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Advent Tour: Day 22

December 22, 2010

Last year for Marg and Kailana’s Virtual Advent Tour, I shared a few of my secular Christmas traditions. And in fact, I’m typing by Christmas tree light; while there’s no chance of snow outside this year, my traditions remain in place. This year, I thought I’d tell you guys about what Christmas itself was like growing up.

The season began when my mom gave us our advent calendars, the first day of December. Every night, we’d get to open another window and eat the chocolate, as well as see the new picture. Around the same time, my dad would put the Christmas lights up on our house: my sister would get up on the roof and help, but I stayed inside and made hot chocolate for them as my contribution. As I’ve mentioned before, my dad was career Air Force, so we never lived near family. But I have quite a few uncles and aunts, as well as two sets of loving grandparents. And we used to exchange big boxes of Christmas gifts! My sister and I loved to help my mom wrap up presents for the extended family, so some week in early December we’d sit on the floor, pop in Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, and get everything ready to send out. My sister was always more into decorating the wrapped presents, and she sometimes had to be rationed to make the bows last! ;) I, on the other hand, would occasionally get so excited at wrapping them as efficiently as possible that I’d forget whose present I was wrapping or to label it. So then I’d have to gently pry the tape back to peek at the gift! My mom always said she couldn’t do it without us though!

photo credit

We would start receiving packages of Christmas presents around this same time. When we lived abroad, though, our friends and family had to fill out customs declarations detailing the contents. So my sister and I weren’t allowed to look at the outer packaging, and I remember trying to avoid those little green labels to keep the surprise! I was never the kind of kid who wanted to find out my gifts ahead of time; in my view, that just made the waiting even more difficult. But once the packaging was removed, the presents would go under the Christmas tree. My mom always wanted one early, no later than mid-December. We’d spend a night unwrapping all of the ornaments and deciding where to hang each one, while my dad sorted out the strings of lights (which never seemed to work right out of storage). Last of all, my mom would get out a step ladder to put our angel on top; I loved the tree glowing quietly in the corner, with the presents piled underneath. That same night, my mom would put out all of her other Christmas decor: in addition to collecting Santas, she saved every Christmas craft my sister and I made, and even today, she continues to put them out.

Since we were never close to extended family, Christmas itself was an immediate family only affair. My mom grew up opening all presents from friends & family on Christmas Eve, then stockings and presents from Santa on Christmas morning. We followed this tradition! So every year of my childhood, after Christmas Eve mass (my mom raised us Catholic in accordance with her mother’s wishes; my dad must be agnostic, because I’ve never seen him go to church), we’d eat dinner and get down to the real business of the evening. Presents! But before we could open anything, my dad would get out a tripod and set up a video camera. Remember, this was the 90s, so it was quite an impressive size. Yep: every year we recorded us opening our presents, then sent copies of the home movie to our family! This meant, as a child, I was very careful to show an equal amount of enthusiasm to every gift. ;) Dad would put on a Santa hat, and he was in charge of deciding who would get to open a present next; we all took turns so that we could watch each other. And he had a trash bag for the wrapping paper; I remember him constantly reminding us to ‘corral’ the trash we’d already created. heehee

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Then we’d put out cookies and milk for Santa, baby carrots and a big bowl of water for the reindeer, and go to sleep. In the morning, we’d come out to stuffed stockings (everything in the stockings was wrapped) and two piles of gifts from Santa, one for my sister and one for me. Santa conveniently used different wrapping paper for each of us, which made it easy to tell whose presents were who! Santa also always made sure there were the exact same number of wrapped presents for my sister and myself, even if this meant certain individual things were wrapped separately. We had to wait until my parents got up, of course, to dive in! But once they were both awake, we could open presents as we chose, instead of waiting for my dad to distribute them. As you might imagine, the unwrapping didn’t take as long! Also, we’d always have a message from Santa written on the paper plate we’d used for the cookies the night before: the letter spiraled around, following the circular shape. There were never any cookies left. ;)

We spent the rest of the day in our pajamas, playing with our new toys (and in my case, reading my new books). Finally, before dinner, we’d get dressed for my mom’s fancy dinner (a la Thanksgiving), but afterwards it’d be right back to playing!

