Movies like Holiday Inn and White Christmas have helped shape our image of an American Christmas. The truth is, most of the country rarely, if ever sees snow during the season and the holiday traditions are as varied as our people.
Extended families gather at different times, some on Christmas Eve and some as much as several days later. In some families, Santa (See photo) wraps all the presents and in others, the Jolly Old Elf just spreads them out under the tree, resulting in a visual overload on Christmas morning for all the good little girls and boys.
Down South, our brothers and sisters near the Mason-Dixon line have a much better shot at a white Christmas than those in Florida. Once in a blue moon, North Georgia is blessed with snow on December 25th, but usually the best we can hope for is a cold drizzle. Not much good for sledding, and danged sorry raw material for building a Frosty.
As a child, my extended family always held a grand reunion at my maternal grandmother’s house on Christmas Eve. Seeing how my mother had several siblings and they all had several children of their own, the annual gathering was quite a crowd, replete with youngsters hyped up in keen anticipation of Santa’s arrival later that night.
Gifts would be exchanged among my mother’s brothers and sisters while the grandchildren compared their wish lists and begged to go home for fear St. Nick’s impending appearance would catch them away and he would bypass the house due to a “not nestled snug in their beds” violation.
The highlight of the evening was my uncle’s fireworks display. I say display, but it was mostly a car trunk packed with explosive contraband that he had smuggled in from Alabama. Fireworks were (and still are) illegal in Georgia, so the older children and adults would seize the rare opportunity to light a fuse or two in a little pre-Christmas game of blow off your hand.
Grandma lived out in the country, so there was little chance that a neighbor would call the police just because someone had been disrespectful enough to shoot a sky rocket through their dog house. However, those were the days of real M-80s and Cherry Bombs, and invariably someone would toss one into the fireplace, thereby spreading a lot more than Christmas cheer around granny’s living room.
Following the evening of food, fun and scorched fingers, the candy-fueled, over-excited children would be carted off to their respective homes where they were read “A Visit From St. Nicholas,” stuffed into their pajamas, thrust into their beds, and allowed to toss and turn like a Caesar’s salad until finally drifting off to sleep. In the wee hours of Christmas morning, I would occasionally hear strange noises emanating from the living room as Santa uttered unintelligible expletives while attempting to assemble a bicycle using inadequate tools.
Apparently, Mrs. Clause accompanied Santa on his rounds as I sometimes heard a female voice in the night reprimanding the old elf for his choice of adjectives. She kept calling him “Earl,” which must have been his middle name.
Christmas morning would begin with one of my siblings or myself waking up first, then rousing the others. Under strict orders from our parents, we would first stampede to their bedroom so they could go check to see if Santa had come. Following a cursory inspection of the living room by our father, we were allowed to enter where toy mayhem quickly ensued.
As a child, annual rumors spread around my school that the little Catholic children were required to get dressed and attend Mass on Christmas morning before they could open their presents. All the Protestant youngsters would hold little impromptu prayer meetings where they would offer up thanks to God that they were not born Catholic. (We could still pray in school back in the day.)
Whatever your faith, whatever your traditions, this Christmas morning be thankful that you live in the greatest country in the world where you can celebrate openly and in your own way, without fear or intimidation.