The next morning was Christmas Day and as per usual, I woke up vaguely excited. But then I realized that every bone, and several tendons and ligaments, hurt. I began wishing I were in any other place. I was even wishing I were in school. I wanted to sleep in so there would be less of a day to go through. However, my body realized that it was a special day and was wide awake, ready to get going. I woke up my parents and got my sister, who had finally come back from “work” and slept on the couch the night before. Nobody wanted to go and wake up my grandparents personally so we decided to make extra noise until they woke up. Finally, they emerged and we were ready to open presents. As my dad started handing presents to my sister and me, Mafia sat down and said, “What are you doing? We can’t open presents yet. Put them back down.”
My dad turned to him, “What are you talking about?”
“We can’t open presents until the rest of the family gets here.”
“What?! There are presents we’re giving our daughters, not presents to be opened in front of the rest of the family.”
“No, they are presents and we’ll open them when the family gets here.”
“No, the presents we open then are family presents. These are personal presents that we are opening now. You and Mom can sit and watch or not, but we’re opening these now.”
Mafia grumbled about us breaking tradition, even though opening intra-family gifts were never part of the tradition in the first place, all morning. We rushed through the ceremony just to get him to stop whining. When we were done, we were all hungry and looked at my grandparents expectantly. We were willing to help cook, but wanted to know what they had planned.
They looked back at us blankly.
We looked at them.
They looked at us.
Mafia looked at us askance and said, “We didn’t buy anything for breakfast. We can go to Denny’s.”
So, we got dressed, loaded into the car, and headed for the local Denny’s to eat our Christmas breakfast. I discovered that nothing said “Christmas” quite like the greasy, overcooked food served by a surly waitress who was bitter that she was serving greasy, overcooked food to people on Christmas morning.
Around noon the aunts, uncles, and cousins arrived. We went through the second present opening, no one observing order and Mafia shouting to make sure the youngest cousin, Blondie, his favorite grandchild, was not getting skipped over, even though, as per usual, her presents took up the entire expanse of one of the walls of the living. It never failed that she easily had 5x the presents the rest of us did. It ended as it always did, with Mafia and Blondie exchanging their special gifts they got just for each other. Afterward we had our traditional Christmas dinner – a deli tray.
Eventually they all left and I was relieved because I knew I too would soon be going home. It was the first and last Christmas we spent like that, all future Christmases spent on our terms. I don’t really like to break to tradition. I learned a too hard lesson that when traditions are thrown out, misery takes over the reins… At the very least, you will end up with a bad back.