This post was initially written for the Carnival of Genealogy, 61st Edition, and first published here on December 1, 2008.
Our Christmas-related activities, "after children" were many and varied over the years. They changed somewhat every few years because of the children's ages and where we lived at the time. But the ones I call "traditions" were started when our family was young, and they never changed. Some were influenced by our own upbringings, but the ones that meant the most actually started when the first child was born.
One of the things we always did was to put up a "real" tree, usually a Frazier fir. As we moved, the height of ceilings in our houses changed. And when we finally landed in Texas in 1985 and built a house that had a family room with a very high ceiling, we began purchasing a taller tree, usually something that was about 10-12 feet in height. It became a family event to select the "special" tree from one of the many Christmas tree lots that lined the major streets leading to our surburban neighborhood. But it was a "parent" event to get the large tree home on the top of our vehicle and inside the house when we arrived.
Placing the lights on the tree in the early years was always an "adult" task, too. And as soon as the lights were in place, the children began clamoring about who would be "next" to climb the ladder to hang their special ornaments on the tree. When the tree was all decorated and the lights turned on, we started a fire in the fireplace (whether it was cold outside or not!) and sipped on hot chocolate with miniature marshmallows on top, sitting quietly for a few moments to admire in awe the advent of a new Christmas season.
Another tradition involved driving around the week before Christmas to see the Christmas lights in our development and others nearby. In Texas, homeowners' associations take displays of Christmas lights very seriously, and some residents try to outdo their neighbors by having their rooflines, trees, and yard displays decorated by lighting professionals. One of these developments continues its lighting tradition, started about 25 years ago now, with red lights outlining the driveways and walkways that are bright enough to make you think you are nearing the East/West runway of DFW airport! Strategically placed throughout the neighborhood are painted and lighted storyboards that tell in pictures and words the story of "The Night Before Christmas....in Texas, that is..." It was great family fun then and now, and the children, even after they became teenagers, never seemed to tire of reading the story of Santa Claus in his "buckboard" and cowboy boots, making his rounds to deliver gifts to all the children in Texas. Visiting this neighborhood during Christmas season is still a family tradition.
One of my own family traditions growing up in Mississippi was a Christmas Eve gathering of our family which ended with eating fruitcake and drinking egg nog. For the adults in the family, the egg nog may have been laced with rum or with some good old Kentucky bourbon. Don't ask me where they bought the rum or bourbon back then....liquor was illegal in Mississippi until 1966.
But the fruit cake and eggnog tradition was not one that ever took hold in my own family after I had children. They did not like either eggnog or fruitcake. But we simply replaced those holiday items with ones they did enjoy, such as Christmas cookies, lots of Hot Chocolate, and spicy, mulled apple cider, stirred with a cinnamon stick. More often than not, we enjoyed watching a family Christmas movie together, or when the children were younger, we read Christmas stories and listened to Christmas carols, always ending with the always special, "Silent Night."
Until the children were teenagers, we allowed them to open one gift, and one gift only, to settle some of the anticipation that grew increasingly greater with every day leading up to Christmas morning. Christmas morning always came early in a household where five children had been waiting for weeks for this special day. After they descended on the gifts, we enjoyed a big, homemade breakfast, that usually consisted of French toast, waffles, or pancakes, with Canadian bacon or little smokie sausages, and juice.
Attending Christmas Mass was always a part of our Christmas tradition, but as the children grew older and could stay up longer, instead of attending Mass on Christmas morning, we began going to Midnight Mass, something that became a very special time for all of us. We especially enjoyed the singing of Christmas carols and a performance by the Bell Choir that began thirty minutes before the start of Mass. One of the many memories I have of my children growing up was the first time we attended Midnight Mass, when one of my sons expressed amazement at how few cars were on the streets of our surburban city at 11:30 p.m. I don't think he had ever been up that late in his young life. Little did he know at that moment how many times he and his brothers and their friends would be out at 11:30 p.m. (or later) as teenagers driving on those same streets.
As the children have grown older and some now have families of their own, they have started some of their own special traditions that emulate the ones they remember from childhood. Sometimes, when we are lucky, they include us. But what is important is that family traditions continue to overlap the generations that carry special memories of Christmas when each of us was "growing up."