Christmas Eve is magic. Always has been, always will be in my book. (That’s because my latest book is entitled “Christmas Eve is Magic.”) It’s my favorite day of the year and it totally destroys Easter Eve and decimates Secretary’s Day Eve. The giddy anticipation of Santa’s visit culminates on this marvelous night and if I could bottle this wonderful feeling of good will, I would. And then sell it to you all at a friends and family discount.
As a kid, I loved going to Christmas mass at St. Rose in Belmar and seeing some of my favorite families all decked out in their spanking new sweaters and fancy dresses. The Keady, Dwyer, Nies and Jenkins families all sat on the right side (facing the altar); the Commesso, Dunn and Lyons clans camped out on the left. I found comfort in this expected order and looked forward to seeing everyone passing by on the communion line and chatting them up as we departed. Listening to my dad bellow along to all the Christmas songs in the pew, whether he knew the words or not, was also a highlight.
After mass, neighbors, cousins and family friends would gather at my parents’ house and the holiday cheer would continue. Mom would fire up the oven and shovel in the greatest assortment of frozen treats the local Acme had to offer: mini pizzas, mini pigs-in-a-blanket and mini reubens (so much mini goodness). Many spirits were imbibed and stories were rehashed at a rapid pace. I loved standing behind the bar with Dad or brother DJ, making sure glasses were filled while Uncle Frank sat at the end making certain chops were busted.
We always ended the night with a raucous game of trivia. My wife Kelly was the ringer everyone wanted her on his or her team. The more we drank the less we knew and the more entertaining it became. And yes cousin Bridget, we all thought Thomas Jefferson was the one “movin’ on up, to the east side, to a deluxe apartment in the sky.” Great clue, kid!
With the passing of my parents, those nights are no longer. I miss them a ton, but the 25 years of insanely fun Christmas festivities and memories I shared with them both continue to bring me some comfort and a lot of joy.
Patty proudly wearing her “Ziggy” sweatshirt Christmas gift. Ziggy was our dog. Don was his best friend.
Luckily, with every tradition that passes, a new one arises. We now celebrate the night before Christmas with the Andrews and Galer families at Uncle Hap’s house in the Mount Airy section of Philly. Hap lives in a big old corner twin house: giant doors, high ceilings, ridiculously large Christmas tree, tons of antiques and a big back pantry which houses the perfectly chilled cases of beer. Good times are always afoot at Hap’s, lots of kids zooming around, fun conversation and many bottles of red adorn the dining room table. I look forward to eating a nice selection of cheeses in the kitchen while standing next to an old treadmill and discussing all things Philly.
Oona and Juliette enjoying Grandpa’s company at Hap’s house.
My single most favorite part of the evening is the peaceful drive home along Lincoln Drive, across the river and through the Wynnewood to our little house we go. The girls nod off, snug in their pajamas while Kel and I enjoy some Christmas tunes on the radio and quietly discuss what still needs to be wrapped. It’s so calm, almost creepy calm and before I freak out I remind myself, “It’s not creepy calm, it’s magic calm. People are taking the night off from evil and nonsense because Santa sprinkled his dust on everyone as his sleigh passed by overhead.”
Finally, home! Once Kel goes to bed I look forward to Scotch-taping the hell out of the last few gifts I saved and popping open another beer. I kick back, listen to some WPRB, fire up some Facebook (“Ooh, look who’s drunk posting now!”) and suck in all the goodness the night has to offer.
Merry Christmas Eve!!
– Originally posted December 24, 2010