For years, Christmas didn’t start until after my father cleared his throat.
Trust me, it makes sense.
When I lived with my parents, my brother and I weren’t allowed to come out of our rooms — or a room, we used to have a tradition where one of us slept on the other’s floor Christmas Eve — until our parents got up.
And even then, we had to eat breakfast and brush our teeth before we could start in on the Christmas presents.
But it all started with our parents getting up, and the surest sign that was happening is that we’d hear our father clear his throat.
When that happened, we knew the door would be opening soon.
To this day, the routine is the same. We all gather in the living room, and my mother parcels out gifts one by one (unless my brother or I says “Let’s give one to Mom”), trying to save the most-important gifts for last.
Our stockings also include scratch cards, although we haven’t hit it big yet.
For my wife’s family, Christmas has never been that big of a deal compared to Christmas Eve. She and her parents would travel somewhere — or meet somewhere when she was in graduate school in Wisconsin, have dinner, go to church and open presents.
Then they’d go home the next day and go to the movies.
Now, it’s meet my in-laws for lunch, spend the day in town, dinner, church, presents. Sometimes we include a game of Trival Pursuit. If there’s a pool in the hotel, we might go swimming.
This year, we’re going to my parents’ house for Christmas Day, coming back home Wednesday morning because we both have to work.
Remember when Christmas was part of a weeklong or monthlong break? Ahhh … those were the days.
My wife and I have a tradition of our own. We celebrate Festivus Dec. 23 … not because we’re “Seinfeld” maniacs (although she was), but because it gives us a chance to do something that’s just the two of us, and we don’t mess up everyone else’s present planning by including ours.
We got each other books. She also got me a sweater and the hiking shoes I asked for (although they’re too big, so I’ll have to exchange them). I got her tickets to the NT Live showing of “I’m Not Running” on her birthday in January.
We also go out to dinner for Festivus. This year, we went to a nearby Italian place, and devoured our food so quickly and thoroughly that our waitress was joking about how much we must have hated it.
We carried the joke through ordering dessert, that it would be such a chore, but I said we’d “have to muddle through somehow.”
She didn’t get the reference at all.
As to why muddlers are superior to hangers, I’ll let Brother Pierce explain that one.
“Muddlers know the triumph of surviving hard times with your charity and your joy all but battered, and yet somehow intact. Hangers shine, but they tarnish quickly. Take the time to work with a muddler, and you’ll see a stubborn glow.”
Depending on whether we’re meeting my parents at their house or ours Christmas Day, our Christmas Eve trips are either to Williamstown, Massachusetts (including this year) or Newport, Rhode Island.
But we have gone a few other places, such as Portsmouth, New Hampshire, and Kittery, Maine, which is just across the border.
I pretty much only go to church on Christmas Eve, and most of it is fairly unremarkable, but one year in Portsmouth or Kittery — I don’t remember which side of the border it was on — we had a young Mexican-American priest whose basic message was that, in God’s eyes, we’re all the same.
Whatever you believe, or don’t believe at all, as messages go, “we’re all the same” is a pretty good one.