Nowadays, we still get presents from Santa (even before my niece was born). But usually, we get a few more presents from my parents on Christmas Eve and fewer presents from Santa than when we were little! And Santa still expects a fresh batch of chocolate chip cookies to be left out. This year, my niece is four, so she’s really getting into the traditions, and it’s so fun to watch. Christmas is a time for me to count my blessings, and reflect on the wonderful people in my life. As you can imagine, book bloggers are included in those reflections! I wish you all a happy holiday season, filled with peace, joy and love.

photo credit

65 Comments leave one →
  1. December 22, 2010 7:29 am

    Thanks for sharing your Christmas traditions! Sounds like Christmas was (and is) a great time for your family. I always loved those advent calendars with the chocolates, and we still have some old crafts of mine that we hang on the tree. Every year I say “Are we really putting this thing on here again this year?” pointing to some cardboard creation with a picture of me in elementary school with a really unfortunate haircut, and the answer is always yes. Ugh…LOL! Hope your childhood crafts are more visually appealing (less embarassing?) than mine…since they don’t seem to ever go away! ;-) That’s great how all your gift opening was videotaped for your family so even though your family wasn’t all together, they still got to watch you open their presents!

    Merry Christmas! :)

    • January 8, 2011 2:39 am

      Some of my childhood crafts are definitely embarrassing! lol But they tend to be, say, paper wreaths on the wall rather than tree ornaments. There are some pictures of me from elementary school, but fortunately I didn’t have bad haircuts until middle school, so I’m safe. hehe

  2. December 22, 2010 7:42 am

    What lovely memories. Thank you for sharing them with us. happy Christmas.

  3. December 22, 2010 8:07 am

    Thank You for sharing your Christmas memories, Eva! That was lovely to read. My father is also keeper of the trash, and it is a job he takes quite seriously!

    • January 8, 2011 2:39 am

      I’m glad you enjoyed it! Aren’t fathers amusing?

  4. December 22, 2010 8:51 am

    I’m a little jealous of your insular Christmases! That’s so nice. Not that I don’t love spending the holidays with extended family, but it just puts a little bit more pressure on you. Thank you for sharing your Christmas with me :).

    • January 8, 2011 2:40 am

      I can imagine extended family would increase pressure! My college graduation saw both sets of grandparents and some other random family; I found it so stressful I vowed to elope if I ever got married. I love visiting my extended family, but I’m used to the visits being the only focus!

  5. Nut permalink
    December 22, 2010 8:55 am

    Merry Christmas Eva! Thank you for sharing your lovely tradition. Love how Santa writes HUD thank you note in a circular manner :)

  6. Nut permalink
    December 22, 2010 8:56 am

    Oops! Typo…
    Love how Santa writes his thank you note in a circular manner :)

  7. December 22, 2010 9:22 am

    Thanks for sharing this! I love reading about people’s christmas traditions. Tradition is big in my family so I understand it’s importance, and love carrying bits of that into my life now as an adult.

    • January 8, 2011 2:41 am

      I love reading about others’ traditions too. :)

  8. December 22, 2010 11:07 am

    I love reading these posts and finding out how each person enjoys Christmas. I think it is special how your family made an effort to stay in touch with extended family. Merry Christmas.

    • January 8, 2011 2:41 am

      I’m impressed with my parents’ commitment too!

  9. December 22, 2010 11:26 am

    That sounds so nice and cosy Eva :)

  10. December 22, 2010 2:18 pm


  11. December 22, 2010 3:59 pm

    This is so sweet—thanks for sharing! My dad was in the Air Force too, so I totally feel you on the just immediate family Christmases.

  12. December 22, 2010 5:42 pm

    Thank you for sharing your traditions with us! It sounds so lovely and like a lot of fun. Great to know that others do the Christmas Eve present thing as well :)

    • January 8, 2011 2:42 am

      Oh yeah: Christmas Eve presents are the best!

  13. December 22, 2010 6:12 pm

    Sounds like you have some lovely holiday traditions in your family Eva!

  14. December 22, 2010 6:30 pm

    We didn’t usually have extended family near us either, so I associate Christmas with immediate family celebration and Thanksgiving is the extended family celebration. Hanging around in your pajamas sounds very similar to our Christmases too.

