Holidays equal traditions -- time, place, cuisine. As a kid, Christmas Eve was spent with my mom's side of the family and Christmas night with my dad's. Cousins, aunts and uncles crowded together during those evenings to partake in laughter, gift-giving, game-playing and dinner.
Christmas Eve saw bowls of beef stroganoff and Brussels sprouts passed around the "adult" table and served to the "kid" table. Christmas night pots of soup perched on the stove, warm for whenever a person wanted or needed a spoonful of chowder.
On Christmas Eve, we cousins would tease our granny unmercifully about her dinner choice. Why did beef stroganoff and Brussels sprouts only make their appearance on Christmas Eve? One year, after the prayer, the "sprouts" thundered to the basement and took our places at the table, already whining about the thick stroganoff noodles and smelly, green minicabbages.
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Granny set a flat cardboardlike cheese pizza on the table and simply said: "Enjoy." We retell this story to the next generation of cousins every year. The lesson was learned. We never complained about dinner again.
With both sets of my grandparents now gone, holiday traditions have evolved to accommodate growing families and changing schedules. This didn't happen without some mourning.
Traditions anchor us in our authentic family units. They give us a constant; there is comfort in routine.
Now, our Christmas Eve is celebrated the day after Thanksgiving with lasagna, a colorful lettuce salad and French bread served family style. We still collapse on Christmas night with my dad's side of the family slurping soup and relating the marathon that has become the holiday season for us all.
While the locations and menus have changed, the meaning of the gathering has not. We still laugh, reminisce and realize the best gift we can give each other is to continue building traditions for the next generations.
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