day, so sometimes Don found his birthday gift on the door step December 27th. Stan was a Lion so we had that Christmas party, the furniture store party, a church program for the kids, choir practices and performance, and carolling. Let us not forget the school and sporting events. It was a huge effort to carve out a special just-the-four-of-us evening or part of one to create a quiet focus on what all this fuss was really about. We would choose an evening as close to Christmas as possible, most of the time on the 23rd just after work, to recognize Jesus’ birthday. I would bake a cake, we would sing happy birthday to Jesus, read the story out of Luke, and if we had enough to spare, open one gift each. As the years went on, we would add readings, one of which was The Christmas Cookie Sprinkle Snitcher.
For several years, our Christian Church didn’t hold a Christmas Eve candlelight service, so we would attend Zion Lutheran’s with Don and his family. Don’s family opened gifts on Christmas Eve either before services, or when they were older, after services. I held our four to Christmas morning in spite of annual protests and begging.
In my mother’s house, the rules were stricter than ours. As I reflect, I can see more of her logic. There were few gifts in her house growing up on the farm in Upper Michigan and if her stories shed any light on that family atmosphere, I don’t think it was very warm and fuzzy. So when she had her own family, she wanted to savor the whole experience. Here’s how it went …
First we cook. The turkey goes in before Santa’s made it back to the pole. The side dishes are many and varied. Pies are started that morning so they’re hot when the turkey’s out. Food is love, love is food, I went to all this trouble, eat. Quit picking! Get out of the olives! Ma, I’m starved! In the meantime the presents are crying out for their freedom. Dad’s already napped twice, Mom! When can we open our presents? Hold your horses and keep your shirt on.
When the food is just about ready, then the mom has an opportunity to participate in the gift ceremonies. This is methodical. Someone gets to be Santa and disburse each gift taking turns with each recipient. That person has to open, admire, and display. Then, and only then, can Santa disburse another gift, and so on until the supply is exhausted. Several times one person had one huge box in which a small present was buried. What Mom is holding up so proudly for all to see is the whatchamacallit thing to mix the pie crust ingredients that she had been asking for instead of just buying! I have no idea what Dad’s looking at — some guy type tool thing?
So we did have fun with whatever we had to open, but it was Doris Murphy’s rule book. It was such torture, but I think I understand now. She arranged both a massive feast and the chance to be right in the middle of the action. Nobody is left out, everybody gets undivided attention, her Christmases were making up for some sad empty ones.
The torture still fresh in my mind, when I had growing, excited kids, I found a medium, whether happy or not, between Mom’s system and my sister’s which was "have at it, boys" and picking up paper shreds far into the afternoon that had been flung in all directions while the parents slept in.
I remembered the anticipation factor and told my kids they could rip into the stocking stuffers with abandon as soon as they got up. That they did, and I made every effort to have enough in the stockings to keep the kids busy enough to allow us one last wink. Filed under "It Happens Every Year," I have to mention that several stocking stuffers were left forgotten under our bed and discovered sometime the following spring.
There were a few Christmas mornings I sent a kid back to bed, usually Brenda, somewhere around 4:00. One year she actually sat up, eyes open, all night — or so Randy told me years later. She tried to get him to sit with her but he kept shooing her away.
So, around 6 am, we were dragged out to the living room and appointed a Santa who was allowed to quickly disburse each person’s pile of gifts.
Kid Santas operate with amazing speed.
Paper flew, excited voices overlapped, (did the coffee happen to make itself this year?), and then we would inspect and admire each others booty. Breakfast? Oh. Yeah. In a minute.