    That must be so fun to introduce your niece to the family Christmas traditions!

    Have a Merry Christmas, Eva!

    • January 8, 2011 2:43 am

      That’s neat we have similar Christmases! Yep: my niece makes the holiday even more fun. :D

  15. December 22, 2010 8:21 pm

    I loved reading about your Christmas traditions! Christmas has always been a special time for my family as well, and we too got presents from Santa YEARS after most people would’ve stopped. I think we tried convincing my parents we still believed so the presents would continue every year!

    Merry Christmas Eva! Wishing you and your family a happy and fun holiday.

    • January 8, 2011 2:44 am

      Lol! I actually *did* believe in Santa until I was 10, so I was a bit of a late-bloomer as a child. In my mind, my parents didn’t have the money to buy so many presents, so Santa must exist. ;)

  16. December 23, 2010 12:19 am

    I so loved reading this!! It reminds me so very much of my own Christmas traditions growing up…I swear we could’ve grown up in the same house :p

    • January 8, 2011 2:44 am

      Ohhh: I always wanted a big brother! I wish we had grown up in the same house!

  17. December 23, 2010 5:06 am

    Eva, I´m so proud that we shared the same Advetn Tour day :)

    Reading stories like yours and thinking of my own, always gets me half anxious, half excited about the prospect of creating magical memories for any future child of mine. The responsibility! :P

    • January 8, 2011 2:45 am

      I’m proud too! :)

      If I ever have children, I imagine that kind of responsibility will stress me out too. lol

  18. December 23, 2010 5:17 am

    I love how every family has their own traditions, and your Christmases sound lovely. Wishing you and your family a wonderful time this year, merry Christmas! :)

    • January 8, 2011 2:45 am

      Thank you Bina! I love the different traditions too.

  19. December 23, 2010 11:48 am

    It’s amazing how similar your childhood Christmases are to mine. =) We do that too, and I HATE knowing what I’m getting ahead of time because it ruins the surprise. Your holidays sound very special, and I love it when people have special memories as opposed to “Oh, we just sit around and drink eggnog.” And I remember spending Christmas day reading too: on the way to my grandparents’ house, in the morning during breakfast, after dinner…
    Gosh, so nostalgic we all are today. =)
    But I hope you have a merry Christmas and thank you for having such an awesome blog, I love reading it… if you want to check out mine I’d be very grateful, I finally got it back up. Happy holidays!

    • January 8, 2011 2:46 am

      That’s awesome we are similar! Nostalgia is perfect for this season. Thank you for the compliments, and I’ll certainly pop by your blog!

  20. December 23, 2010 1:36 pm

    Your childhood Christmases sound so wonderful – it’s fantastic that your family still made it special even when it was just the four of you. Funnily enough we also went to Christmas eve mass, and though I’m not religious any longer some of those memories are actually the most magical. It never felt like Christmas until we’d been to church, sang a few Christmas songs, and finally saw that the star (which grew over the preceding weeks) had arrived. My dad recorded us too and we did have to alternate opening presents on Christmas morning, but we always went to visit extended family over the rest of the day – I hated waiting to get back home to my new books!

    • January 8, 2011 2:47 am

      See, I didn’t like Christmas Eve mass because there were so many people that some years we didn’t get a seat! I remember being annoyed at everyone who never showed up except on the 24th. I was such a judgmental kid! ;)

  21. December 23, 2010 4:42 pm

    Oh I love your memories of Christmases growing up! We always spent Christmas morning as an immediate family and we will get gifts from Santa (my eldest brother is 29, the next brother is 27, I’m 25, and my little sister is 19). :) We were always allowed to get up early and open stockings without my parents. Santa always made sure there was something in our stockings to occupy us until the parents got up. ;)

    Enjoy your holidays and Merry Christmas!

