1984 was the first year our family celebrated Christmas in another state because of Kelly’s birth. She came home on Christmas Eve, and I had planned for the occasion well in advance. By Labor Day, the presents were wrapped, cookies were baked, cards addressed, and dinner was in the freezer. We had lasagna, salad, cookies and apple pie. (Did I actually bake a pie? You know I am pie-challenged!) I believe that was that the year of change #3, when we stopped going to my cousin Nancy’s house for dessert permanently.
After that year, we spent the next twenty plus years in New Jersey, even traveling there from Chapel Hill several times. Every year, we always went to church on Christmas Eve. Dad came with me until we moved back to New Jersey in 1988. The changes over the years were subtle.
I am basing a lot of my information on your baby books, not my fuzzy memory. I was surprised that we had our first Jewish traditional Christmas dinner–Chinese take–out in 1986. (I thought we did not begin that until we moved to South Carolina in 2008.) That year, Santa got orange juice with his cookies, not milk like every successive year.
The first two years back in New Jersey, we went to Christmas Eve Mass in our new town of Montville with Grandma. That was also the first year of your Christmas Eve pajamas, a tradition I continued for over twenty years. Even Mark, Geoff, and Chris received my pj’s at least once. That year we began having Christmas dinner at our house, which in the beginning, consisted of just Grandma, Grandpa, Aunt El, Uncle Jim, “big Kelly” and Uncle Dave as our guests. The rest of the family joined us for dessert.
The next year, 1989, was when Dad began our new tradition of serving hors d’oeuvres for Christmas Eve dinner. We went to Mass with Grandma, went to see the houses with the luminaries after church, and were greeted with Dad’s special dinner afterwards—picture perfectly displayed.
That year, Aunt Val and Uncle Mart joined us for dinner on Christmas Day, because we invited her parents and brother. Jamie entertained us with her unique rendition of the Christmas classic—“Rudolph the red-nosed Reindeer, had a very Chinese nose.”
The following year, Grandma asked if we could go to Mass at her church in Boonton. We agreed but then forgot to pick her up. Oops!
Casey was two in 1991. After several “observation visits” to Santa Land, she finally had the courage to sit on his lap. We remembered to pick up Grandma for church, so Christmas Eve was now Mass in Boonton followed by viewing the lights after church. We had Daddy’s hors d’oeuvres for dinner , which became more elaborate each year.
I am not certain when the Getto’s began to join us for Christmas dinner, but what I do know is that as our own “cousin explosion” began, the gift giving became more of a free-for-all. We tried one year to give out the gifts one at a time, but I don’t remember that working for us.
We traveled to Jackson a few times to celebrate at Aunt Ellen’s house. I even recall Dad getting stopped for going through a red light on the way home. When he explained to the police officer that it was intentional because he had three children asleep in the back and did not want to stop suddenly, he was not issued a ticket. That was a nice surprise.
After moving to North Carolina in 2004, we traveled to New Jersey for the holidays. We stayed at Grandma and Grandpa’s house and continued our Christmas Eve tradition of going to church with her in Boonton and then viewing the lights while Dad made his hors d’oeuvres with Grandpa’s help. (I think the “help” meant Grandpa sampled the food ahead of our appearance, which probably annoyed Dad just a bit because it took away from the artistry of his display.)
During the 2005 and 2006 visits, after celebrating with the family, we played tourist and spent a few nights in New York City. 2005 was Kelly’s 21st birthday celebration and the New York City Transit strike. That was when we learned we were no longer Northerners, because we could not tolerate the cold at all. We had the “thin skin” of the south. 2006 was when we did our Times Square New Year’s Eve, which is a story unto itself because it was so surprisingly awesome.
2007 Grandma and Grandpa were both sick. We didn’t stay at their house that Christmas, but instead, took up residence at the Embassy Suites. That was our worst Christmas Eve because we traveled up there to see everyone, but ended up going out for Chinese that night, just the five of us. We decided we were probably the only Christian family in the restaurant. We felt so lonely.
Eventually change #4 happened, which was when we stopped traveling to New Jersey during Christmas. That was the year we moved to Columbia—2008. We still had the hors d’oeuvres, but the Christmas Eve Mass with Grandma was now over. We celebrated Christmas early on the 22nd with Kelly, Mark, Jamie, and Casey. The two newlyweds then headed to New Orleans, so Christmas Day was now just four of us—Jamie, Casey, Dad, and me. This was the biggest change and was when I stopped getting excited about the holiday. Christmas day was Chinese take-out. After all those years of a mob of family, it was just four of us. It would get better, I hoped.