Thursday, December 4, 2008

Torture them with tradition

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.

18 comments:

Laura ~Peach~ said...

lovely tradition...is your brother adopted too? is he searching as well? inquiring minds need to know :)

Mrs4444 said...

This is a beautifully written post; I love it. I miss midnight mass; maybe I talk everyone here into it some time, but we are pretty entrenched in our own traditions: early mass, then home to open our NEW PAJAMAS, followed by a formal dinner by candlelight (in our pajamas). These days, we sleep in on Christmas morning (I have teens), and that's wonderful :)

Mary Ellen said...

Laura~Peach~
My brother was also adopted (21 months before me, also shortly after birth, not blood related to me) and as far as I know has never searched for his bio's.

Unfortunately, we are not that close. He's my only brother, and I love him, but we grew up to be very different people. And he, unlike me, doesn't feel the need to share his every inner thought! Since our parents died, he and I don't see each other that often.

I have heard that more women than men actually search out birth families...something in the estrogen, perhaps?

Andrew Scott Turner said...

My mother also allowed my sister and I ONE (Dammit!) gift for Christmas Eve and one year I got a box of 4 Crayola Crayons.

Did you get that, MET?

Crayons

64 of them in a box

Are you following me here?

My OWN MOTHER got me crayons

(Years later she also bought me a new RCA 13-inch COLOR TELEVISION when the black and white version was $50 less

Wonderful World of Weiners said...

You are a smoosh ball and a softie. I've seen you try to act all tough but inside you're just a little kiddo proudly wearing her new (hopefully feety) pajamas!!

Love that about you!
H

Sarah Laurence said...

How much fun to come across another Maine blogger. I like the pun of your blog name. Good luck finding your birth parents. The character in the novel I'm writing now (NOT CRICKET) is doing just that. Your Christmas memories sound special.

Becca said...

OMG, our parents must have colluded. we had the EXACT same traditions!
today, I don't go to church, but I still make Christmas eve special and give the boy new jammies

BlueBella said...

I love this post!!!
We used to BEG to get to open one present on Christmas Eve, and then wait until midnight and BEG again to open the rest of the presents . . .it was, after all, Christmas! Some of my favorite Christmas memories are of my sister and & actually convincing our folks to open all our presents after midnight. . . wahoo! And we still had presents to open in the morning because Santa came!
Thanks for sharing.

Michelle said...

We also got pajamas to open on Christmas Eve. When I had my daughter I continued the tradition. Although my daughter still loves this and has fun "looking" for what she wants and then I buy them. She is 21 now. I have been the pj buyer for all of my family since then. I even get my brother. Good luck on your search.

Michelle
By way of WWoW

kim-d said...

I think it sounds like you had a lovely childhood, Mary Ellen. Your parents sound like wonderful people. How long has it been since they passed away? Man, that really puts a whole different spin on things, doesn't it? This constantly missing people...man, it can be exhausting! :)

Okay, I think all parents are in cahoots on the Christmas Eve package containing the new jammies. I had the same thing!

~*amber*~ said...

We have that same tradition in my family and I too am passing it down. If it happened to not be pajamas from the parents one year, it was a new winter coat (we lived in the north you know) and we were allowed to wear it to church because that one could be opened before church.

Midwest Mommy said...

What a great tradition. I don't think I could get my kiddos through midnight mass.

Trying to Stay Calm! said...

Hey, I am new here! What a great blog :)

Heather said...

We have the Christmas Eve tradition, and have as long as I can remember. One gift, always PJ's.

Its nice to find more Maine bloggers. I'm just back after quite some time off. Its nice to "meet" you!

Vegas Princess said...

We always went to Midnight Mass too but the opening one present on Christmas Eve tradition was from my husband's side of the family so we have incorporated both into our family. I love those traditions that we can pass down.

Sue said...

My parents did the jammie thing Christmas Eve night too! And of course, now I do! I love it!

AirmanMom said...

ME...lovely post! Thanks for sharing such a great memory! Truly, it is not until they have children of their own, do they understand!

~AirmanMom returning to her blog...

Shellie said...

What wonderful memories! My daughter resents that I don't give the Christmas eve pajamas. Because, no one will keep their pj's on long enough to bother buying any. They have to strip down before they can sleep. We have hand me downs from cousins we keep trying to get used to them with. Our Christmas pictures? We're all a mess. And per Chilean tradition we open the presents on Christmas eve (traditionally AFTER midnight mass, but we're not masochistic enough parents to wait that long, plus, it's winter here!) so, if you've followed this run on sentence, we don't even have bed-head as an excuse.