When the kids were little, the holidays = full-on panic mode.
Not about getting the hot toy or dealing with two weeks off at preschool. Nooooooo, I was freaked out about Traditions, capped ‘t’ intentional. My friend Kathy casually mentioned that her family always had homemade cinnamon buns on Christmas morning, and I realized we did nothing like that. Nuthin’.
Even when I was growing up as a kid, we didn’t do anything outrageously special. No presents from my parents were ever under the tree until Christmas day so I’d keep my grubby mits off ’em. We weren’t allowed to scramble and start ripping things open as soon as we got up. We had to wait.
Why? Because present=shredding time could not take place until after my dad’s morning “constitutional.” That’s what my parents called it. Which was code for “super poop” because he’d take that morning newspaper into the bathroom, shut the door and it would be hooooourrrs until we could hit those gifts. OK, probably more like 45 minutes, but still. For an anxious kid on Christmas morning, that’s an eternity.
I tried hard, probably too hard, to find a Tradition. Some would say we do have that one holdover — the constitutional. Ahem, Joe.
I thought maybe I’d steal that cinnamon bun thing, but those are a lot of work. I tried different special breakfast dishes, including a coffee cake that one of the dogs promptly knocked off the counter as we sat beneath the tree, and so the glass-flecked toffee coffee cake never got a second round.
Really, our only lasting Tradition was The Gate.
During the Christmas of ’03, No. 1 — who was all of 3 years old — groggily emerged from her room around midnight and toddled in to catch a glimpse of us tossing freshly-assembled presents under the tree. Henceforth, we’d lock the kids out of the living room and to this day, my favorite videos are of them, so excited they’re vibrating, to get past that gate and get at the gifts. As you can see from the photos below, at least one remained completely unamused by The Gate.
The Gate’s long gone.
These days, we actually have to wake up the kids for Christmas. No amazingly original traditions have evolved, but we do Christmas our way. As soon as the kids are up, they can pull out their stocking stuffers. We have some sort of homecooked breakfast. It changes from year to year, but I always honor requests.
No gifts go under the tree until late on Christmas Eve, after we’ve had pizza (it’s homemade, not DiGiornos, so don’t get judge-y AND it’s an Italian grandma tradition from Joe’s side) and watched “Elf” and everyone’s in bed. The last-minute present placement is a practicality because two dogs are a total stinkers and pulverize wrapped presents and boxes. One also gnaws ornaments, which is why none are on the lower branches. It is very rewarding to rescue dogs only to have them pay us back with their horrible manners years later.
Each person’s gifts are wrapped in one specific kind of paper, and the kids have to guess who belongs to which paper. The one who’s right, gets to go first. No one really thinks this is all that grand, but I like it and I’m in charge. So that is how it’s done. So there.
It’s a lot less frantic and panic-y these days but still every bit as special.