When I was a child, we had a lot of rituals surrounding the Christmas holiday. One that really stands out to me is what happened every year on Christmas Eve. We always had a delightful evening filled with hors d'oeuvres (no dinner, just decadent desserts and little pastry-wrapped hunks of goodness). Then, around 10:00 we'd all get gussied up for Midnight Mass.
We always arrived at Midnight Mass around 10:45. My mom was the organist, and she always played beautiful Christmas carols for folks to enjoy as they arrived. Since she was a big shot, we got the best seats in the house - the balcony. You could see everything and everybody from the front row of the balcony, and I loved it. My dad and brother were usually on the altar (Dad was a lector, doing readings and such, and my brother was an altar boy).
The service was absolutely the most beautiful of the year to me. I was completely enthralled by the story of Jesus' birth, and couldn't take my eyes off the enormous Nativity scene at the front of the church. When, at the appointed moment in the story, one of the altar boys placed the ceramic baby Jesus in the creche, I remember not being able to breathe for joy. I don't ever remember being a tiny bit tired, even though this was hours past my normal bedtime.
If I stop and think, I can still hear the voices of all the parishoners singing Joy to the World and Hark the Herald Angels Sing.
When we arrived home, we (the kids) were allowed to open one gift - a gift PRESELECTED by my mother. It was always the same - pajamas. Nice, new, flannel nightgowns or two-piece pj's, which we would put on and wear to bed while we waited for Santa to do his magic.
When I had my first child, I made sure that I kept up the tradition. Every year my kids are allowed to open one gift (preselected by me!) on Christmas Eve after church. And it's always pj's - or, since they were teenagers, flannel or fleece sleeping pants and long sleeve t-shirts. Same difference, really.
And they groan and grumble about it - just like I used to do. "Let me guess what it is..." they'll say, or "PJ's - who would've guessed that?"
I love it. And when they ask me why I insist on torturing them like this, I tell them they'll figure it out when they have kids of their own.
Because that's when I figured it out. Make sure they look nice for their Christmas morning photos! Thanks, Mom. Works like a charm.
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