Monday, December 24, 2012

Christmas Eve rituals

Growing up, Christmas Eve was always magical. We weren't religious (and still aren't) but like many mixed-culture families we heartily embraced Christmas for, basically, the pageantry. Or the decorations. A tree indoors! How amazing! Fairy lights! And of course for all us greedy son-of-a-guns, PRESENTS!!

But Christmas Eve was special on its own without gifts. My father actually kept one big log all year to use as our yule log, and it was the night that the lights on the tree were allowed to be on all night long, which we though was positively daring, in the face of potential fires caused by a potential electrical short in the lights.

I would creep downstairs and lie on the sofa, gazing at the way the colored lights cast fancy delicate shadows on the ceiling, and just felt in my shivery bones that something special was happening. Even after I no longer believed in Santa Claus.

This year, when August is smart enough to have language and yell "SANTA!!" every time he sees an image of old St. Nick, which he seemed to pick up via osmosis from the world since we certainly were not the ones who taught him the word, things feel special again. There has still been the angst of choosing the right presents and they're still not wrapped. But Christmas Eve has come back.

Our rituals are not in place yet—we're sort of thinking about opening one present tonight, having some warm drinks, and watching "The Snowman", an animated gem from 1982. When I was a tween I recorded it off tv onto a vhs tape, and would watch it again and again. The full half-hour is on YouTube and I watched it the other day, and I had absolutely no recollection that it has an introduction by David Bowie, back in the most beautiful shining blond era of David Bowieness. And the whole film stirred me once again.

My favorite part is when the snowman flies off with the little boy (you didn't even know the snowman could fly) over the white British landscape, over towns and churches, and then they fly out over the sea. You see the sleek backs of whales in a realistic way, choppy waves and then fjords, pine trees, icebergs, GLACIERS. When they arrive at the north pole you have a sense of just how far away it is, like as far as another world. But one you can get to if you are lucky enough and believe hard enough.

So those are our plans for today. Believing in magic. Tomorrow is about big gatherings and gorging on presents and capitalism and food, today is just for us.

Do you have any Christmas Eve rituals? We want to gather all we can.


  1. My favorite Christmas eve traditions are that we eat a whole meal of appetizer food, get to open one gift (traditionally pajamas to wear Xmas morning) and watch the 1950s Christmas Carol, that my dad used to watch as a kid.

    Merry merry!

  2. Our family always opens one gift too! After the Christmas Eve service and the clam chowder. Before hanging stockings up. And then we watch the Christmas with Robert Shaw special taped off of PBS when I was in middle school. Or the Peter, Paul, and Mary special that was recorded the year my sister was born, but kept playing until we got a VCR 10 years later.

    Merry Christmastide!