Christmas Eve. One of the best nights of the year, right?
Growing up, when my grandparents still lived in Park Ridge, we would travel about 45 minutes down Rand Road in the blue minivan for the festivities. This included a large amount of heavy appetizers and a traditional German dinner consisting of ribbon sandwiches which have layers of olive salad, egg salad, and tuna salad. A rhubarb jello mold, a relish tray, and unsalted plain potato chips would round out the meal. As a kid I didn’t like one aspect of dinner aside from the potato chips, of course, but it didn’t bother me one bit. It was Christmas Eve and this is what we ate.
In between apps and dinner we would be opening the gifts in the dark wood paneled basement that was lit up oh so brightly by the mixed colored lights on their perfect (fake) tree. I mean, this is the plastic on couches generation – no way was that tree real. My Papa would always be cracking jokes – often teasing my nana and mom in the process, even though she would give him the best gift there was every year: a hand made authentic German nutcracker. I remember how excited my mom would be to pick it out each year from the Christmas store in Long Grove, agonizing over the Uncle Sam style vs the Irishman when in reality it didn’t matter at all. Papa loved it so much simply because it was a gift from her.
On our way back home late at night, half sleepy half totally buzzing from excitement, I swear I would see Santa’s sleigh across the sky. I always kept this to myself though. It felt more real that way.
Once home we quickly ran upstairs for our sister sleepover, which equaled very little sleep and more guessing what Santa would be bringing us. I think we were on the wooden stairs by 5AM the next morning. Gosh, now that I’m a parent I realize how painfully early that is. I apologize.
Since the years have passed, the locations and people have shifted, as often happens, but the traditions have remained. It’s funny how things 30+ years later can feel the same even in a different home, adding in a husband, kids, etc. The night feels just as familiar as a long time ago and that credit goes to none other than my mom. It’s a cherished role to keep traditions consistent and one that she has always excelled at.
So, fast forward to 2014. What has changed? Well, very little. To start, we hit up the 4PM service at my parents church. Do you remember how difficult that was to do as a child? I honestly thought I was going to burst out of my skin from the combo of Christmas excitement + being forced to quietly sit still. We break out this sketch, made by my sister Allie, every year for a good laugh. That would be her and I goofing off while our parents give us ‘the look.’
After church, we dash home to immediately preheat the oven. Christmas punch gets going while my mom works on this list: (please note the ‘are menu’. Love.)
Yes, she makes 10 appetizers. For 7(ish) people. And 12 sets of cookies.
After we are completely stuffed, we grab refills of our Christmas punch and head into the oh so perfectly set up living room (pictured above). A mountain of gifts are exchanged and toys are instantly opened. There is a lot of smiling, a lot of playing, a lot of generosity, a lot of new christmas pj’s, and a lot of wrapping paper which my dad always seems to be a pro at cleaning up at top speed.
Even though we are all still quite full, up next is Christmas Eve dinner. And it’s the exact same dinner my Nana made. Things are tweaked a bit (pb&j ribbon sandwiches have since joined the routine for the kids/my sister Talia) but the original recipes are all still there. Just as it should be.
After that, my crew heads down the road (roughly 2 minutes) to our home, gets tucked in with new jammies to blissfully dream of sugar plums while M and I enjoy a glass of red on the couch with White Christmas. And you know what? In that few minutes it takes to get home, I still look up to the dark night sky. He’s so there, right?
And with that, I’m signing off. It’s been a wonderful year on A Life From Scratch. I love this blog so much – for the connections I have made and for the memories I can look back on. Thank you for being a part of it and for your support. I wish you all a very Merry Christmas, and I will see you next year!