When Chuck and Sammi were small, we started one of our Christmas traditions, driving around town looking at the Christmas lights on all the houses. Some years, we did it on Christmas Eve, but switched it to another night if we had some plans.
Though Chuck lost interest in it after awhile, Sammi and I have continued to do it every year. With a couple of CDs of Christmas music -- Gloria Estefan and Karen Carpenter are the two favorites -- we head out and drive a varied route up and down and around Farmingdale. Over the years, we added keeping a list of how many of one type or another of decorations we see. The list changes each year, but we've tallied the number of wooden reindeer, icicle lights, blow-up Santas, light-up candy canes, sheep in mangers, and all sorts of things. And though we never actually give out a prize of any sort, we always pick a house that we think is the best-decorated of the year.
For as long as I can remember, I have watched the Alastair Sim version of "A Christmas Carol" on Christmas Eve. Way back when, it was a staple on Channel 5, usually starting at 11:00 p.m. There have been plenty of other versions over the years, but the Sim one has always been my favorite. (It was followed by the Gene Lockhardt version and I would often stay up watching that as well, so I guess that would have to be my second favorite version.)
When we got a VCR, I taped both so that I could start watching them a bit earlier in the evening (and also fast-forward through the commercials). And when NBC turned "It's a Wonderful Life" into a Christmas Eve tradition, I added that to my annual viewing list. I taped that as well, so that I could watch it after Sammi and I did our Christmas lights viewing (and, again, skip the commercials). A couple of years ago, the kids got me the movies on DVD, so I no longer have to worry about commercials at all.
When the kids were little and still believed in Santa, I would wait till they'd gone to sleep, then retrieved the presents from whichever closet Laurie and I had stored them away and put them under the tree. (One year, we spent Christmas in Barbados. As Laurie was getting Chuck and Sammi into the car to go to the airport, I got the presents and put them under the tree. When we got home ten days later, the kids were convinced that Santa had delivered the gifts in our absence.)
As in many homes, we put out a snack for Santa. The traditional cookies and milk were replaced with ice water and an orange when we decided that "Santa" needed to eat more healthily.
On Christmas morning, Chuck and Sammi were allowed to come down and empty their stockings whenever they awoke, but they could not wake up Laurie and me to open the gifts until 8:00. I don't think I've ever asked what the earliest time they crept downstairs was, but if they were anything like my brothers and me when we were kids, I'm sure it was before dawn on more than one occasion.
This year will be the first since Chuck's birth that we will not have either of our children in the house on Christmas morning. Chuck and Rebecca are spending the holiday with her parents in Washington, D.C., as they've done for the past few years, establishing a Christmas tradition of their own.
Sammi is out in California visiting her boyfriend, Bill, who is in the Air Force and does not have the time off to come to New York for the holidays. They have spent the day working their way through the Feast of the Seven Fishes and are then are heading to San Francisco tomorrow for the weekend.
But while I won't be piling presents under the tree or eating an orange tonight, I've already watched "It's a Wonderful Life" and am now joining Ebenezer Scrooge and the ghosts of Christmas for their annual tale of his redemption.
So, as I head off to bed, let me close with the words of Clement Clarke Moore: "Merry Christmas to all...and to all a good night."