We opened our presents last night, and have only the “Santa” gifts to come this morning.
That’s a tradition I married into: rather than open all of our gifts on Christmas morning, all of the presents we gave to each other are opened on Christmas Eve, and a new set of presents, labelled only as “from Santa” are given out on Christmas Day. There are a few practical considerations to this approach. It eases up the intolerable weight for the kids, and it’s fun. And of course because it’s Christmas and it’s fun, the tradition lasted long after the kids stop believing in Santa Claus.
Similarly, I’m told that it was traditional for Wendell and Rosemarie to take Erin and Wendy out to McDonald’s on Christmas Eve. The kids saw this as something special but, for the parents, the practical considerations were this: in all the excitement of opening the presents that evening, who wanted to take the time to cook?
It’s amazing how practical considerations affect traditions, isn’t it? For me, one of the things I remember about childhood Christmases in Toronto was going down to St. James Cathedral for the 4 p.m. Christmas Eve service. The Anglican mass, the packed cathedral, the old flags and the bells would then be followed by leaving the Church (at 5:40 p.m. — take note Catholics with your wimpy 60 minute masses ;-)) and trying to find some place to eat, likely at a restaurant on Yonge Street south of Queen — in that odd part of the strip where Yonge is subsumed by the financial district.
This is not as easy as it sounds. Especially in the 1980s, people in downtown Toronto were hurrying away to their homes and families, and the stores were practically rolling up the sidewalks in their wake. The restaurant we found was almost always empty, but that was part of the effect. The city was holding its breath, in anticipation for Christmas. It may well be because of this that I don’t think of Christmas as a loud holiday. Yes, there are carols and bells and children screaming “it’s Christmas! its Christmas!” as they bounce on their parents’ bellies (I expect it will be two years before such an event befalls me), but in the restaurants where a manager, a cook and a lonely waitress serve a family sitting in the only occupied table in the place, Christmas Eve becomes a time of quiet contemplation, and of eager anticipation. The calm before the storm.
It didn’t last, of course. When I became old enough for midnight mass (and the first time my parents tried it was a bit of a bust. I ended up bursting into tears when I realized that the mass would continue after midnight, that I would be awake while Santa was delivering his presents, and thus I would be labelled a bad kid and thus get none. This was probably because I had drummed into me that good kids go to bed early), my parents eschewed the fairly secularized service at St. James’ Cathedral and went with the more authentic midnight mass at St. Thomas on Huron Street. And we abandoned our search for open restaurants on Christmas Eve.
This was re-emphasized when we moved to Kitchener, a city far less pedestrian friendly than Toronto. Living in the city without a car, we could only access the churches that were accessible by transit or by foot, and midnight mass meant that we could only access the churches that were accessible by foot. So the midnight mass became the thing. But we always opened our presents on Christmas morning. The mass was the gateway that had to be passed first, and then Christmas was celebrated at home.
I’d like to wish all my readers a safe and happy holiday season. Today, Erin, Vivian and I will be opening our Santa presents at Michael and Rosemarie’s place, then it’s off to Lincoln, Nebraska. The weather is gorgeous but cold — a classic prairie winter day. The roads appear to be clear, but we will be careful nonetheless. Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night.
Some pictures of the season.
Vivian in her Christmas coat, with grandpa Michael. Unfortunately out of focus.
What is Holy Orbis Factor?
Well, if I knew they were going to serve barbecue, I’d go to church every Sunday!
And in the spirit of the season, here’s a neat video that comes courtesy of Victor Wong from Facebook.