While we love adding modern aspects into our decor, when it comes to the holidays, we’re all about traditions. Christmas in particular is, to us, about family, about everyone gathered around the same tree. And, while it seems contradictory, maybe that’s the reason that we’ve scarcely had a Christmas with only our family around the table…
Because, of course, as we all know, family isn’t just what you’re born into.
Family is who you choose in your life, who you love and cherish.
Family is the people whose stocking you want to be right beside yours, hung by the chimney with care, on Christmas morning when you wake up, bright-eyed, to see what Santa brought.
Christmas morning is magical, of course, but, for us, Christmas Eve has always held a special place. Our Rocky Road candy is waiting beside the fireplace for the big man’s arrival. (Our Santa doesn’t do gluten… Plus, he has to get sick of cookies at some point.) And we turn the logs off, of course. Can you imagine if Santa slid down the chimney into that? Little Will has always been a stickler about this.
The night starts with all the family around the set-to-perfection dinner table. We use it all: the linen tablecloths, napkins, fine china, silver, silver service, crystal…
It’s a grand occasion, after all. Why wouldn’t we celebrate it in the finest fashion? Mom always cooks the same dinner: company chicken, brown rice, marinated asparagus, biscuits… Even the slightest deviation in the menu is cause for serious alarm. (And I grew up thinking that you can only eat company chicken, brown rice and marinated asparagus on Christmas Eve.)
For dessert, there are cookies, of course. But Mom and I always cook meringues, as well. At least twice. Because, well, we never can remember if it’s a metal bowl you’re supposed to use or a glass one. (Even now, I have no idea.) And one of us feels sure. And we’re always wrong. Then they don’t stiffen properly. And we have used all the egg whites and we have to go back to the stuffed-to-the-gills grocery store. Then we mash Heath Bar with a hammer and fold it into whipped cream for a delicious topping. I, myself don’t much care for meringues. Neither does Mom. But, like I said, changes to the menu–even parts that no one even seems to like that much–are met with major consternation.
But the BEST part of the dessert. The best, best, best part is the party poppers! The spark, the noise, the faint scent of gunpowder… It’s an event not to be missed, the right compromise for those who are more partial to Fourth of July.
Some years hold musical instruments that we all must learn to play, some have games or tiny treats. But the constant is the crowns. And, if you’re going to sit around our family Christmas Eve dinner table, you wear the crown. No exceptions. Kind of like the meringues.
Dinner holds this kind of magical expectation, that tense balance between wanting to savor every moment and wanting it to be over. Because, after dinner…
Everyone gets to pick one present to open! One well-chosen, hand-picked gift from underneath the tree. But only one. It is meant to whet your appetite, tide you over until the morning when the real unwrapping begins.
And everyone gets Christmas jammies, of course. Because everyone must look his or her most dashing to greet the treats that Santa left.
We tuck in our beds way too late. Far, far too late. So late that when the little feet pitter pat down the hall wanting to see what Santa brought, we might, for a moment, regret how late we talked and laughed into the night. But then, there is coffee and Moravian Sugar Cake. And, of course, more time with family.
The pecan pie will be delicious. Grandmommy’s homemade caramel cake too. But, if you ask us, those special moments, those memories that we will cherish forever, are the sweetest part of all.
The third book in my nationally bestselling Peachtree Bluff series, THE SOUTHERN SIDE OF PARADISE, releases May 7 from Gallery Books/ Simon & Schuster! Preorder now–or catch up on SLIGHTLY SOUTH OF SIMPLE and THE SECRET TO SOUTHERN CHARM (available in hardback, paperback, ebook and audio) before the big day!