It's funny how traditions start sometimes. You don't usually mean to start a tradition, but you do something that you enjoy and everyone wants to do the same thing again the next year and in no time at all a tradition is born. What's magical about a tradition is how important it becomes to the participants.
One of my favorite family Christmas traditions is how we open up presents. I think Christmas present opening always says a lot about a family. Does everyone go at once ripping through paper as fast as they can like in A Christmas Story? Are presents opened on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day? Does Santa come for adults or just kids? Does Santa wrap presents?
Our tradition has always been to open up our presents from each other on Christmas Eve. I think we always did this, but it really started in earnest when we lived in Shenandoah. We would have to wait HOURS for my Dad to get off work (he usually closed the restaurant around 8 on Christmas Eve). When he got home, my little sister Katie would sort the presents.* We'd go in age order, with the youngest going first and the oldest last. We'd go round and round until all the presents were opened.
*Mom and Dad never used name tags, everyone's presents were wrapped in different wrapping paper and you never knew who had which paper until Mom told Katie when she started the sorting. Often times, Mom couldn't remember and I think she once had to open one of the gifts to remember who got what.
On year, probably about 15 years ago, my Aunt Lynda (or was it Laura) gave my Dad a joke present for his birthday. It was a VHS cassette tape of a crackling fire in a fireplace. The tape played classic Christmas songs. We all thought it was a riot, but we all wanted it next year. Each year, we'd make fun of the Yule log, but each year we all wanted that Yule Log playing while we opened gifts.
On Christmas morning, Santa would have always arrived in the night and set out our gifts. Each person had a different pile of gifts and the stocking would be full and sitting on top. Santa not only brought toys and fun stuff for us kids, but he was also a practical Santa who brought underwear, socks, toothbrushes, toothpaste, and other necessities. As we got older, Santa brought deodorant and razors and fancy shampoo. He always brought a calendar, a movie and a CD (now he usually goes with the iTunes gift card) . Everyone could go through their own pile when they woke-up and as the rest of the family got up, we'd show each other what we got.
Over the years, we traveled more at Christmas time - usually going to Omaha for Christmas Eve and then staying in hotel overnight. Santa continued to find us, but since he couldn't bring our stockings, he started using large gift bags covered with Sesame Street characters. Eventually, Santa decided he liked the gift bags better than the stockings and he started using them every year, even when we were at home.
This year was a bit different. Katie is engaged and this was our first year of split Christmas. She and Paul went to his family's house for Christmas Eve and came back here for Christmas Day. We threatened to open presents without her, but we didn't. When we opened presents, Katie didn't get to go first anymore (both Paul and my 7 month old 2nd cousin got to go before her). With all the moving this year, we didn't have the Yule Log video. Santa didn't come until after Christmas Dinner, but he still brought underwear and socks and he brought them in the gift bags.
Ultimately, Christmas is where my family is. The day we celebrate may change. Some traditions may die - others may start up. But, as long as I get to spend the time with my family I will be happy. Living off in Belize - away from home - makes me cherish these times together so much more.
Mom, Dad, Shelley and Katie - I love you the most. Merry Christmas. Paul - welcome to the family. So far, it seems like you will fit right in. Bob and Shannon - It was great to see you guys again and to get to meet little Lizzy. I wish our lives allowed us to see each other more often.