Thursday marks the start of what promises to be another hectic and harried holiday season. Every single year my mother declares that this year will be different. We won’t spend Christmas Eve hunting for stocking stuffers for the 9+ people in my family; we won’t fight over who washes the Thanksgiving dishes; we will pick out a manageable sized Christmas tree that actually fits in our living room. Essentially, we will have a picturesque holiday season. One Norman Rockwell would be proud of.
Although it’s heartwarmingly naïve for my mother to think this holiday season will proceed without incident, there are a few wonderful traditions that make the craziness of the holidays completely worth it. So while I make the drive up to New York — my mind plagued with thoughts of overcrowded rooms, a potential lack of libations, and annoying siblings — I’ll remember the cherished traditions that offer a lovely respite from the rest of the holiday madness.
1. The Thanksgiving Relish Tray
Yes, a relish tray earns the top spot of my favorite traditions. It seems almost impossible that a tray of assorted olives and pickles could be so near and dear to my heart, but it is. I think I may have such a fondness for the relish tray because it was the first dish I could help assemble growing up. It was also the first dish that I could snack on throughout the day, and that’s probably the real reason for my affection. I remember as a kid cutting and smearing the celery stalks with cream cheese, chomping on black olives that were perched on the ends of my chubby figures, and scooping cottage cheese into my grandmother’s crystal serving dish. Although clearly not the most appetizing part of the day, the assembling of the relish tray will be a tradition passed down for generations to come.
2. Decorating the Christmas Tree
As I’ve grown older and moved away from home, I’ve missed this event more times than I’d like to admit. Sometimes, if I make my mom feel really guilty, I can get her to hold off decorating the tree until I make a trip home. More often than not, I’m forced to get a grip on my ego and add my decorations to the tree when I get home. However, when I do make it home for the decorating, it’s always a hilarious endeavor. My mother, bless her heart, always insists on getting the biggest, holiest, most impossible tree in the lot. She convinces herself that it will fit into our living room without issue and forces my brothers to tie it up and take it home. The tree never fits. Never. We typically have to cut a third of the tree off the top, literally tie it to the ceiling and hope for the best. I don’t think an angel has made it on the top of the tree for years, simply because there isn’t a discernible “top” to speak of.
After that madness is complete, my mom strings the lights herself because the rest of us aren’t capable *blink blink*. I know this doesn’t necessarily paint the picture of a perfect family get-together, but it’s tradition. We turn on Christmas music, my mom hands out the ornaments she hand-picked for each of us that year, and we all fight over prime placement for our favorite ornaments. It’s hectic, it’s hilarious, it’s home.
3. The Annual Harris-Armstrong-Thomas-Turner Game Night
This isn’t the longest-standing tradition but it’s rapidly becoming my favorite. Each year a few days before Christmas, my siblings, their significant others and a few close family friends gather around my mom’s table, a decades-old piece of furniture that is covered in paint stains from crafts of projects passed and have game night. This endeavor is fueled by cocktails and fierce competition because even though we’re all very different in terms of personality, none of us deal well with losing.
Year after year, we mix the drinks, lay out the snacks and strap in for an evening of cards, yelling and ~mild~ violence. There’s rarely a game night that doesn’t end with someone bruised from throwing themselves too hard against the table during spoons or getting hit too hard in the head with a spoon thrown across the table. I can confirm that the majority of us wake up the next day with hangovers ranging from tolerable to “I’m never drinking again.” In fact, we go so hard that we had to move the official date of game night back a day. This was due to a hangover so bad that Christmas Eve dinner almost didn’t happen last year because someone couldn’t get out of bed to start cooking. That person will remain unnamed.
Ok, that person was me.
4. The Annual Christmas Eve Reading of the Books
Uh! This one really gets me. Every year on Christmas Eve we throw a small party and open presents from our Secret Santa. Secret Santa is comprised of all the siblings and their significant others. Every year we are URGED by my mother to keep our person a secret. Every year I undermine her wishes and set about finding which sibling was lucky enough to pick my name, and then proceed to casually drop some gift ideas in conversation. I also sell the secrets I come across. Typically by the time Christmas Eve actually rolls around, everyone already knows who their Secret Santa is.
Anyway, after the gift giving is over, my mother sits all of her very adult children down and reads us three very special Christmas stories. Our living room is filled to the brim with bodies sitting on the couch, laying on the floor, standing in doorways, and snuggling on laps. We all moan and groan like we don’t love every single second of it, but we do. She reads The Polar Express, ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas, and my personal favorite, The Boy of the Bells. My niece and nephews have learned to look forward to this, and it makes me happy that some of my favorite traditions found their way into the hearts of the next generation.
Mostly, my favorite tradition is simply spending time with my family. I was blessed with a really large, fun, outgoing group of people to love my whole life, and they are what make the holidays so special every year. Even the years that we spend Christmas Eve shopping for stocking stuffers.
What are your favorite holiday traditions?