The holiday season stirs up many fond memories from childhood to the present for many of us. Is it the sights of the beautifully decorated trees and creatively lighted homes that fill you with special thoughts? Is it the excitement of giving and receiving wrapped packages so painstakingly chosen? Is it the smells of cinnamon spice or evergreen? Is it the feel of the drops in temperature, however slight it may be in South Texas? Perhaps it may be the sounds of the Christmas songs filling the airwaves this time of year to add to the spirit of joy and peace during the celebration of our Lord’s birth. Everything about this spectacular season makes us aware of really how very special it is.
As a child in a pretty large family (I am the eldest of six children), I got to experience many of the typical Christmas traditions. We watched the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade and Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer on one of the three TV stations we received out
in Mission Valley. My siblings and I were super excited when our neighbors, Aunt Lil and Uncle BJ, hung their Christmas lights on their house – I think they were the only ones on our road to do so! But Mom and Dad would load us up in the Suburban to go to “town” for a meal at a nice restaurant like Casa Ole or Sirloin Stockade then visit the larger neighborhoods viewing the homes with their magical works of light. We spent a lot of time with family. I was so blessed to know 3 great-grandmothers and each of the extended families would plan big Christmas gatherings annually. I cherish the times getting to play with distant cousins and singing Christmas carols for the great aunts and uncles.
Gift-giving was pretty conservative. I cannot say my parents over-indulged us. Well, how can you with six kids? But we were so grateful for the gifts we did receive. I remember one year as a teenager, I got a George Strait CD and a stuffed animal. Oh, one year we got a baby brother! John was born on Christmas Eve 1987 and he and Mom came home on Christmas Day. But the biggest gift was having my family together, happy and healthy.
Our tree was always real. We all loved the smell of the freshly cut evergreen. It was another family affair to choose that special tree and decorate it together. My parents thought those bubbly candle lights were the neatest thing, so we had those for many years. And the stringy silver tinsel. What a mess that was! Baby brothers had fun wrecking the tree. I think all the ornaments were missing from the bottom 2 feet. (I know you moms and dads can relate!) and the gifts were not set out till we left for Christmas Eve church service. Santa would visit while we were at mass. And that is one tradition I carry on today with my husband and our two sons – exchanging and opening gifts on the night of Christmas Eve.
The world has definitely changed for us all. Shopping is a totally different affair with the ease of online ordering. Retail is no longer what is has been. But as the gifting season approaches, shoppers will be out in droves looking for that special purchase. Black Friday has even evolved to a 24-hour shop-athon. (That which I avoid personally). But, I love seeing the crowds in the malls along with all the holiday décor. And, of course, Christmas carols playing in the background to add to the ambiance.
Family gatherings have changed a lot as well. The great-grandmothers have all passed on and the extended families no longer gather. We all have our own smaller branches of the family tree that are expanding in other directions, naturally. So, at my parent’s home where once there were just six children, there are now six children with four spouses and nine grandchildren. And, I have my husband’s side of the family with which to celebrate – an immediate family of about fifty! But everyone gets along so well and very lovingly. With families of this size, a gift exchange is quite expensive. Trying to get everyone together for a holiday celebration is also getting to be more difficult. I’m sure many of you have big families and experience the same struggles. Here are a few ways to get through the holidays being in a big family:
Robin’s tips to survive large family gatherings!
1. Plan your family gathering early. Many family members have to travel or take off work. If you can, schedule the same day annually. For example, the second Saturday in December. Then your family can expect the same day each year.
2. Designate a host. Mom may be elderly and it may be time for the next generation to start hosting the family Christmas. We actually rotate by birth order for the Janecka side. Last year Richard (child #8) and I hosted. Now it is Karen’s (child #1) turn. Each year is fun and different.
3. Meals can be quite costly for your host. Everyone pitch in for a caterer or bring a specific dish to help feed the family members.
4. Gift-giving is also a strain on some family members. As families get larger, it is harder to buy presents for every person. On my side, we play games where you draw numbers then pick or steal the gift of your choice. Each person who wants to participate in the exchange brings a gift of a certain dollar value. The most popular gifts are tools or liquor! And then for the kids, we draw names among the grandchildren so they each get one special gift from one of their cousins.
5. Giving money is always a nice gift no matter how big or small the amount! I remember my Great Granny Loest gave all the great-grandchildren crisp two-dollar bills along with a Christmas ornament each year. I still have a couple of those bills and ornaments and they are so very special to me.
6. Make it personal. On the Janecka side of the family we have dispensed with giving big gifts altogether. But over the years, the siblings get creative and give family gifts to each of the eight brothers and sisters. These have included a favorite jar of seasonings, a bowl of freshly made candies, a customized ornament with the family name, recipes in jars, and much more. These type of gifts are affordable and fun!
7. The most important suggestion I have is to be thankful. If you are fortunate enough to be enjoying another holiday with your big family, look around you and see the love in the room. Count your blessings and realize the magic that surrounds you. I hope you have fond memories of your childhood Christmases and may relive them for many more years to come!