Yes, I gripe a lot about hosting the family for Thanksgiving. But Christmas is another matter altogether. I don’t mind hosting our big family get-together at all. There’s no sit-down meal, gifts abound – and the food possibilities are far more interesting.
But it’s the people who really matter.
When I was little, my grandmother held Christmas Eve parties in the basement of her downriver bungalow every year. We would drive along Grand River Avenue to Grandma and Grandpa’s house in the weak afternoon light.
The house was always hopping. Grandma was running up and down the stairs, working the kitchen and basement stoves at once – and not always in the best of spirits early in the party. It was crunch time for her. My three siblings and I clambered down to the basement to see our six cousins, Grandpa, aunts and uncles and great aunts and uncles. We kids were all about the same age, so it was a rollicking good time. We would tear off our shoes and scream around on the shiny basement floor in our socks.
We were a tad noisy.
But the adults didn’t mind. They were pretty loud, too. My mother’s family didn’t get together often, so Christmas Eve was all about catching up with the relatives we adored (and sizing up the ones we didn’t). Some drank a few beers and others had a strangely named drink called a "highball." I’m still not so sure what THAT was, but the drinks made them quite merry.
The adults didn’t change much over time. The kids always had the same faces, but we grew different each year. We all moved on from wearing generic kids’ clothing and haircuts to developing our own styles and interests. Over the years, we became people. Individuals. It was interesting to watch my cousins grow up.
There were traditions. Grandma always leapt up a third of the way through the meal yelling, "Oh, I forgot my buns!" The adults exchanged gag gifts and laughed themselves silly, often unable to show us kids what they were laughing about. By the end of the evening we’d received piles of presents and Grandma could finally relax and joke with us, usually with a saucy twinkle in her eye.
On the way home we would enjoy the twinkling lights lining Grand River and sing Christmas carols.
I really loved those parties. They ended when Grandma got a little too old to run up and down those stairs. And then she and Grandpa passed away. Their cute bungalow was sold to strangers.
In recent years I’ve hosted the big family shindig on Christmas Eve, and I’m hoping this will be the best one ever. In the last 10 years, my sister and brother have moved back to Michigan – along with their kids and even their kids’ kids. My sister is travelling from Virginia, and we will have over 25 people at my house!
I’ll probably be a little grumpy when everyone arrives, as it will be my crunch time. But I’ll get merry after a while. And I won’t even need a highball.
There will only be five mall kids running around and tearing up the toy box, but my girls will adore having kids their own age to play with, seeing their exciting older girls cousins and unwrapping the piles of toys I predict will come through the door. I’m sure it will be utter chaos. But it will be so much fun.
And sometime that night, I’ll think about Grandma and how hard she worked to make Christmas special for us. And I’ll be sure to thank her for getting our tradition started so many years ago.