Until I was nine years old, I lived with my family in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. When I was younger, my family pulled out all the stops for Christmas–it was some movie-worthy stuff. We had a live tree and the blanket to cover its stump and tons of kitschy homemade ornaments to put on it. We had wreaths for the windows and door. We had a pair of cute white Christmas-light wire deer that went in the front yard every year–appropriate since we lived on Staghorn Drive–and lights decking out the front of the house, too.
Every year my brother and I would put out goodies for Santa… except, instead of milk and cookies, those goodies consisted of milk and a SlimFast cookie dough-flavored bar. My dad would sneak down in the middle of the night and take two or three bites of it. We’d also leave out baby carrots for the reindeer, which also mysteriously disappeared.
On Christmas morning, we did not run down to the tree to look at the presents, as most kids might have. No–we knew that Santa ran late every year when he came to our house and that he would drop off all the presents while we were at Christmas Day mass. And, strangely enough, right after we all piled into the car to go to mass on Christmas Day, Mom would mysteriously forget something and have to run back into the house.
My brother and I stopped believing in Santa Claus fairly early–it was before I was nine years old. When I was nine, we moved to North Carolina. Somewhere between the move and a couple years later, most of the Christmas traditions faded away. The light-up wire deer went to the trash. We had an artificial tree instead of a real one to avoid the mess of fir needles everywhere. The presents appeared under the tree several days before Christmas, and we were grown-up enough to leave them alone until Christmas Eve, when we’d open them all instead of waiting till the next morning. We stopped having white Christmases as soon as we moved down south because of the weather, of course.
These days, we don’t do much around the house for Christmas. At some point during my high school years, my brother and I lost interest in helping to decorate the tree and my mother stopped lugging it down from the attic every year. Now the most we end up doing is putting a wreath on the outside door.
But now we also spend our actual Christmases in Myrtle Beach, where my father’s parents moved a few years ago. My grandparents’ condo is too small for a real tree; they have an artificial one about half the size of our old one. But it is always lit up and decked out in the corner of their little living room, and under it spreads an array of wrapped gifts. My grandparents’ condo is always warm and warmly lit. During the Christmas season, my grandmother is always up at all hours baking twenty types of homemade cookies, brownies, apple pie. My mom and my grandmother alternate cooking huge homemade meals on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. On Christmas Day we go to mass at Our Lady Star of the Sea, which is always gorgeous and always packed, and then we come home and spend the rest of the day lazing around together, eating leftovers, and watching Redbox movies.
My Christmases now have no snow, no Santa, no gingerbread houses. But I have learned that Christmas is not about the aesthetic or the stereotypical celebrations. These Christmases are much different than the way we used to celebrate them when I was young, but that’s all right, because now they are more ours than ever.
I hope that everybody this year has as lovely and merry a Christmas as I am expecting to have, full of warm hugs and warm cookies and smiles, if not snow. Whatever your holiday traditions may be, they are yours, and I hope you love them as much as I love mine.