I thought I would share some of our Christmas Eve traditions this evening. I am guessing that one or two of them might seem a little strange to you. In many ways, Christmas Eve is our biggest event of the Christmas festivities. To get the shock out of the way, that is when we open our presents (so yes, I have mine already). My husband's family are from the Orkney Islands (and later moved to Shetland). These islands share a lot of history, genes and customs with Norway. The big Christmas Eve celebration comes from there.
We start after dinner. At my Dad's house we have started the tradition of having take out from the local Chinese restaurant; a little strange perhaps, but it is a nice contrast to the traditional holiday food of which we will all have our fill before the week is through. Then after dinner, we gather in the living room for tea or coffee, Christmas music and a growing sense of anticipation. Then to remind ourselves what the season is truly about we start with readings and party pieces. Attendance is compulsory but performance is optional. My stepmother always reads the relevant passages from Luke and Matthew. I read How the Grinch Stole Christmas for its reminder that the focus is on family, togetherness and what is inside:
"Maybe Christmas," he thought, "doesn't come from a store.
"Maybe Christmas... perhaps... means a little bit more!"
- Dr Seuss (1957)
This year my youngest sister played her trombone, my mother-in-law read The Night Before Christmas, my father-in-law recited a poem that has been passed down through his family, and my Dad read a poem that he had written for his wife at Christmas 15 years ago.
All of this takes quite a while. Only then do we start with the presents. Whoever is playing Santa (often the youngest person who can read and is patient enough to do it - this year it was the trombone playing sister) does the leg work back and forth to the tree. One person receives a gift and opens it while we all watch, then someone else gets a present. The person distributing does their best to make sure that it is in some sort of order to keep it fair, at least for the first few cycles - they also have to deal with weird little requests like "try and make sure that he gets that little bunchy one before he gets the big, green one." It is so much fun to watch what everyone gets because we are all quite creative and inventive both in the wrapping and the giving. We don't buy gift wrap, we use reused gift bags, fabric bags people have made, pillowcases, boxes saved and decorated with images from cards, carefully saved tissue paper and crepe paper (a great one for stretching over awkward shapes!), festive or ethnic fabrics, virtually anything that we can make pretty and intriguing without creating waste. The gifts include some store bought things, but also handmade gifts, treats that people wouldn't get themselves but don't add much clutter as they are eaten or drinken* before too long, and handmade certificates for treats, promises or services, even menus for promised special meals (we were promised an Arabic night, I will tell you all about it next week when we've had it).
When there are little ones they still wake up to Santa presents in the morning, and some people still have stockings on Christmas morning too (yes, I do!). At home K and I do Santa Mouse, which is a hugely emotional deal for me all based on this book from my childhood.
*yeah, I know it's not a word, but I like it anyway.