The most exciting thing about Christmas when I was young was not Santa. It was not presents. It was not festive cookies or candy. It was celebrating Jesus' birth with my extended family.
My grandparents had nine living children and thirty-three grandchildren, and we'd all descend on their not-very-large bungalow the day after Christmas. Yes, my grandmother and aunts would prepare a turkey dinner. Yes, there were small gifts and all the mandarin oranges we wanted. But the highlight for us grandkids was having the run of the basement and making up endless games and plays together.
After the meal had been consumed in shifts and the cleanup was complete, everyone gathered in the living room. I have no idea how they fit enough rows of chairs to seat fifty people. Then, from youngest toddler to oldest family member, each of us would perform something for our grandparents, usually reciting a Christmas poem suitable to our age. The teens might do a skit or song together, and the uncles invariably sang, "God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen."
--> Together, we would listen to the story of Jesus' birth from Luke as my grandfather or, later, one of my uncles would read from the KJV. Several people would pray aloud. After our little concert, we'd climb back in our cold cars with our new trinkets and an orange for the road, and make the slippery journey home on snowy roads.
When I was a teen, we moved too far away to participate in these events, and many of the older cousins had already moved on, too. So in our new home, thousands of miles away, we began a new tradition. The highlight of my kids' growing up years and, still today, when they are parents of their own small ones, is the gathering with my side of the family.
Once again, it's not about gifts or Santa. It is, however, about food. We gave up turkey for this gathering many years ago and instead put on a huge spread of hors d'oeuvres. When everyone is full, we gather in the living room and sing each person's favorite Christmas carol, from youngest member to oldest, from carol books collected long ago.
The year my father was no longer there to read the Christmas story was bittersweet. A few years later, my mother left us. Now we take turns, trying out different versions of the Bible to draw out nuances of the beloved story.
Though I have four sisters, only one lives in the area. We no longer meet on December 26, but fluctuate to a date where everyone can make it. Christmas together continues to be a very high priority for my sister and I, our adult kids and their spouses, and especially for our six grandchildren. They certainly enjoy unwrapping a small gift and eating those delectable appetizers their moms and grandmothers have cooked up. Sometimes they balk at "so many" Christmas carols to sing. Sometimes they fidget through Luke 2 and family prayer time.
For the little ones, it's all about their cousins, whom they love so dearly. It's the same for their parents. As for my sister and I, it's a way to keep the old memories of Grandma's house on December 26 alive and relevant to new generations. To give our descendants the same sense of family, heritage, and biblical foundation that we had.
We are so blessed.
Valerie writes Farm Lit where food meets faith, injecting experience laced with humor into her award-winning Farm Fresh Romance stories. Come to www.valeriecomer.com to join her mailing list, read her blog, or link up with her on social media.