When I was growing up, our family tradition for Christmas was to go to Midnight Mass at Holy Trinity Episcopal church in my hometown of Bonham, Texas, then return to our house with all the church people for a big party. This meant the party started around 12:30 or 1 in the morning on Christmas Day and usually went until 3 or 4 am. At that point, we kids were all scurried off to bed and then around 6 or 7 am when we little ones woke up with visions of sugar plums in our heads, we rushed into our parents’ room to wake them up so we could hurry downstairs to see what Santa had brought us. The rule was that there was no opening of gifts until everyone was there.
Now one might argue that the wee hours of Christmas morning was a questionable time to throw a party, but I certainly remember the few times we weren’t expecting guests after Midnight Mass, and it felt slightly anti-climatic. The truth is – upon second thought – I hardly ever remember a time we didn’t have this Christmas party for our fellow Episcopalians, and since Anglicans (we were good Anglo-Catholics despite our location in tiny rural Texas) are notorious drinkers, then I always recall those parties filled with happy people who were celebrating Christmas together with a liberal dash of whiskey, scotch, gin, rum, beer or wine, depending on personal preference. Kids were chasing each other through the house while the adults chatted, laughed, drank and smoked and the older kids were upstairs doing exactly what the adults were doing downstairs with a sincere hope they wouldn’t get caught.
The only problem with these festive Christmas parties was how it conflicted with Christmas morning activities. My parents stumbled downstairs looking the worse for wear, particularly considering they probably had had about ten minutes of sleep since they had to set up the “Santa Claus” display for me and my five other siblings immediately following the final goodbye to their guests.
The way Christmas morning worked in my house was that my parents took our baby pictures, which were all done in a sepia tone by the same local photographer, and they placed the pictures in various chairs and on the couch next to our presents from Santa. Nobody waited to see what other people received; no, nothing so polite as that. When it came time to open presents there was a flurry of paper tearing and box opening that would have been impressive to an outside observer. The sound alone would have been noteworthy; all that paper tearing and wadding amidst shouts of happiness that Santa had brought the exact right model of toy airplane or the exact right color for that new bicycle. Santa did a pretty good job of bringing exactly the right gifts, most of the time. Except for the Barbie debacle, which was completely indicative of my mother’s views on girls and what was acceptable and what truly wasn’t for her little daughter.
The story goes that I requested a Barbie and some accompanying clothes for one Christmas when I was around ten (1963). My mother, who didn’t approve of Barbie and her clearly sexualized body – big breasts, unrealistically slim waist and perfectly proportioned hips – instead explained that Santa had found these adorable little dolls – flat chested and looking a lot more like me than Barbie – and he had brought them to me because they were age-appropriate. Of course, as a kid I was disappointed. All my friends had Barbies and I just wanted one, too. My mother never, ever understood that Santa had not hit a homerun with that gift. I remember her looking particularly pleased when I was busy playing with those dolls instead of the Barbies that my friends would bring over. My dolls did, after all, have a full trunk of clothes that came with them.
So, I grew up with a wild and frenzied Christmas morning that started just past midnight and ran until about 9 am when the whole family – post present-opening – yawned and returned to our beds. We all slept for several hours and then the Christmas lunch preparation occurred and friends began to drop in.
These are happy memories. The primary focus was the open door policy of our household. I suppose when you have six children who have many friends, you might as well embrace the revolving door. Plus, our church friends were mainly our every day friends, too. The only missing persons at that early Christmas morning party were our local family. However, they arrived shortly after our midday Christmas lunch and remained for much of the remainder of the day.
I sorta wish that Ray and I were carrying on the family tradition of a party post Midnight Mass. After all, it’s easy to be all keyed up from that spectacular event and a post-church gathering feels like the right release valve for all involved. Alas, a party is not in the offing this time. Perhaps next year, Ray and I will have a conversation about that.
As for tonight…I believe I will now head to bed. I have been busy with Christmas preparations even if they are more modest than my parents’ holiday party.
Sleep well, my friends. I will check back in with you tomorrow.