As the Christmas season approaches, tradition and nostalgia play a tremendous part in how folks are choosing to dress, decorate, cook and shop. As a cultural melting pot, America is steeped in holiday traditions from all over the globe. Every family abides by those special customs that, without them, Christmas just wouldn't feel like Christmas.
As our country is rich in cultural Christmas traditions, so are we in Trumbull County. One of the wonderful things about living here is the diverse ethnicity that makes up our area. On Christmas Eve, Italian Americans, including my best friend's family, celebrate the Feast of the Seven Fishes. As the name states, this feast typically consists of seven different types of seafood eaten in anticipation of the birth of the infant Savior. Her family always dines on delicious foods containing calamari, shrimp, smelts and more. A Christmas Eve without it just wouldn't be right.
German children traditionally open their gifts on Christmas Eve, rather than on Christmas morning, as we did in our home. I'm sure we also observed the holiday that way because we spent the entirety of Christmas day visiting both sets of grandparents and our overabundance of relatives.
I have to give a great deal of credit to my parents for making Christmas so very special for me and my siblings. They went to extraordinary measures to ensure the day was as magnificent for us as it could possibly be. My amazing parents made a deal with Santa Clause so that he brought us our tree, stockings, decorations and presents every year all on the night of Dec. 23. When we went to bed that night, after my father read "'Twas the Night Before Christmas" to us (another beloved tradition), our house looked just like it did every other day of the year. Our annual ritual was to line up on the stairs, mom first then kids youngest to oldest. Then we'd all excitedly romp down the stairs to see what Santa had brought. Our eyes and hearts were filled with Christmas joy. Later that night, we got dressed up and attended midnight mass every Christmas Eve at Christ our King Church.
Another fond family reminiscence, as well as at my paternal grandparents' house, was the tradition of opening our gifts one at a time while everyone else watched instead of passing them out and opening them all at once like in other families. One person was selected to be "Santa" and was responsible for distributing the gifts. Yes, the opening of gifts seemed to last for hours and usually had an intermission for a bathroom and refreshment break in the middle, but, what better way to stretch out that most special time with our family.
My husband remembers his father dressing them up in "goofy outfits" (his words, not mine) every year and taking them to Thalheimer's Department Store to take a family picture for the annual family Christmas postcard. He also remembers setting up his mother's nativity scene in the house every year. Our family's was always located under the tree.
Now that my husband and I have our own family, we've continued to observe some of our childhood Christmas traditions, but have also created some with our children. As we did when I was a child, we leave carrots for the reindeer and cookies and milk for Santa. We also still read "'Twas the Night Before Christmas" each year even though the kids are growing up and starting to think it's corny. One thing we've started to do each year is to make an ornament that my husband and I bought on our honeymoon the last decoration placed on the tree before we light it.
Whether they originate from child or adulthood, it is funny how these familiar customs, even idiosyncrasies, somehow become a part of who we are. Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night.