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Christmas traditions the eyes see, the heart remembers

Christmas traditions are something every family, whether they’re related by blood or by heart, cherishes every year come the holiday season. I’ve seen anything from baking Christmas cookies to knitting a new quilt to taking a cruise to the Bahamas, yet one thing always sticks out and reminds me why I love this season so much. Families and friends coming together to celebrate Christmas, regardless of their differences, because they love each other – that is why I love this holiday.

My family is no different from other families, as far as Christmas traditions go.

It begins on Thanksgiving Day when the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade comes on at 9 a.m. The three-hour parade is usually hosted on both CBS and NBC networks, but I flip back and forth between them to get the best views possible, especially if there are commercial breaks.

Although I know the normal route of the parade and that Santa is destined to come at the end of it, I never get tired of seeing the huge balloons, parade floats and performers.

We always put the tree up together on Thanksgiving weekend, eating leftovers and watching football games in the living room. After dragging boxes up from the basement filled to the brim of colorful ornaments and decorations, it’s become a habit to check for spiders after one nearly scared my mom to death one year. True story.

After the tree is up and decorated with various colored lights and sentimental ornaments, I’m always the one to crawl under the tree to place the skirt where presents will eventually be set upon, no matter how many there are. The skirt is nothing special, just bright red cotton with white lace trim, but it’s a piece of my memory I know I won’t forget as time takes us to different places in life.

From there, it’s almost like a pause in the Christmas jubilee. It seems like all the glee has died down as we go about our days, even though I’m constantly blasting Christmas music in my car because that’s just who I am. But, I know behind the scenes my parents and relatives are spending money on gifts they think the other will like. Sometimes I think they’d rather have the holidays hurry by, but I can see how much they care about each other every year — not by the amount of presents, but by the thought behind them.

My mamaw loves lighthouses. My mom loves wind chimes. My aunt loves snowmen. I can list nearly everything each of them loves and almost every Christmas each person receives a gift with a story behind it. I just love watching their faces light up and laugh when they unwrap them.

When Christmas Eve finally arrives, my family gathers at my mamaw’s house in Catrons Creek at 6 p.m. sharp to celebrate together. Presents are the last thing on our minds, especially since my papaw is a well-rounded church-going Baptist, who loves the Lord dearly and prays like each prayer is his last. This man, I believe, has become the foundation of my family at Christmas time, and I admire him for his dedication in Christ.

As you walk in their house, you’re introduced to a number of smells – chicken and dumplings, corn bread, mashed potatoes, macaroni and cheese and the desserts. We gather in the kitchen so my papaw can bless the food and then we eat (because that’s just what Baptists do).

After our meal, we continue to sit around the living room, talking to each other and laughing — something I cherish very deeply. Eventually, one of us will say something along the lines of “well, let’s start passing these out” and we begin unwrapping presents.

It’s never the presents I remember — except for the time I was little and unwrapped a large Cheerios box and thought I got cereal when it was actually an Elvis Presley blanket (sorry, Aunt De) – but I always remember how I felt after those nights. I felt warm and loved, like someone had wrapped themselves around me and squeezed me so tight I could never feel any worry again.

Christmas morning, my sister would normally come into my room and jump on me until I walked sleepily into the living room with her. Yes, she is older than me, but the child-at-heart thing is real, I promise.

Sitting on the couch, I can smell the other part of my Christmas tradition in the works as mom prepares her annual Christmas breakfast, complete with homemade biscuits and gravy, sausage, eggs and my personal favorite, fried apples. After this breakfast, someone would probably think they’ve received all they could’ve ever wanted for Christmas but it doesn’t end there.

My sister and I normally alternate between opening presents, pausing between each unwrapped thing so my dad can take a picture or 10 because he wants to make sure he preserves the memory right. Then we normally sit my mom down and let her unwrap her gift, even though we know it will never truly be enough to tell her how much we love her. And then we let my dad open his, which is honestly more than likely another tool he can add to his collection of over a thousand (slightly exaggerated, but not really).

Later that evening, we always make the drive to Evarts to visit my other papaw before we officially call it a night. We always sit in the same place each year with my papaw sitting in his recliner, something I will also never forget.

I know these moments in time may seem insignificant to some, but I hold each of them dear. Throughout my life, not once have I ever doubted a Christmas or pondered why I didn’t get this or that – those things don’t matter to me. What matters to me is the feeling I get seeing my family love one another despite whatever differences we have.

This year is extra-special.

Not only is this the first Christmas for my 7-month-old Aurora, but it is also the first for my nephew Isaac, who was born on Dec. 18. Now we’re able to continue our traditions with a new generation and instill the values our great- and great-great-grands taught us.

Christmas traditions are important, not because the temporary things we receive under the tree, but because the warm feelings and memories we can pass down throughout generations.