As I watched my neighbor hang his outdoor lights yesterday - something I've seen him do each year for over twenty years - I started thinking about the Christmases I had as a child and the holiday traditions in our family. Much of what we did was pretty standard. Baking Christmas cookies. Wrapping presents. Trimming the tree. But we did have a couple things we did that were a bit different from some families.
In my family, one of our traditions was opening our gifts on Christmas Eve. I have no idea why we did this. It started early, perhaps as early as when we were 5 or 6, and just continued. My guess is that it began one year when my dad was working out of town and arriving home late, and my mom, never a morning person herself, decided it would be easier to get the present opening out of the way the night before. Or maybe it had another cause altogether. Whatever its origin, it continued. We kids enjoyed opening our presents the night before. Why not? Kids love presents.The sooner, the better. As an adult, I'm pretty loose myself about when presents get opened. A few on Christmas Eve. A few on Christmas Day. Whatever works is fine with me.
Another tradition was one that my sister and I started ourselves. From late elementary school on, we used to go out to our horse barn and spend time with our horses on Christmas Eve. As I recall, it started when we decided to take them special treats for the holiday - carrots, oats, apples, carrots, whatever was handy. Over time, it evolved into making them little goodies bags with bows.
Somewhere along the line, I heard the story that on Christmas Eve, animals are given the gift of speech for the night. I don't know if I ever really expected any of them to talk, but the thought of it helped fuel my desire to be there. Just in case. So I'd linger, pulling up a bale of hay and hanging out with them, often for hours. As I got older, I'd linger on my bale just to enjoy the quiet, the solitude, and their sweet, gentle company.
Oddly, as I think back over the many Christamases we celebrated during my childhood, I don't recall any special presents. Was my Barbie, a Christmas gift? My bike? My favorite saddle? I really don't remember. I'm sure I received plenty of nice gifts, but what I remember is my mom's Christmas cookies, dog-eared Christmas ornaments, making those goodie bags for the horses, and hanging out in the barn with them while they munched their hay and gave me the occasional nuzzle.
So how about you? What was Christmas like at your house? What were your family's traditions? And what are your fond, not so fond, or funny memories of the holiday season.