Christmas Past

The fascinating stories behind your favorite Christmas traditions

Christmas Eve 2016

image of ornaments on a Christmas tree

It’s Christmas Eve 2016. In this second-to-last episode of the season, Brian talks about Christmas Eve, and we hear him and some of his family members recall their favorite Christmas Eve traditions of Christmas past.

Music from this episode

Silent Night — Kevin MacLeod, via Incompetech

Episode transcript

Brian Earl 0:16
It’s Christmas Eve, the big day is just hours away. And so much of that Christmassy feeling is a sense of anticipation, the feeling that something magical is about to happen, which in itself is a magical feeling. And tonight, more than any other night, that sense of magic and anticipation is at a peek. Everywhere you look, lights are twinkling through living room windows where Christmas trees are visible from the street to every passer by. Three store windows were last minute shoppers cross those final items off their lists, in candlelit dining rooms where families eat and laugh. And remember, because this is a night for remembering, for sharing old memories for making new ones for practicing traditions and passing them on for recounting the various pieces of folklore that when taken as a whole, tell the story of our families, the story of ourselves. On Christmas Eve, all of our senses are engaged the flavors of holiday foods, the sound of Christmas carols and logs crackling in the fireplace, the smell of candles burning and that metallic tinge when there’s a nip in the air, the warmth of a cozy gathering and an ugly sweater in the sight of Christmas trees and mantel displays and 24 hour movie marathons. And there’s a slight bitter sweetness, a sense that we need to savor it all while we can. That tomorrow will come and go all too soon. You know all throughout this season of Christmas Past I’ve been sharing your Christmas memories, but only a few of my own. I realized that I owe you one. So let me do that now. And I’ll get a little help along the way. I’m Brian Earl. This is Christmas past.

I grew up in a town called Stoughton, Massachusetts, just a half hour south of Boston. I’m one of five children. My mom is one of six my dad one of five. And with only one or two exceptions, all of my aunts and uncles and cousins and grandparents lived within a 15 minute drive from one another. I didn’t realize until I was much older just how unusual and lucky it was that my entire family was together each and every Christmas Eve. Around dinnertime we would all pile into the old Chevy Caprice classic station wagon, the kind with the imitation wood paneling on the doors, and we’d head down to my grandparents house on the other side of town. My Nana and grandpa we call them. They had a tiny house. Tiny.

Brian’s sister 2:54
I remember walking in the house and it would be so warm.

Brian Earl 2:57
That’s my sister Jen.

Brian’s sister 2:58
It was such a small house, but it always felt really big. On Christmas Eve, my grandfather would have a fire going he’d be the first to come greet us with his red sweater on. Always making sure that we were attended to and see if we needed something to eat or offer something to drink.

Brian Earl 3:17
Most families celebrate Christmas Eve in a similar way by coming together and enjoying the sights and the sounds of the season and each other’s company. But most families have a handful of traditions unique to them.

Brian’s aunt 3:29
My mother making a cake and we sang Happy Birthday to Jesus,

Brian Earl 3:33
my aunt Pam. And yes, that actually happened every Christmas Eve. My grandmother was active in the Methodist Church and every year she would bake a cake and we would sing happy birthday to Jesus.

Brian’s uncle 3:45
Well, mom was always very fond of her chocolate cake recipes.

Brian Earl 3:51
That’s my uncle Scott.

Brian’s uncle 3:52
When I was younger, I look forward to helping her bake the cake and frosting it and putting it on the candles never understood the need the number of candles. So I think she just put on what you felt was appropriate to give it its glow.

Brian Earl 4:04
And my grandmother would pass around sheet music from her church and we would sing Christmas carols. I think I was in my 20s when I realized that most families don’t actually sit around singing Christmas carols on Christmas Eve.

Brian’s aunt 4:16
And the funniest part about that is when I was probably five, we would go into Boston, look at the lights and on our way home. we’d sing Christmas carols in the car, and we all got to pick out a Christmas song. Well being five I decided to sing Row Row Row Your Boat. And my father thought that was so funny that it became a tradition every Christmas when we were down there Christmas Eve and picked our song. We would always pick Row row row your boat and we always sang that.

Brian Earl 4:54
And there’s one other thing we did another one of those things. I had no idea until later that it wasn’t something else. Their families did after the food has been eaten in the Carroll Sung, after the last log in the fireplace had burned down to glowing embers. We would go around the room and each of us in turn would name all of the things we were grateful for that year. I’ll be honest, it seems like the only people who are actually into that idea where my grandparents it got pretty schmaltzy and uncomfortable on more than one occasion. But hey, that’s family for you. So I hope that wherever you are tonight, whoever you’re with, however you’re celebrating, you’ll take a moment to count your blessings. cherish your loved ones, and reflect on what you’re thankful for. My family hasn’t practiced that tradition for decades. But that’s going to change this year. Want to hear it? Be sure to catch tomorrow’s Christmas Day mini episode. The final one of 2016 we’ll hear more from my family and do a little year-in- review wrap up until then this is Brian Earl wishing you and your family a warm and wonderful and safe Christmas Eve.

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