It’s Christmas Eve and I feel as giddy as a child because this evening my big extended family will gather together at my niece’s home to celebrate together. It’s quite a shindig with people traveling from the north, the east and the west to be together as one great big crazy family. It may quite possibly be my most favorite evening of the entire year.
Time was when we gathered at my Grandma Ulrich’s house with all of my aunts, uncles and cousins. I still can’t believe that all of us fit into her tiny home but we somehow managed to cram inside where the noise and laughter was so loud that it must have been heard in downtown Houston. We feasted on apples and oranges and mixed nuts and old fashioned hard candy while my grandmother reveled in having her whole family around her. I always thought it was the most magical place on earth.
Eventually my grandmother died and one of my bachelor uncles did his best to keep the tradition alive but it was never quite the same and when he too left this earth nobody had the will to host such a party each year. That’s when my brother stepped up to have a celebration at his house for our branch of the clan. On the first occasion he made Rueben sandwiches for everyone and a new way of partying was born. Eventually his daughter took over the reigns as the family grew and grew.
It has long been said that only the bravest of souls dare to attend one of our Christmas Eve parties. It’s a way to determine whether or not prospective brides or grooms will be able to adjust to our wild group. Only the strong survive the noise and the chaos that we think of as great fun. It can be an unnerving experience but once someone proves to have what it takes, they tend to embrace the fun and long to be part of it each year.
We are a very open and loving group. We like anyone and it shows in the diversity of ethnicities, political persuasions, religious convictions, and personalities of the people that we embrace unconditionally. Nobody has to be a certain way for us to love them, but they will have to have a bit of patience with the roar of conversations and laughter.
Our gift exchange can get rather competitive and certain members of the family are particularly good at knowing how to walk away with the best possible gifts. They possess strategies that win year after year while the rest of us resolve to figure them out in the next round of the game. We take our rules for the sport quite seriously and each year there is someone who wants to change them at the eleventh hour. So far we have prevented such a travesty.
I spend an entire year searching for something that will garner the fancy of the crowd. Some years I have done well. Others I have sensed the disappointment of someone who chooses the Echo Dot that I brought and doesn’t know how to use it. Everyone likes gift cards but there doesn’t seem to be much thought or fun in that so I strive for the unique.
Sometimes I just sit quietly on the couch observing all of the fun. I’ve watched my children and nieces and nephews grow from children to adults with families of their own. We always seem to have a new crop of children to delight us with their Christmas time innocence Our own heads are greying or balding and our skin shows wrinkles of age but somehow we don’t feel old at all on Christmas Eve. We become like kids again.
I keep reading that the family unit is being threatened and that time with extended family is becoming less and less common. I truly hate to hear that because it has been the crazy crew of relatives who have sustained me through all of the uncertainties of my life. On that first Christmas after my father died it was at my grandmother’s house on Christmas Eve that I knew I was going to be alright. I felt the outpouring of love all around me and understood that I was part of a group that would never let me and my brothers down. Somehow they never did.
Now my brothers and I are hopefully sending the same message to our children and grandchildren. They are part of a loving group that will always be ready to embrace them. There is no more important knowledge to give our young.
I suppose that I have been very lucky to have a yearly reminder of my good fortune. Not everyone has experienced the joy of being loved by so many. I hope with all of my heart that our tradition continues through the coming years. It is a living example of what the Christmas spirit should be.