+ Growing up, my mom used to bake (with my “help” when I was young, and my actual help as I got older) dozens and dozens and dozens of cookies and package them up to give to each of the guys on my dad’s shift at the fire department. Although she no longer spends days making and wrapping cookies to give away, she still makes several batches of cookies to have at all of our various family gatherings and just to have around for snacking. Because of this, it just doesn’t seem like Christmas until I bake several batches of cookies. This year, I made four types of cookies to give away. However, I think this might be my last year to make cookies… as much as I love baking, I think I might try to find some healthier goodies to package up next year. By mid-December, I am all sugared and junk-fooded out (not that that keeps me from eating it all, of course).
+ Adam and I don’t exchange gifts for Hanukkah and Christmas. We did the first few years we were together, but then a few years ago we decided to start doing something special together instead. We’ve done fancy dinners, a weekend trip to NYC to see the Elf musical last year, seen a few holiday shows. We get enough “stuff” from my family – it’s nice to just take some time out of a busy month to go out on a fancy date.
+ Because Adam’s family doesn’t celebrate Christmas, we still go up and stay with my parents every year. It’s going to be strange the first time I don’t wake up in my parents’ house on Christmas morning. (We usually go see his parents for a day or two after.)
+ On Christmas Eve, my mom’s side of the family comes over to my parents’ house. We always have pierogies and Gołąbki (pronounced “gawumpki,” a.k.a. stuffed cabbage rolls) for dinner, and probably three or four desserts (not counting the cookies… and the Christmas m&ms and kisses that are surely filling candy dishes all around the house). Before dinner, we break the oplatek and share good wishes with each other for the coming year.
+ On Christmas morning, we wake up and head downstairs. Overnight, my parents put all of the gifts under the tree and filled our stockings. We bypass the presents under the tree and open our stockings while drinking coffee and waiting for breakfast to be ready. (My mom usually makes a breakfast casserole of some sort, although last year we had waffles!) After breakfast, we go sit around the tree and open presents, usually two people opening at a time. (Even as little kids, my brother and I never just tore into the gifts… gift opening has always been very civilized in our household.) We then relax for a little bit, before getting ready to head out for the day.
+ Around lunchtime, we head over to my grandparents’ house to see my dad’s side of the family. Gift opening is a bit more hectic there – everyone is opening things at once, my grandmother is running around tossing presents at each other, there’s no chance to see what anyone else gets. My grandmother gives out gift bags instead of stockings, which usually include, among other things, a calendar she’s received from a charity and an orange. We usually have some appetizers (cheese and crackers, shrimp) and some coquito (basically, Puerto Rican eggnog – my uncle is Puerto Rican). We visit with everyone for a while before heading out to our next destination.
+ Late afternoon, we head to my mom’s sister’s house to see her side of the family again. We don’t exchange gifts on Christmas Eve (which actually is one reason I prefer Christmas Eve to Christmas in many ways… that and the pierogies!), so even though we all saw each other the day before, this is the gift-giving event. Lately, we’ve been waiting to open gifts in between dinner and dessert. Dinner itself usually is some sort of roast, although last year my aunt also had a ham. (There’s something vegetarian for me to eat as well, but it’s usually a substantial side dish, like stuffed onions or risotto… in addition to other veggies and sides.) We open gifts in a very civilized manner here, too… usually three people opening at a time so we all get to ooh and ahh over each other’s gifts, although this side of the family is also big on wishlists, so there are few surprises. However, when someone goes “off list,” it’s usually pretty good. (My Uncle Matt is particularly good at going “off list.”) Depending on how late it is, there might be time for a few board games or a movie before we head back to my parents’ house.
So, in sum, we open gifts all day long and eat lots and lots and lots of food. Sounds about right, right?