Christmas Eve is like a mixed tape in our family.

Candlelight flickered and cast a warm glow inside the old log house. Dinner was long finished and the remnants tucked away for another day. The children were scrubbed clean, cozy in their pyjamas and eagerly awaiting the arrival of St. Nick. A candle burnt too low, stuttered and went out. “Maman, you have to find another candle.” The mother, prepared for this eventuality, placed a fresh candle to join the flickering lights of the others on the Christmas tree.

A pine tree. With needles drying by the second. A. TREE. Adorned with open flames.

This was one of the traditions that we brought with us when we emigrated from Europe.

When you are part of a culturally diverse family different traditions get slotted in here and there, as they fit. While we lived in Germany, and spent Christmases with Opa and Oma, silvery candleholders designed to clip onto pine boughs fit. We moved to a 19th century log home shortly after arriving in Canada, and while our family continued many of the same traditions we had known in Europe, the candles were discarded after two seasons. Perhaps the habit of deliberately lighting a tree on fire inside a log house became too ridiculous to continue. Part of me believes it was also for convenience that my parents switched to strands of lights easily arranged and replaced if necessary.

Though we sent that one packing, still other traditions lasted and found their way into a new generation. On December 24th, and late into the night, we would make our way upstairs to wait out Mr. Claus. My brothers and I took turns looking out a window up at the stars and arguing about which blinking light signaled his arrival. The three of us did this even when we were past the wide-eyed wonder stage. It was something our parents enjoyed doing and we loved playing along with it. Even as teenagers. Today, with children of our own, my brothers and I continue the tradition.

We gather at my parent’s house every Christmas Eve. There is food and chatter; we play games and listen to carols late into the night. NORAD’s Santa Tracker helps us keep tabs on the big guy. Once he nears we hide out and wait, remembering to leave brandy and cookies – poor guy has enough milk sloshing around in his belly by that point and needs a warm up with a bit more kick. The kids listen closely for the telltale bells and then it’s a madcap dash down the stairs and around the corner as our socked feet send us all sliding towards the tree.

As new immigrants we adopted the tradition of hanging stockings on the chimney and tested out opening gifts on the morning of the 25th. That was unanimously voted out. There was only so much adapting we kids could do. New country. New friends. But keep the presents coming on the 24th.

Our families have grown and so have the traditions. This is what I love about Christmas; making room for the old and the new. Excitement. Anticipation. Family. It makes me giddy and sappy all at once.

D and I have created our own tradition. We wrap late into the night several days before Christmas and Love Actually plays in the background providing the soundtrack to the evening. Really it’s D wrapping late into the night because I pass out on the couch part way through, but let’s pretend I pull my weight.

What is your craziest or most treasured tradition?

Told you it makes me sappy.

PS. This is not an endorsement for placing candles on trees. Don’t do it. What were we thinking?

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Tags: Christmas, candles, family, humour, traditions

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