Christmas Eve, this is the day reserved for my grandmother. It is not a question, it is not negotiable, it is a fact. Just as I was raised that Sunday is the Lord’s day, Christmas Eve is my grandmother’s day.
The planning for Christmas Eve starts on Thanksgiving Day, another day that my grandmother commandeered as her own. My entire family assembles for Thanksgiving dinner; this includes my mom, step-dad, brother, sister-in-law, nieces, nephew, grandmother, step-grandfather, aunts and uncles, step-aunts and uncles and even some family friends.
As soon as Thanksgiving dinner is over, all 30 to 40 of my assembled family members wait for me to start the spreadsheet. I have planned ahead this year and already have two bowls full of names. The children draw other children’s names if they draw their sibling’s names they must redraw. Adults then draw other adult’s names, if they draw the name of an adult in their household, they must redraw. There is not much discussion of the name drawing that night, but the following weeks make up for it.
The next few weeks are then filled with phone calls and text messages with variations of “Whose name did I draw?” and “Are you sure?” I answer these questions, dispel arguments when my aunt inevitably tries to steal a name from someone else, and remind parents which names their kids drew. Then comes the argument between my two cousins Micah and Brady, who try every year to convince the person with their name to buy the other a gag gift.
With three days left before Christmas Eve, comes the crisis. What main dish do we cater this year? My grandmother will cook. She will cook so much food that we do not need a main dish, but she will insist that we have one anyway. As my mom, aunt and uncles spend the next few days debating what to order and who will pick it up, my grandmother will be busy in the kitchen. She will make all of her traditional dishes including three layer coconut cake, ham rolls, sausage balls, strawberry trifle, millionaire pie, praline cheesecake, homemade Mounds bars, cheese balls, spinach dip, and will add to it anything new she has found on Pinterest. Yes, my grandmother is on Pinterest.
Christmas Eve will arrive with no one knowing what was catered until my uncle Jeff shows up with Subway. We combine all of my grandmother’s homemade wonderful dishes with Subway platters. We pretend every year it will not happen again. And yet, year after year, my uncle Jeff shows up with Subway.
Next, comes the waiting. We must wait. We wait until my brother, uncles, and cousins have come in from hunting, we wait until my perpetually late mom arrives, and then we have to wait on my Aunt Teresa to come back from the store that she always has to go to “for just a minute.”
My uncle Jason then leads everyone in prayer, and we all eat. After dinner, everyone turns to me again. It is now my job to hand out the presents that have slowly gathered under the tree as everyone has arrived. I must do this strategically because the younger kids will get impatient if they do not have a present right away, yet we always open presents one at a time so that we can all “ooh” and “ahh” over each other’s gifts.
After the gifts have been exchanged, I have made Brady and Micah apologize for whatever they have done to each other, the wrapping paper is cleaned up, and hugs have been given, it is time for everyone to head home. Usually, my Aunt Teresa and Uncle Randy leave first because they have the longest drive of anyone besides me. They come from Tupelo, 30 minutes away.
Over the next hour, everyone trickles away until it is just my grandmother, my step-grandfather, my little cousins who live with her, and myself. It is quiet, my grandmother is happy, and we both breathe a sigh of relief because we know we have 11 months before it all starts again.
The first time I realized that my holiday traditions were different than most was when I was in third grade. I remember hearing my friends talk about going to their different grandparents for Christmas, traveling long distances, and even taking family trips together. I remember asking them, “Why don’t you just stay with your family here?” I was too young at the time to realize how fortunate I am for it not to be a special occasion for me to see my family.
It is important, for me at least, to note that this year will be different than ever before. My Uncle Jason, who always led the family in prayer, has passed away and will not be with us this Christmas Eve. However, my family, especially my grandmother, will not abandon this tradition. I would even say that we hold onto it even more now than we did before. We will gather, we will exchange presents, and we will love each other the only way we have ever known, which is to be together.
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Amy Goodin is a writer for HottyToddy.com. She can be reached at argoodin12