For almost my entire life, the Sunday before Christmas has been dedicated to Christmas with my Mom's side. It moved from Christmas Eve to Sunday about 30 years ago and, besides one Saturday exception in there, I've spent every Sunday before Christmas for 3 decades, in Ohio, celebrating with family.
Growing up it was one of the Christmas celebrations my sisters and I looked forward to the most. There were cousins (I get Luke's love of cousins) and presents and food and Grandma & Grandpa....there really isn't anything NOT to like there. It was always the kickoff to our Christmas celebrating, a wonderful, long, day spent with dear family.
When Grandma & Grandpa built their last house, they had a large basement with a giant room we could all, at one point, fit in together. We'd sit in a big circle (which expanded over the years as the number of people increased and we all grew up) and do our big exchange. It included everyone from Grandma & Grandpa down to the youngest cousin or great-grand. We' all write a few ideas on index cards and draw names at Thanksgiving. Even just with the 36 people in the initial family, this took awhile.
That's what I think of when I think of Christmas at Grandma's. All
sitting in a giant circle,
talking, laughing, and exchanging presents. Eventually our circle had to expand to include a second row as dates, fiances, spouses, and great-grands were added. Going down in my Grandparents' basement in these later years, those gatherings were always what I though of.
There were the stockings my aunt had made for all the grands and great-grands (like these). There was the candy plate my Grandma would keep passing around. (When Matt was taking apart the chairs we got from Grandma's house (the
yellow/green patterned ones seen to the left in the above picture), we
found a wrapper that I am 98% sure came from one of those Christmas
candy trays which made me smile and a little nostalgic.) There was starving a little because we wouldn't eat until supper but with our driving and arriving around 1 we never remembered to eat lunch before going. There was the sweating because cramming 40-50 people in that basement, even in December, even in a blizzard, got hot quick. (You could spot the newbies by their sweaters.) There was singing Christmas carols for our stockings and comparing gifts with cousins.
A few years ago, Grandma's last Christmas, we finally outgrew Grandma & Grandpa's basement and moved to a hall. I'd have to do some serious math and thinking to figure out how many people we were at then (I'm going with 50ish). Christmas wasn't quite the same when we weren't all sweating it out in the basement but it was still the same wonderful people all together, with our stockings, food, and each other.
Last year we had, by my count, 74 people in attendance with 15 of those kids under 3 (there was a bit of a baby boom).
And that was the last year.
With Grandpa dying in the spring and everyone's lives being busy it's hard to schedule when we don't have the unifying person we used to have. It'll be the first year of my life to not celebrate Christmas with extended family. Two days ago was my first "Sunday before Christmas" spent at home, in town, in 30 years. It was always the celebration that kicked off our Christmas celebrations and now it's over.
It can be a hard part of growing up. Events that used to be so big, people so involved, but that eventually might fade away. The one thing you can count on is change and sometimes that's day to day, sometimes after decades, but nothing can stay the same forever.
Celebrating Christmas at Grandma's, with all my cousins, aunts, uncles, and grandparents, remain among some of my happiest and fondest childhood memories. Even all packed in the basement. Even when it was 85° indoors in December. Even when it meant ~10 hours away from home right before Christmas. Sometimes it hurts to grow up. How lucky we are though, to have those close family memories, all those years celebrating together, all those people who are important. I'm very lucky to have them all in my life, even if it's in a different capacity than they used to be.
You learn about the importance of family when you are packed together like that, spending time together regularly. And I'm so grateful and happy for that.
(We also have 4 weddings next year just on that side of the family sooo...it's not like we're not going to be seeing people...)