I wrote yesterday about my family’s traditional “Christmas is in two or three days so we should probably get a tree” outing. We have some other traditions as well that personally make Christmas Eve a bigger deal to me than Christmas.
For starters, there’s the tree. I remember when I was young I would wake up and go downstairs on Christmas Eve morning to find my mom working on getting the tree standing and secure. By early afternoon she already had the lights on, and my sister and I would begin hanging ornaments on it not long after that. Nowadays, things seem to get started later, and it’s often not until well after dinner that we decorate it; today, however, things got started early and there are already lights and ornaments and even some tinsel on the tree.
Speaking of dinner, the traditional Italian Christmas Eve dinner of the “seven fishes” is another thing that we kinda, sorta do. We always eat seafood, but not usually any actual fish; nor are there seven of them. We have crab cakes, along with shrimp and clam chowder. This year, we added tuna for my dad and scallops for…well, everyone, but at my persuasive insistence. That makes five pseudo-fishes; next year, I’m aiming to add two more.
This year’s dinner was a little more stressful for me than usual. Instead of picking up the food we ordered from the seafood shop,* I’ll be in the kitchen making the crab cakes. I had made them a couple times earlier in the year and people liked them, so I offered. They turned out reasonably well, so that made me happy. Well, relieved more than anything. I did NOT want to ruin Christmas Eve dinner.
*Tangent: my mom always orders it for a 4:45 p.m. pickup. The store closes at 5:00. This often makes for a ridiculously unnecessary race against the clock to make sure we get there before they close.
We always visit my grandfather on Christmas Eve. Usually it’s at night, after dinner, but today I pushed for an early afternoon visit. See, my sister and I used to give our parents their presents on Christmas Eve, and I wanted to get back to that this year. My hope was that the whole family would do it, because our gift exchange has gotten later and later over the past few years. I figured this was as good a time as any to corral that bronco and walk it back to the stable. It was a half-success; we gave our parents and our aunt their gifts, but my mother hasn’t wrapped ours. I’m sure we’ll get them by Memorial Day.
As if there was room for any more traditions, I’ve started taking an annual trip to the bookstore. It started out a few years ago when I was looking for a last-minute gift for my dad. I ended up walking out with a book for him and three for me. Now, it’s usually just the last place I go when I have last-minute shopping to do, and I almost always leave with at least three or four books that I then proceed to blow through over the next two months. I don’t read that often anymore, but when I do, it’s at a prolific pace.
This year, however, the bookstore trip was a one-off journey. My shopping was finished, so it was simply a run-of-the-mill Tuesday afternoon book binge. It did, however, serve the alternate purpose that made the previous trips so cherished: it always allows me the opportunity to get away from the family for a little bit. I know, the holidays are about spending time with each other, but when you have hectic days such as Christmas Eve, you sometimes need to make sure you get the right dosage.
I’m a creature of habit and routine. I feel like tradition falls under that umbrella, so it’s something I’ve been very adamant about over the years. If I have my own family someday, and my wife and kids want to put up the Christmas tree a little early, I might cave. If I have to miss Christmas Eve dinner because we’re out of town visiting her family, I won’t be happy, about it, but sometimes you have to make compromises.
Just make sure there’s a Barnes & Noble nearby. Daddy needs to go shopping.