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Do you open presents Christmas Eve or Christmas morning?

Christmas morning.

Our family is all about tradition year ‘round but especially during the holidays and do so many things the way my parents and grandparents did.

Christmas Eve is a big deal. It wasn’t always so, but in 1981 everything changed. The tradition of having chili on Christmas Eve started. It – 1981- was also the year everyone had a stocking. Before that grownups had lunch bags, kids had whatever socks we could find and rummaged through the drawers for knee socks! Nammy’s tradition said apple in the toe, orange in the heel, tangerine on top, candy and nuts in between. It was the year stocking stuffers were added to the mix. It was also the year we thought our beloved Arkansas Razorbacks might, just might, go to the Cotton Bowl. Except for Karyn and my sister-in-law Beck (who do not like football) all of us had bowl game tickets. Ours stuck out of the top – Daddy’s did not. Mother had tucked in the heel of his stocking with the orange. We tried to keep straight faces as he frantically poured everything out looking for his ticket. While we went to the game, Arkansas did not – it was Texas vs Alabama. It was a beautiful New Year’s Day and we thought the Cotton Bowl would be a great tradition. We bought our tickets early the next year only to watch Penn State and SMU play in the cold rain and sleet. That ended that tradition!

Our Christmas Eves evolved to include the traditional reindeer games: spoons and jacks. The game of spoons was cut-throat, a battle to the end for the bragging rights, Spoons Champion. More recently we’ve played Trivial Pursuit and, last year, tossed rings to reindeer antlers. This year we’re adding Ship/Captain/Crew, a bar game we played at the Officers’ Club happy hours when Bob was in the Navy.

Two years ago we decided to shake things up and make our Christmas Eve celebrations have a movie theme. First up was Die Hard, the film my family says was the greatest Christmas movie of all time. We all wore Die Hard shirts, even the little ones. Last year was How the Grinch Stole Christmas. Again, with the exception of Pleasure Sabine and my youngest we all wore Grinch shirts – Pleasure Sabine was Max and my youngest the Grinch himself. Food and beverages all followed the Grinch theme and we even had the Grinch Christmas tree.

This year is A Christmas Story. We – at least seven of us – are wearing deranged bunny costumes. Decorations will include red-and-black buffalo plaid and, of course, a full-sized leg lamp. Happy Buddha will be cooking up take-out Chinese food. Karyn hated this movie but would have gone along with it while pooh-poohing the plan so I am hoping it will make the holiday a little easier to get through.

We play games, watch a movie, laugh a lot. Once everyone leaves, I put on Kenny G’s Christmas CD, just because my mom loved it and fill the stockings, just as she did…and shed a tear or two or a hundred. It’s in that quiet time that I miss my family – my parents, my brothers, and now my sister - so very much.

There is something so magical about Christmas morning, whether you’re a child seeing what Santa bought or an adult, seeing the wonder in those precious eyes! There will be too many gifts and a mountain of wrapping paper as we open our presents with many “oohs” and “aahs” and “let me sees” and “you shouldn’t haves.” We’ll have taquitos for breakfast, a Christmas tradition since the mid-1990s. It was Bob and Kelly who cooked, but that tradition has been passed down to Trailer Swift and my youngest. Everyone leaves after breakfast, some to Houston, some to Austin, some to take naps, all happy, all wrapped up in love…

and that’s the best gift of all!

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