I won’t pretend that my family is unique, different or weirder than the rest of your families, but I can submit the following evidence that we might do Christmas a little differently than most. Regular readers know of our farm and the crazy beginnings of the doomsday compound. Our family is split into two camps: the grandchildren (eight of us)—including our Uncle John, who is like a child—and the rest of the family. The latter group includes my grandparents, their children, and various hired help and distant relatives who don’t know how to party. Our group will start drinking early on Dec. 24, and the madness unfolds into bonfires, caroling and even "pony" rides on the family dogs. One year, we literally shot Skeet, a neighbor down the hill, with a pellet gun. Despite the random, mindless drunkfest that occurs, we do still participate in several rigid traditions. Here are five Christmas Eve traditions at my house. What are yours?
Grandma’s "Little Drummer Boy"
My grandmother owned one of those cheesy electronic organs for years and only played it on Christmas Eve. Once the organ broke in the mid-'90s, she received a gorgeous baby grand as a gift from our grandfather. Would she take lessons and learn how to play the majestic instrument? No. It sits there. Every Christmas Eve, after much urging from the grandchildren, Grandma will curse and slip over to the piano. She has these cardboard note guides that she places on the center keys. For the next few minutes, she’ll slowly tap out the melody to "Little Drummer Boy" while we all sing along. It’s very sweet and strange and wonderful. I’ll try to get a video of it this year if I’m sober enough.
Chick-fil-A nugget platter
We used to have a sit-down, family-style Christmas dinner, but my grandmother decided a few years ago it would be much easier to just purchase a platter of something. One year, we tried 15 or so pizzas, but that just didn’t feel fancy enough for the holidays. It wasn’t until we tried one of those Chick-fil-A nugget platters that something clicked. Have you seen one of these platters? A large tray can supposedly feed up to 25 humans, according to their website. This is baffling to me because we can easily consume two trays with 16 people. Maybe it’s the munchies? I will tell you my intestines are wrecked for at least a week after the Christmas Eve rager.
There is a moment in the evening where the grandchildren are too intoxicated (or whatever) to behave responsibly. There is no danger of driving—we’re in the middle of nowhere—which means we must act out in other ways. These can be hilarious. One of our favorite games is a variation of the classic "drunk dare" game. This game involves one of the imbibing grandchildren (we’re all older than 21 now, but we’ve done this for years) being dared to walk into "no man’s land," where the rest of the family is deep in conversation, typically in the kitchen. We will require the dared to do something stupid—slip and fall, casually make a smoothie without their shirt on, walk away with the nugget platter—or to engage the sober adults in strange conversation. My favorite incident ended with my cousin, Stuart, challenging his mother to a wrestling match and slamming her to the floor. One year, we raided our grandfather’s closet and each picked out a tacky sweater to wear for no reason other than we could. I love Christmas.
Either my aunt or grandmother will purchase all of us matching pajamas. We are expected to wear those pajamas throughout the evening. Pajamas have been purchased from Belk, Abercrombie & Fitch, J.C. Penney and—my favorite—J.Crew. We cherish our pajamas, and I wear them all year. Another gift we can expect to receive is some sort of doomsday prepping gear. This could be anything from a survival backpack for our cars to a windup radio receiver so we can listen to the world crumble around us. Instead of money, we receive gold coins because those will be more valuable when the economy collapses and society inevitably returns to a barter system. Here’s a piece I wrote last year about all of the "interesting" items I received.
Grandpa’s "last" Christmas
This is our most dreaded tradition. It begins early on Christmas Eve. Our grandfather—now 80 years old—will calmly ask each of us to visit his dark bedroom and tells us that this "will probably be" his last Christmas. He will then ask us each to pray with him, and then, he’ll lecture us on his narrow view of the Bible. These conversations happen every Christmas. Nobody is immune. This will be the 10th year of these conversations, and thankfully, he is still alive to have them. I imagine this year will be more of the same. It’s depressing to think that on the happiest of days a person would feel the need to say goodbye over and over again, year after year.
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