My Christmas stocking contained both deodorant and concealer, which leads me to believe that Santa Claus is telling me to take a hint. Then again, my brother Tom received tooth-whitening products from no fewer than two separate family members, one of whom was me. (We don't only give each other personal hygiene items for Christmas, in case you were wondering. Nope, they work quite well for birthdays as well.)
Now that it's all over, did you have a lovely Christmas and/or totally regular weekend during which most of the shops and restaurants were closed? We certainly did, with all of my siblings converging upon my parents' house in San Diego, just like something out of a Diane Keaton movie (I was thinking more The Family Stone than The Godfather, though your mileage may vary.) We ate, we drank, we ate and drank some more, and then we played Balderdash and collapsed like human turducken in front of the fire. Then we did it for the next five nights until it actually was Christmas.
This is your brain on Christmas dinner.
One of my very favorite things about Christmas—I would say my favorite thing, but please bear in mind that this is also the time of year during which a glug of Baileys in one's morning coffee is universally accepted—is that it is pretty much always exactly the same, from year to year to year. For the past 31 of them, in fact, my Christmases have followed a solidly unchanging pattern: we eat the same food, we play the same games, we sing the same songs, and we say the same things. As I've got older and realized how many things in life are unreliable and ever-changing, I've found it more and more of a comfort that Christmas always stays reassuringly the same. (My brother Luke wrote about this way better than I could have done right here.)
So this is how we do it. Our ritual always begins a few hours before it gets dark on Christmas Eve, when we get out of the house; sometimes we go to a carol service, sometimes we just go for a walk. This year, we went down to the beach.
I apologize if you are reading this from Minnesota or Canada or somewhere and are incensed by the presence of flipflops on our feet.
When we get home, it's dark and we change into our finery, the definition of which has changed a little as we've aged (I, for one, have retired my Christmas-themed dresses with frilly collars in favor of a nice sparkly top and jeans. Maybe the good mascara.) We eat the same food we've eaten every Christmas Eve of my life—lots of sandwichy finger food type things—and then we open our presents from our extended family overseas; stockings and presents from immediate family come the following day. This is a holdover from my dad's German side of the family, and the way he always did it growing up.
When we were little, Christmas Eve was also the time in the proceedings that we were visited by "German Santa," who would always mysteriously materialize to deliver the overseas presents just as we were out of the room. (Curiously, we never saw English Santa either, though that didn't stop my brother Tom from making Santa Traps in his room every year in a valiant attempt to catch him. One of them involved some sort of slingshot getup that left a large hole in the wall when Tom tested it beforehand, which I think my dad was less angry about than he would have been if Tom hadn't tested it and it had left a large hole in my dad instead.)
After the eating and drinking and overseas-present-opening on Christmas Eve, we have a family singalong. No photographic evidence ever exists of this, because it would be too easy for other people to use it as blackmail material. One year we took a video of us doing the Twelve Days of Christmas—complete with actions—and now none of us can ever run for public office.
In the morning, we wake up to stockings on the end of our beds. I think stockings on the end of your beds might be a particularly British thing, because Sean was baffled by it; his stocking, growing up, was always hanging from the fireplace. Because my parents still humor their 31-year-old, 28-year-old, and 22-year-old kids with this particular tradition, we've started returning the favor and making stockings for them as well; my dad never had one growing up so he has been particularly pleased by this development. Especially now that he is old enough for it to contain a miniature bottle of whiskey.
Once stockings have been opened and mimosas consumed, it's time to open the presents under the tree. This year, I made a gross error, and decided to wrap all of my presents in brown kraft paper. In my head, this looked minimal and sleek and understated. In reality, however, it just looked like I'd wrapped all of my presents during the second world war, when no other supplies were available.
"Awww," said my sister Susie, mock-sympathetically. "Did you ask for wrapping paper in your ration book and not get any?"
Thanks for nothing, Pinterest. Next year I am buying as much crappy commercialized wrapping paper as I can get my hands on.
Christmas Day is a blur of present-opening, champagne-drinking, and the consumption of everything edible within a three-mile radius. We eat around 3pm, at the table my sister and I have set the day before.
We pull crackers, wear the hats, tell the awful jokes, and—once we've reached the point in the meal where even glancing at another potato would cause spontaneous combustion—we take turns reflecting on the previous year and our hopes for the new one. That sounds very Oprah, I know, but basically, we just answer questions that I've written down on scraps of paper and tucked under each of our plates.
The rest of the day passes in a pleasant stupor—one of my other favorite things about Christmas is that you seem to drink all day and yet never get drunk—and in the evening, we play some sort of game; this year it was Balderdash, which I feel it is my duty to mention that I won. Sometimes there is cheese, if we're not too stuffed, and sometimes there is eggnog. Then there is sleep, glorious sleep, and we wake up the next morning looking forward to doing it all again the next year.
So that's my Christmas, but I'm curious about what yours looks like. If you celebrate it, does your day follow roughly the same pattern? What do you do differently? What are your traditions? Stockings on the end of your bed or hanging from the fireplace? And if you don't celebrate it, do you spend the day a particular way?
(There are more pictures of our Chrismas 2011 here, none of which, unfortunately, contain my new steam mop, which I unwrapped with the unrivalled glee that my Self Of Christmases Past would have unwrapped a new pair of rollerblades or a Barbie Dreamhouse. That's right, Internet, I put a steam mop on my Christmas list. Wait for it, wait for it: a bread box, too. Somewhere, my 18-year-old self just rolled her eyes in embarassment. Whatever, 18-year-old self: like a lava lamp was so cutting edge.)