When I was a kid, I believed in Santa. Even after I turned 6 or 7ish and my aunt told me he didn't exist (thanks!), I still believed in the magic of Christmas. My parents were never religious, even if we did go to church for a few years when I was little, so Christmas wasn't about Jesus so much as the celebration of family and such.
Each year my mother would put up the Christmas tree the weekend following Halloween. Seriously. I used to make fun of her but this year I found myself excited to do the same - even if I haven't actually managed to get it put up yet. I realise that my mom wasn't crazy, just festive. She would turn on the lights faithfully each and every night, inside and out.
Other than that, there didn't seem to be a lot of other festivities. I don't remember carolling or anything like that, I don't think we even listened to Christmas music other than on Christmas Eve and day. These days, I listen to the Christmas music online for the entire month of December. I prefer the secular songs (Frosty, etc) rather than the overly religious ones, but enjoy them all, nevertheless.
On Christmas Eve we would all beg my mother to open a gift. My dad was the worst culprit. I think he was the one who started the tradition and it has continued from there. We were only allowed to open ONE, and we didn't get to choose it. My mom did.
When we were REALLY little, Mom would also wrap little tiny presents and hide them in the tree. That was in addition to our stockings. Oh, our stockings...my Mom eventually started getting so many stocking stuffers that she had to custom make ours. They were HUGE-a small child could have fit into one! And they were always crammed full of individually wrapped gifts.
Our presents from Santa were always wrapped in special paper and had different hand writing on the tags. They were very distinguishable from the other gifts. I think my Mom still buys and wraps presents from Santa.
Christmas night was always a tough time for me, since I found it impossible to fall asleep. I was always so excited! I'd wake up early and creep into the living room. We were allowed to open our stocking stuffers if we woke earlier than my parents, which wasn't often. Then we'd open all our other gifts and have breakfast. Depending on whose turn it was that year to host the dinner, in the afternoon we'd head out to my Aunt Elva's or Aunt Sandra's, or stay home, for Christmas dinner. My mom and her two sisters used to rotate the responsibility for Christmas dinner. On Boxing Day we'd go to my Dad's sister's house for another dinner with his side of the family.
In the last few years we've kept a similar tradition, but Christmas Eve has taken on more importance. Now that my brother and myself are grown and live on our own, we go to my parents' home in the afternoon of Christmas Eve and stay the night. We have a nice dinner and hors d'oeurves later in the evening and listen to holiday music and play games and such. A little alcoholic imbibing also takes place. This year will be Delilah's first Christmas! I can't wait.
I haven't gone to my Dad's sister's place in the last few years, so we'll see if we make it this year. Most of my cousins haven't even met Delilah. My aunt Elva will be hosting Christmas dinner this year to make it easier on my grandfather, who lives with her. He's losing his sight and life has been difficult for him lately.
It's amazing how much things change from when you're a kid. Family traditions evolve, disappear, and new ones continually develop. It will be interesting to see how mine and Ben's take shape as Delilah grows older. Ben and I celebrate Yule, and have no plans to go along with the Santa myth. This year we'll exchange gifts on the day of Yule and have a nice dinner with a few friends and family members then host a stay-awake-over to make sure the sun comes up after the longest night. We plan tokeep a fire burning in the fireplace all night long, play games, drink hot cocoa (and other stuff too, I'm sure) and chat. It'll be nice. Hopefully I can stay awake!