For as long as I can remember, my family on my mother’s side has gotten together the Saturday before Christmas to celebrate the holiday with a dinner and gifts. When I was younger, the dinner was held in a grade school cafeteria. It later moved to my grandmother’s church fellowship hall. Around 2006, when my grandmother moved in with her eldest daughter, the dinner was moved closer so it was held in the gym of the church that I grew up in. That’s where it is still held today.
It’s an informal setting and not as comfortable as a home, but the size of the family has always been the excuse for having it in these places. Supposedly, no one had a house big enough to hold everyone. That’s actually not true, but it’s a good excuse to keep everyone’s house clean. So each year we fill up the car with hot pots and pans of food and lots of gifts and off we go.
When I moved to St. Louis in 2001, I stopped going to the dinner because I would go home for Christmas Eve and Day instead. Several years ago I started going again for the sake of my grandmother. The dinner in 2014 was her last. She died the following week on Christmas Day. The picture on this post is of her and her children at the dinner in 2013. My mother is the one in green.
Since grandmother’s passing, the numbers have slowly dwindled and we know that eventually we probably won’t have the dinner at all, but it’s carried on for the sake of family and tradition for now. This year there were only 20 adults and 3 small children at the dinner. One of the sisters and her family didn’t come for some reason. Several first cousins and their spouses were out of town or sick. But I was there once again.
In the past, when it came to gifts we exchanged names. There’s always people who don’t want to participate, so I think some people would end up having to draw more than one name which wasn’t fair. Eventually it was decided we’d play a version of Dirty Santa where you bring a gift, draw numbers, and can steal a gift from someone or open a new one and so on. The game is up when all the gifts have been opened.
During the time I stopped going they played an all male version and an all female version. Now, everyone is combined and you just sort of bring a unisex gift. There are still people who don’t participate. For those who do, sometimes the gifts are nice and sometimes they are duds that you know no one will end up stealing from you so the game is over for you…like a popcorn tin! But it’s still fun to see what people end up with and what gifts become the most popular to steal.
This year I started with a floor lamp, which was stolen from me halfway through the game. I chose to open another gift and ended up with a small keychain device that is an alarm, flashlight, and window punch combined. To meet the $10 minimum there was also a small bag of crunch candies wrapped to look like coal. Sigh…I knew I was stuck with that one and indeed the game was over for me. But no matter, it’s not about the gift for me, although it is for some people which is why they don’t play. (They got tired of popcorn tins!)
It’s about being with family during the holidays and enjoying each other’s company, even if we are sitting at cafeteria tables in a church gym. The food is always good and for some relatives, it’s the only time of year that I get to see them.
What are your Christmas traditions that have been taking place for as long as you can remember?