All of my life, Christmas Eve has been the best part of the holidays. When I was small, and then again when my daughters were small, there was the excitment of Santa's arrival as well as the known presents and decorations and music. Likely overwhelmed by holiday preparations and because she didn't care much about food and didn't like to cook, my mother downplayed Christmas Eve dinner. Her excuse was that we had to get to church on time, but I suspect the other reasons were the truth. I have a memory of canned spaghetti one year; I hope it was not always so bad.
Since I care way too much about the food, I spend many happy hours planning holiday meals. For years, we had family and close friends around the dinner table. Over the years, the crowd grew, and we transitioned to a lavish buffet. Fortunately, everyone contributes favorite dishes, so all the food preparation does not fall on me. Here is our schedule: Guests come around 6:00 (except for family who have been showing up all day), and we begin to eat and drink. At 7:00, about half of the crowd bundles up and goes to the town square, around the town tree, for caroling. I remember the year that the song leader, waving his baton too enthusiastically, fell off the platform into a snow bank. I remember all the years that my daughters ran through the crowd with a pack of over-excited children. I remember my parents loudly singing their favorite carols. It is one of those moments when past, present, and future merge into one intense bittersweet emotion.
Back to the house to eat a delicious and enormous meal and enjoy the annual demolition of the gingerbread house. My dear friend, Vivienne, makes the house each year and sacrifices it to the chlldren on Christmas Eve. We put the house and all the children on a bedspread in the hall, hand them hammers (under close supervision) and watch them destroy and eat it. People marrying into our long-standing Christmas Eve crowd have been given hammers as a wedding shower gift. It is marvelous that we now have a second generation of children loving this approved aggression and gluttony.
This year, we have a full house, and I am so happy to have all of our children and grandchildren with us. All except the youngest spend the night as the Jewish side of the family has figured out that Santa comes to this house, making it clearly the best spot to be. We do have a menorah, surrounded by holly, as the centepiece on the table as we honor all of our traditions.
Our stockings are hung by the chimney with care. I hope that yours are, too. Wishing you and yours a Merry Christmas and Happy, Healthy Holidays.