    • January 8, 2011 2:48 am

      You have two older brothers AND a little sister?! I’m jealous. I love my little sister, but I’d like an older brother too. hehe

      Woohoo for stockings! We’d try to guess what was wrapped up until my dad would drag himself out of bed. ;)

  22. December 24, 2010 12:46 am

    I love all the little thoughtful things your family does! Writing on the paper plates after Santa eats the cookies? Too cute! Wrapping gifts in specific paper for each person? Ingenious! You can feel that wonderful warmth and happiness of the holidays coming from these memories. Thanks so much for sharing them! I love it. Since I was an only child, I love hearing how others celebrate Christmas morning.

    • January 8, 2011 2:49 am

      My mom is a HUGE Christmas person, so I think that love really shines through!

  23. December 24, 2010 5:04 am

    Thanks for sharing those lovely memories, Eva! Merry Christmas!

  24. December 24, 2010 6:40 am

    What wonderful traditions — I love it that you each got the exact same amount of wrapped packages. How fun that you get to watch your niece enjoy the season.

    • January 8, 2011 2:50 am

      Oh yes: my mom is VERY big on fairness. My sophomore year of college, she sent little Halloween buckets with candy to me, my roommate, and my boyfriend. They were all in one box and the candy had fallen out in the shipping; when I was diving it up, I saw every type of candy was divisible by three. lol

  25. December 24, 2010 8:24 pm

    Happy holidays, Eva! Enjoy your traditions with your family…they sound marvelous!

  26. December 25, 2010 11:26 am

    Aw, what lovely Christmas traditions Eva! It’s hard when you don’t have the extended family around but in my experience it made my parents, my brother and me a lot closer than we would have been if we didn’t move around so much! Happy Christmas!

    • January 8, 2011 2:51 am

      You know, since I never experienced living near extended family, I didn’t really miss it. Like you, I think it made me extra-close with my sister and parents.

  27. December 25, 2010 2:42 pm

    Thanks for sharing your Christmas traditions, Eva — and how fun that you can pass them down to your niece now.

    (laughing at the stories of you and your sister wrapping! :) )

  28. December 27, 2010 7:40 pm

    Eva, it’s so fun to read about your traditions! I hope this year was just as fun and satisfying to you.

    My son loved counting down to Christmas — we don’t have an advent calendar of any kind but we made a paper chain. He’s walking around these days saying “what comes next?!”

    • January 8, 2011 2:51 am

      That paper chain sounds like fun! I loved seeing all of your creches: my mother has two. :D

  29. December 27, 2010 10:01 pm

    Thanks for sharing those fun traditions and memories! We had a homemade advent calendar which my mom used to fill with Lifesavers and small candies, and sometimes quarters or things like that. We loved it.

  30. December 29, 2010 9:40 am

    What happy memories Eva! Even though my family aren’t Christian I remember we used sit up eagerly waiting for Santa’s address which my Dad somehow managed to get a month before Christmas so that we could write him our letter/wishlist:) Happy times.

    • January 8, 2011 2:52 am

      Aww: that’s neat your parents did Santa anyway!

  31. December 29, 2010 8:08 pm

    We always had to share one Advent calendar, so I got a piece of chocolate every four nights. I loved opening the little door when it was my turn! I never wanted to know what my gifts were ahead of time either. We take present-opening turns, though it’s my brother (whose traditional Christmas morning spot is closest to the tree) is usually in charge. And we still spend the day in our pajamas, playing with our new toys (which now amounts to reading and watching TV series on DVD)!

    I loved reading about your Christmas traditions growing up (even though I’m late in reading them!) — my family shared (and shares) many of them! Happy New Year :-)

    • January 8, 2011 2:53 am

      Wow: sharing an advent calendar is impressive for kids! And I totally spent much of Christmas watching TV-on-DVD. lol

  32. January 2, 2011 12:05 am

    I’m just getting caught up on the final Advent Tour posts and am so glad I got a chance to read this. It sounds much like Christmas with my family, except without the airmail.

    Happy New Year!

  33. January 2, 2011 2:56 pm

    I’m exactly the same – I was never one of those kids who wanted to know what my presents were. I love surprises. :D

    Thank you so much for taking us through your Christmas traditions, Eva. That was so lovely to hear. :) I hope you had a wonderful Merry Christmas. x

    • January 8, 2011 2:53 am

      I’m glad you enjoyed the post! I did have a wonderful Christmas. :)

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