Thursday, January 8, 2015

Christmas Day

I didn't go to bed as late as I usually do on Christmas Eve, so I expect that I will be get up early, like four o'clock early.  I sleep until six.  In a different year, this would cause me a lot of panic.  I would be running around like crazy trying to get things done.  This year, I take it in stride.  I get up and start prioritizing.  I take things down stairs with me as I go, figuring that the most important thing is to check on Christmas stockings.  I have always done this first thing, just in case any helpers wake up early.  It is important to be sure that Santa has arrived to fill the stockings, just in case I am up too early.  I have never beaten Santa to the task yet.

This year the stockings are a little lean, there are the usual socks and underwear, some poprocks candy, a toothbrush and a piece of small jewelery for the girls, a small toy for Alex.  It is helpful that the clothing takes up so much room, the stockings are overflowing.  They look good anyway.

Steve hears me moving around and comes down to start cooking breakfast meats and chopping veggies.  I rearrange the kitchen with a toast station, and set up a beverage table in the living room.  We are hoping to have many people over for breakfast this morning.  This is a Christmas tradition we started when we moved into our house sixteen years ago.  We wanted to give something to our friends for Christmas, and decided to give them a place to come where we could feed them and show them how much we appreciate and love them.  It gives friends who travel a place to get a good place to begin, and for those with no place to go, a warm, lovely start to their day.

For us, it is a morning of hustle and bustle.  My children have enjoyed helping out to the extent that they don't even mind not opening stockings first thing in the morning.  In the beginning when they were younger we tried to get to them first, but after a while, it became more about the breakfast we were giving our friends than the gifts they were getting.

Everyone in the family has a job that has evolved into their own special contribution.  Kaileigh is the toast maker, Ayla makes the menu and takes orders.  For years her friend Hannah has helped take orders, but last year she moved to Amsterdam.  This year our niece Julia filled in for her.  Steve makes omelettes, Alex keeps an eye on the beverage table, and I keep up with the dishes, baked french toast, and anything else.  In between, we try to socialize with our guests, which depending on the time of morning can be a little or a lot.

Kaileigh and Josh are the first of my children to arrive.  Josh helps slice bagels, and we put self serve items on the table.  There are simple ice breaker games for people to play, although most of our friends are familiar with one another by now.  Kaileigh makes a fruit salad.  Ayla, Chauncey and Powder arrive next, Ayla hurries to dash off menus.  For some reason, we always leave this job for last, but Ayla always makes impressive hand written menus on the fly.  Alex is ready to help too jumping in where ever he is needed, directing the flow of the kitchen, drying dishes, anything.  We've got everything set up just as the first guests arrive at nine.

I am a little nervous only a few people will show, since neither Steve or I remembered to remind people in advance.  We always let our friends know they are invited whether or not we mention it, so we hope people will come by.  Just to be sure I send out a quick face book notice, which could mean we get even more people than ever.  I didn't do a specific invite, I invite the public.  In the end, we see about forty friends. 
Powder sporting her new sweater.

People are  encouraged to draw on the tablecloth.
This year, I shirked my duties in the kitchen and did more socializing than anything else.  Sometimes I feel overwhelmed by the number of people in my house and find the kitchen a safe retreat, but this year, perhaps thanks to the chemo, I flit around happily chatting with friends and enjoying the good cheer.

Our last guests arrive around twelve, as we start to wrap things up.  It has been a busy, fun morning and we have seen many of our friends.  I think about friends who have moved away, are traveling or live too far away to join us. There are those who are no longer with us, like my mom and dad.  They are all loved and missed.

My sisters arrive with my nephew Brian just as we are getting the kitchen cleaned up. They bring in gifts and put them under the tree.  I start to make some broth for our dinner later today.  For the past few years we have tried to come up with ethnic themed dinners, this year we mix things up and go with food that needs to be dipped.  We will have a hot pot for the main course, with vegetables, pasta and meat that is dipped into a common hot pot of vegetable broth to cook, and fruit with chocolate fondu for dessert.  I throw a variety of vegetables and herbs into a large pot of broth and let it simmer while we open gifts.

Steve, my children, me, my sisters, Brian, Julia and Dan all gather in the living room,  each person usually choosing the same spot they may have occupied on this day for years. Our exchange is slow and deliberate; I hand out gifts, one at a time, and we watch and appreciate each gift that is opened before the next one is passed out.  It takes a while to unwrap things, sometimes it can be hours.  I don't know if we do things this way just because this was how my grandfather handled gift giving when we were children, but it seems like a much nicer way to go than to have everyone unwrap all their gifts at the same time.  There is time to pause and see how people like receiving what you have carefully chosen for them, rather than missing out because so much is going on.  It is peaceful and less chaotic.

It is fun to have my nephew Brian with us this year, he is four and so excited.  He becomes a great gift elf, delivering things to people across the room for me.  This keeps him busy until it is his turn to receive a gift, each item met with excitement and a gleeful smile. 

When our gift exchange is done, we try to get a feel for what people need to do for the rest of the rapidly disappearing afternoon.  We decide six is a good time for dinner.  Steve, Kaileigh and I start to work on chopping and prepping for dinner until everyone returns.

Even though dinner is approached with skepticism from some, it is a success.  There is some kind of food that everyone likes, and at the end of the meal, no one is hungry.

While some members of my family tune in to watch Dr. Who, the rest of us gather to play a new game, called Hit or Miss.  It is list making game, where you need to match as many or as few people as possible, depending on the roll of a die.  It is a fun way to end a very busy day.

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