I was fortunate to grow up in a very large extended family. My mom was one of seven children and my grandparents and all their married children lived in the same good-sized town. Even though I had only one brother, my childhood was spent surrounded with many, many cousins, aunts and uncles and my grandparents, all of whom I saw weekly if not more often.
One get together that was a tradition for the whole clan for all my growing up years was our Christmas Eve celebration at Uncle Frank and Aunt Helen's house. Uncle Frank had the distinction of being the first born of the seven kids; much to his chagrin, he was the only male child followed by six females.
Uncle Frank and Aunt Helen were the most well-to-do of the family. Not that Uncle Frank didn't work for his prosperity. When he was just thirteen, he started working in a small auto repair shop next door to where Grandma and Grandpa lived. By the time he was forty, he owned the business which by then had become a thriving enterprise.
The basement of my uncle's house was finished off into a very classy "rec room" complete with fireplace, comfortable furniture and a home bar. Not at all like the basement of our house which was . . . well, a basement.
The party on Christmas Eve was pretty much the same every year. We all dressed up (haven't we lost something these days when we all dress so casually no matter the occasion?) in special Christmas outfits, and each family brought a festive dish to pass. Uncle Frank and his family provided the liquid libations for both adults and children.
What a group we made. At first we numbered probably around 28, adults and kids. As the years went by and more little ones were born, our ranks swelled to about 36; sixteen adults and twenty children.
Other than eating a lot of good food, I can't remember anything specific we did on those Christmas Eves. The night was very low key and enjoyable. When we cousins were little we played the usual games, got into the usual squabbles and probably drove the adults crazy. As we grew older, we entered into more discussions, both with each other and our elders. Now that I think back on it, I guess it was pretty amazing that that many family members got along so well and could spend an evening together with no one having too much to drink and/or behaving in an undesirable way. (Well, perhaps there were a couple or three of the men who enjoyed the free spirits more than they would have under other non-holiday circumstances, but everyone was jovial and happy, and a couple of the wives would now and then commandeer the car keys before heading home.)
Heading home. Ah, that was the part of the evening that always caused me much angst. For some reason, I had the idea Santa wouldn't stop at our house if we weren't home and all tucked safely in bed. I was just sure we would fail to get home before Santa got to us on his route. You have no idea how anxious I was as I sat with my face pressed up against the cold car window scanning the heavens as we drove the few miles home. My eyes were peeled searching for a lit up sleigh pulled by reindeer racing across the night sky. I never did spot Santa's entourage (thank goodness as I'm sure I would have burst into hysterical tears if I had) on our way home. My brother and I probably made it out of our festive duds, on with our p.j.s and into bed faster than any other night of the year. Knowing it was okay for Santa to arrive since we were home, we quickly fell asleep thinking of the fun time we'd just had with all of our cousins, Grandma and Grandpa, and aunts and uncles on yet another Christmas Eve.
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