In my family, Christmas Eve is the most treasured part of the season. When my daughters were tiny, I remember their over-the-top excitement and anticipation that too often climaxed in spectacular tantrums. I also remember my older daughter, at 3 or 4, refusing to leave her post by the dining room window, convinced (even in the middle of the afternoon) that she would spot Santa.
In our small New England town, a cherished community tradition is the Carol Sing around the town tree. At 7:00 (or maybe it is 7:15; you would think I would know by now, but I never do), hundreds of people--old people and babies and dogs with bows around their necks and lots of over-excited children racing around--gather for about twenty minutes to sing carols. The leader stands on a platform, and one memorable year he fell off into a snow bank.
For almost thirty years, our tradition has involved a major dinner at our home. For years, the group was small enough to fit around the dining table, and we took out my grandmother's china and the best crystal and everything else to make it beautiful and festive. We used to plan the dinner around the Carol Sing. Since we wanted the children to eat something other than chocolate, we would have soup first and then recess to sing. Returning, we would enjoy the rest of the meal and lots of good wine.
Our group has grown to include beloved stepchildren and now their families and dear friends and their families. We barely fit into the house, let alone around the table. We are into the next generation of small children who, after dinner, sit on a sheet in the hall and are given hammers to destroy and then gobble Vivienne's beautiful gingerbread house. The Carol Sing continues (some of us go, some of us stay behind to eat and drink, and some of my Jewish relatives especially enjoy this opportunity to sing carols) and the fabulous food continues, and, most of all, the feelings of love and friendship and gratitude continue. Given my own health history and the scary things that have happened to others in our group, we count on these traditions. How we love them and each other.
From my house to yours, Merry Christmas.