Thanksgiving and Christmas have always been our family’s most highly anticipated celebrations of the year. Each year, siblings and cousins take turns hosting Thanksgiving dinner; yet there are many times close family friends are included on the guest list. The family who is hosting dinner provides the traditional turkey dinner with all the trimmings, like stuffing, potatoes, vegetables and gravy. Since our families have grown to include children and grandchildren, each family contributes to the meal. One cousin or sibling will bring baked ham and sweet potatoes, another will provide lasagna, yet another will bring an antipasto or relish dish. Several weeks ahead of the holiday, each family member agrees to bring something to the table, including rolls, beverages, condiments and various types of desserts. Because of our Italian heritage, one of us always brings Italian rice balls and homemade cannoli.
After we have finished Thanksgiving dinner and cleared the table, some of us watch a football game while others play Michigan Rummy, card games or board games. This is probably one of the only times we play old-fashioned games. Younger children will play Wii, while some of the older generation may nap. We serve dessert an hour or two after the main meal. If there are any leftovers, we put them in containers and offer them to anyone who wants to take them home.
We have found that most people want to stay home on Christmas Day so the children can play with their new toys. Therefore, we started a tradition of celebrating with family on Christmas Eve. One of my cousins is married to a man who loves the idea of playing Santa Claus. He owns a custom-made suit with black boots, a natural-looking wig and a custom-made sack to carry gifts. It seems he never tires of being Santa. My cousin and her husband hosts a Christmas Eve party every year, inviting siblings, cousins, close neighbors and family friends. One month before the celebration, my cousin starts working on her menu, which includes oyster soup, egg drop soup, sweet and sour meatballs, lasagna, baked ham with pineapple, black bottoms, and a huge punch bowl of homemade eggnog. Each family invited must bring a side dish, rolls or dessert. Two weeks before the big day, parents pick one small gift for each of their children and deliver them to my cousin’s house, where they are wrapped in gift-wrap and placed in Santa’s sack.
The Christmas Eve party begins at 6 p.m. with a buffet-style meal followed by singing Christmas carols around the piano. At 8 p.m., Santa arrives amid squeals of pleasure from the youngest of the children. He has each of the children (of all ages) sit on his lap to tell him what they want for Christmas, then digs in his sack to give them one gift for being good all year. To enforce the idea of Santa, all the adults are also given one small gift (although they do not have to sit on Santa’s lap). My cousin and her husband shop for inexpensive gifts in bulk for the adults. One year, the men received a small tool kit while the women received cookbooks. Another year, the men received pen sets and the women received silver ring holders. At the end of the evening, each child must pick one candy cane from the Christmas tree. These candy canes are very special because the children are allowed to eat them on the way home. Then they have to go to sleep so Santa can bring the rest of their gifts to their homes.
The idea of a Christmas Eve party with friends and relatives works very well for our large family. There is no rushing to open gifts on Christmas Day just so everyone can get ready on time to have Christmas dinner elsewhere. The children are happier being able to enjoy their new gifts instead of having to leave them behind for several hours. We still have a Christmas dinner in our own homes on Christmas Day, but on a much smaller scale with less prep time and work to do.