In addition to being super grateful that I am not spending this year recovering from major surgery (I can walk around! And go places! And do things!), I’m feeling super nostalgic for all the Christmas Eve rituals that mom and dad and I used to participate in.
Santa photos took place from the time I was a(n ugly—according to mom) baby until I was 12 at the Frederick & Nelson downtown (Nordstrom now occupies that building. It’s a really beautiful building!), sometimes in outfits my mom made herself. When I was 10, I wanted to wear jeans instead of the skirt that went with the satin blouse mom made. I remember her being really upset about this, but I wouldn’t budge. My favorite thing about the Santa pics was that it meant we were going to the F&N café for lunch, which involved Frango CAKE afterwards. That, and the awesome windows that you could place your hands on to control the trains (Macy’s STILL has these!).
Christmas Eve always involved cookie making in the morning (sugar cookies cut into Christmas shapes; butter spritz, jam-filled thumbprints) and wrapping the last of the gifts to place under the tree. And this was ALWAYS done to the same three holiday albums: Elvis Presley’s Blue Christmas and just his plain Christmas Album, and of course, Christmas with the Chipmunks—ALLLLVVVVINNNN!
We listened to them so much that whenever I hear a song from one of the Elvis albums, my brain immediately expects the next one on the album to come up and gets totally confused when it doesn’t.
Christmas Eve also involved food, and lots of it. Traditionally baked ham, but without any of that pineapple slice bullshit; mashed potatoes; the ever-present 70s green bean casserole, white dinner rolls, and fruit salad (canned fruit salad mixed with COOL WHIP, fresh bananas added). Plus, pre-dinner snacks—lots and lots and lots of them.
Including: Grandma’s cheese dip (which we eventually just renamed “garlic dip”, because 6-8 mashed cloves definitely = more garlic than cheese); a “salmon” ball, which is really just tuna mashed into cream cheese with liquid smoke and green onions and rolled in parsley flakes; wheat thins, chicken in a biscuit, and ritz crackers usually with sliced cheddar and jack cheese, and occasionally a fancy smoked or port wine cheese ball rolled in almonds; a bowl of assorted nuts that you had to crack open yourself; various chip ‘n dips; a veggie tray w/ranch; and the very important tray full of dill & sweet pickles and pitted black olives, which all the kids placed on their fingers and then ran around pretending to be olive monsters. PLUS—trays and trays of Christmas cookies and homemade fudge and Frangos.
This is how I grew up, and this is why I never understand it when people don’t put food out before holiday meals. Especially when the arrival time is like, 10am, and the dinner is not usually ready until 6 or 7pm. I still make the cookies, “salmon” ball, and garlic dip every year, and they’re always awesome because they taste like my childhood.
After the presents were all unwrapped and dessert was had, my uncle would do some ridiculous routine involving “hearing Santa’s sleigh”, and the families would pack up all their loots and separate back to their own houses. At ours, that meant preparing for Santa by leaving out a plateful of cookies and a cold Rainer beer.
I probably should have guessed that my dad was Santa LONG before I woke up one early Christmas morning and heard him swearing while putting my new bike together, but hey—I just thought Santa might need a beer more than a cold glass of milk after a long night of delivering presents. That’s what mom & dad told me! Also, dad always left the empty beer bottle and 1 cookie with a bite out of it for me in the morning, which was really convincing.
Even though mom lives a few states away now, I still carry on most of those traditions (singling along to Elvis by myself!). And bonus! I get to open all the presents she sends our way on Christmas Eve—something which Jonathan seems to think is cheating. But I just cannot mess with tradition! Plus, it means I get to open presents for two days instead of one, which is a pretty boss deal.