The great thing about family traditions is that just as soon as you think you have one, they need to grow and evolve with the human beings who treasure them. And so it is with Christmas Eve.
I grew up with the tradition of going to bed on Christmas Eve, as the youngest in the household, only to be awoken a short time later by the sound of jingle bells and a ho-ho-ho, signaling Santa had arrived. My mom and dad had a tradition of opening Christmas gifts before going to bed on Christmas Eve.
Somewhere along the way came the tradition of a rich Italian feast on Christmas Eve, despite my mom being Irish and my dad being German. That may have been the influence of their Italian landlord during WWII who shared her cooking skills with my mom; and it probably was solidified by the arrival of my Italian brother-in-law, Paul, who became part of the family in the 1960s.
One of my favorite parts of Christmas was putting up the Nativity scene with my mom. And so a very special treasure in our home today is that very same Nativity, passed down to me when our kids were young. I still can’t part with the particular paper toweling my dad used to carefully wrap each beautiful figure when it was shipped from Florida to Rochester (even though I could never put it away as neatly as he packed it…)
The move for my girls and I from Long Island to Rochester in 1995 introduced us to more serious Italian traditions on Christmas Eve, most notably my mother-in-law Rosemary’s bacalhau (fried, salted cod).
But the biggest thing about Christmas Eve for our blended children—Sarah, Caroline, Laura, and Taylor—was that we had to find a creative solution to when Santa would arrive. And so the tradition began—Santa made our house his first stop so that when our four children woke up together on the morning of December 24, Santa had already come down the chimney and left a note explaining his special early delivery.
This worked especially well for me when I joined the parish ministry at St. Joseph’s and found myself as an active participant at Church for most of the joyous celebrations of the Eucharist at 2:00, 4:00, 6:00, 8:00 and midnight on Christmas Eve, and 9:00 and 11:00 on Christmas morning!
But this year, Taylor is in South Carolina. Laura is making her way home from Maryland. Others are working on Christmas Eve morning. A new tradition needs to evolve.
What better than to go back to the beginning? After we attend Christmas Eve Mass at St. Joseph’s, we will have a late Italian dinner and, still later, Laura, Caroline, Sarah and Ryan, Greg and I (and Cooper AND DAISY, of course) will gather around the tree to exchange gifts. And thanks to the iPhone, Taylor will be with us via Facetime.
A new tradition in the making? Does it matter? All that’s really needed for a joyful Christmas celebration is lots of love, laughter, patience, and sometimes a bit of creativity. And the light of Christ coming into the world at the center of it all.
Waiting for the sound of jingle bells and a ho-ho-ho.