Monday, January 7, 2019

Is It Too Late to Talk about Christmas Eve Traditions?

I know that for most folks, the Christmas season is officially over.  For many (sadly!), it ended on December 26, or possibly January 1.  But even if you're a Catholic who knows that the 12 Days of Christmas actually go from Christmas Day until Epiphany, you have to admit that perhaps it's time now to think about putting away the wreaths and garlands.  Epiphany is behind us, after all.  For a blogger, it's time to move on to other subjects, right?  I mean, who wants to read blog posts about our family's Christmas traditions at this late date?

If you're saying, "Not me!", then you've been warned and can leave now.

But you see, I was so busy just enjoying the festivities during the Christmas season that I didn't blog too much about my favorite holiday.  So I'm going to take this opportunity to talk a little bit about it (before I start taking the Christmas decorations down next Sunday, which is the Baptism of Our Lord and probably a good time to do it--although I've heard some people hold out until February 2, Candlemas...hmmm).

I love reading about other families' unique Christmas traditions--whether they be special faith-related practices or just plain family fun activities.  Popular blogger/writer/speaker/IG star Bonnie Engstrom recently wrote a blog post about her family's "Elf"-watching tradition ("How We Watch Elf"), and I just loved it.  I may need to start something similar with my grandkids one of these years, and I don't think Bonnie will mind if I copy her (imitation being the sincerest form of flattery and all).

One of my favorite Pearl family traditions is our Christmas Eve dinner, a not-overly-traditional celebration involving take-out pizza and Christmas crackers.  This is what it looked like this year: we had just our youngest son and his girlfriend with us, because the rest of the gang---our four oldest, their wives, and our 14 grandchildren--were going to be with us the next day, for Christmas dinner.

I was trying to remember when and how we actually started celebrating the night before Christmas this way, so I thumbed through a lovely little hardcover memory book titled "Deck the Hall" that my mother-in-law gave me as a gift in 1991, wherein I recorded memories from 10 Christmases (1991 through 2001).  If I haven't taken this sweet book off the shelf in a while, it is so touching to flip through it and see us the way we were, back when our boys were wee lads.  When I began recording our memories in 1991, our oldest son was 8--just a year older than the oldest of his five kids, his 7-year-old twin girls--and our youngest wasn't even born yet.

Anyway, according to what I jotted down in this book, it looks like the first year we opted to have take-out pizza for our Christmas Eve dinner was 1992--and I suspect the menu we chose that year had a lot to do with the fact that Mommy was 8-plus months pregnant and very tired.  But the boys loved it so much that we decided to make it an annual family tradition. They proclaimed, after that first time, "We should have this every year!", and thus a tradition was born.  Even when they outgrew the "Pizza is the best food on earth" mentality, it remained our favorite way of doing things on December 24. We ordered pizza from Little Caesar's (a New England fan fave), or sometimes Pizza Hut, and ate it on fine china in the dining room; and truly, for our boys at that time in their life, that was a more spectacular dining experience than any they could imagine.  Add sparkling grape juice in wine glasses and tons of iced sugar cookies, and wow, could life get any better?

The following year, 1993, I thought it would be fun to add something more to make our Christmas Eve goings-on even more our own; so I bought English Christmas crackers and put one at everyone's place.  We popped them open together and took out all the goodies hidden inside: we put on the paper crowns, oohed and ahhed ironically over the terrible, cheap prizes, and as we ate our pizza feast, we took turns going around the table to tell the corny jokes typed up on little squares of paper.  So 1993 was the year we really solidified our plan for how we would proceed each year.  Pizza and Christmas crackers.  We only messed up one year, when we forgot to call for the pizza before every pizza joint in town closed early for the holiday; that year, we had hors d'oeuvres and desserts for dinner, but we still had our crackers and crowns!

Back in about 2000 or so, I made up a "Recipe Book" for each of my boys as a Christmas present.  My oldest son had asked me to give him my recipes for certain desserts that he loved, so that his future wife could make them.  (Isn't that the best?)  This was well before I was aware of Shutterfly or anything remotely like it, so I made up hand-lettered pages of recipes rather inexpertly on card stock, with photos and illustrations added.  I had five photocopies of each page run off over at Staples, and then I put the copied pages in plastic sleeves in binders.  (Super professional-looking, as you can imagine!)  Along with the recipes for foods, I included some extras like "Recipe for Making a House a Home."

And here are the pages for "Recipe for Christmas Eve Dinner."

So that's how we do it.  Or at least, how we always did it.  (And of course, alcoholic beverages were added, as our boys came of age!)

Now that our four oldest boys have families of their own, they are making their own traditions.  We will probably seldom be all together for Christmas Eve henceforth, but I hope they carry fond memories of all the years we celebrated this way together in their hearts.

Those memorable nights--gathered around the dining room table in paper crowns, laughing too hard at not-funny jokes, anticipating the joy of Christmas morning--must have made an impression on our oldest boy, at least.  Because he and his wife decided that pizza-and-crackers would be the Christmas Eve tradition in their household as well. It is so wonderful seeing it being carried on with the next generation of Pearls.  #success


  1. We usually go to my parent's house on Christmas Eve and in the past would do something like heavy appetizers, but this year we ordered pizza and it felt so inspired- no extra cooking or dishes! We'll definitely do that next year too. :)

    1. Yes, it really is a nice way to relax on Christmas Eve. And if you have young kids, they usually think it's the best main dish imaginable. So win-win. Everyone's happy!

      After so many years of doing this, I don't know if we can ever change! I'm very sentimental about it!

  2. That book you wrote for your son, that is so precious! a family heirloom.
    Well we had pizza for the first time on Christmas Eve this year, a new tradition for us and I think we'll keep it going.
    For the past several years we've been endeavouring to take family photos when all the children are home. This year I decided if we got dressed up for photos for the Vigil Mass, 6pm (two birds with one stone) and went to the local park after Mass before we lost the light, it's summer here and daylights savings so we still have light till after 8pm. we could do photos then.
    It was a roaring success, all relaxed adn we played in the park till after dark and picked up pizza on the way home. new Tradition

    1. Your Christmas Eve sounds so dreamy!! It definitely seems like a perfect new tradition to look forward to every year! :)

  3. Replies
    1. I have absolutely loved this being our tradition. Even if we only have one or two of the boys with us on Christmas Eve from now on (or even if it's just the two of us!), I want to keep doing it forever. <3

  4. I love this! I'm a nut case for traditions, whatever they might be. I think the sights/sounds/smells of them bring such warm memories. My family Christmas eve tradition is oyster stew (which I don't even care for) and my husbands is Norwegian meatballs and lefse. For now, we do both, neither is a particularly hard meal to make. I watched my sister in law teach my 4 year old how her Grandma used to roll the meatballs up in lefse and it was the sweetest thing. We have slowly created new traditions for our little family while carrying some from each of our sides and it is just perfect.