I grew up thinking this was normal. I grew up thinking a lot of things were normal, myths my roommates have quickly dispelled. You mean everyone doesn't have four Christmas trees and a 30-hour Christmas? I supposed now you're going to tell me everyone has more than three cousins, too, right?
3:00pm- "Get in the car now!"
4:00pm- We start Christmas where all Christmases should begin: in church. We pass the bulletin from one end of the pew to the other, share notes, and split a half a piece of gum thirteen ways. You think I'm kidding.
6:00pm- "And WHY are you snow blowing in your Christmas suit?"
All thirteen of my maternal side of the family is gathered in my aunt and uncle's kitchen. We're munching on meatballs, shrimp, and the world famous cheese dip. We need something in the stomachs as we begin a long night of alcohol consumption.
7:00pm- "Maybe we should open presents."
"Yes, that bow is beautiful on your head."
"What kind of tape did you use? It's impossible to rip!"
8:00pm- Grandpa and Grandma get a fifteen minute head start (we even use the microwave timer) to light candles and turn on lights before the entire party mobilizes to Grandpa and Grandma's house. We open presents first from my grandparents and second from my aunt and uncle from out of town.
9:00pm- Grandpa and Grandma serve us pizza subs on paper plates just to have some substance during our night of grazing. "Sure, I'd love some blackberry wine."
10:00pm- My family's turn for the fifteen minute head start. There are advantages and disadvantages to being the last house in the round-robin. The biggest disadvantage is that the hair and makeup need remedial help before the photograph in front of the tree.
11:00pm- "Who wants to be Santa?"
12:00am- Grandpa and Grandma decide it's time to go home.
1:00am- "Someone has to eat my food!"
2:00am- We karate chop the remaining family out of here, clean up the kitchen, and set up for the morning. Time for bed!
For the next four to six hours visions of sugar plums dance in our heads while Santa flies over head.
8am- "Santa's been here!"
9am- The family gift exchange and Santa presents are opened on Christmas morning. Dad gets coal. And the grille to go with it. Mom cries when she opens the puzzle photo collage of my sisters and me growing up. My flannel jeans from Cabela's miraculously fit! "Dad, I got you a six pack of beer just because I can. No, I don't want one."
10am- "Get in the car! We're late!"
11am- "Are we there yet?"
12pm- Growing up, my family was always the last to arrive at my paternal grandparents' house. Some traditions die hard. Christmas dinner will be served at two. I regret not eating more than a banana for breakfast and dive into the chips, fudge, and pie on the kitchen table.
1pm- I'm in a photo war with Travel Buddy, my uncle who's a professional photographer. I take literally 178 photos.
Every year my grandparents go to the tree farm and find the most ridiculous tree in the $5 bin. It's too thick to put ornaments on it. It's so thin you can see through it. It has two tops. They then barter until the owner lets them buy the tree for $3. They give him a $2 tip. This year the tree branches needed to be transplanted, so they got it for $2 with a $1 tip. Remember, the camera adds ten pounds.
Thanksgiving dinner is remarkably similar to Christmas dinner. The main difference is that the men are actually allowed to sit in the dining room with the women rather than being banished to the kitchen. We pass rolls by overhand tossing, make the misbehaving adults sit at the children's table, and, heaven forbid, we forget the olives.
5:00pm- Photo shoot!
Each family. "At least pretend like you like each other." All the girls. All the boys. "Stop that!" Three generations. "Where'd Grandpa go now?" All the granddaughters. All eleven of us. The stray people we picked up on the street. All dogs. "Ok, my camera's memory card is full."
6:00pm- "Yes, I'd like a brandy old fashion, please. We're going to be here for awhile."
Commence the longest present opening extravaganza in the history of present openings. Grandma hands the first present to Tina. Tina opens it, throws the wrapping paper on the floor, and examines it for fifteen and a half seconds before she must stand to pick and hand out the next present. If she surpasses her allotted fifteen and a half seconds, the entire crowd shouts, "PICK A PRESENT!"
7:00pm- Fifteen minute intermission to fill the glasses and empty the bladder.
7:15pm- "Pick a present!"
8:00pm- "PICK A PRESENT!"
Every year Grandma and Grandpa give each of their four grandkids a gold ornament engraved with our names, the year, and "Love, Gma & Gpa." After twenty-some years, Wal-mart stopped making the ornaments, so Grandma had to get creative. This year she bought some silver ones from Target and engraved them herself.
9:00pm- "Pick a present" brouhaha is finally over after three hours of present opening! Grandma and the four granddaughters sit in the heaps of wrapping paper for the annual photo. Grandma boasts that she is 71 and can still get down on the floor. We help her up.
10:00pm- Grandma asks who brought the iPod for the traditional Christmas Day dancing in the kitchen. No one has music; no one has the energy to dance. The men are Wii bowling in the kitchen. Grandpa's winning. "That's an awful nice purple dress you've got there, Jim," Greg says, and the crowd rolls. Grandpa's using my Mii.
11:00pm- The food comes back out for those who are hungry. I eat some cherry pie, little smokies, sweet potatoes, and fudge. In that order. "Shhhhh! Someone may be sleeping."
12:00am- That someone should be me. But we're having too much fun retelling old stories, hacking up lungs, and laughing hysterically.
1:00am- That someone is me. It's the only night of the year when I can sleep with socks on because of the heat problems in the old farmhouse. Yet I sleep with a smile on my face. Another great Christmas!