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Reunions are a joyous thing. In theory, at least. Lost souls, tied together by the bounds of family, find their ways back home. Many families make it a point to join together in a flurry of hectic meals, hit-or-miss conversations, and awkward small talk, and there’s no better time for this than Christmas. This holiday, however, isn’t just a day. It’s a season. It’s Christmas Day, Christmas Eve, and for me, it’s Christmas Eve Eve.
Each ragtag group of humans struggling to connect with those they love have different rituals; different rites of passage, if I may, and my family is no different.
But, in order to set the stage, we have to rewind back to the day before Christmas Eve. Christmas Eve Eve, as coined by who knows who.
What is Christmas Eve Eve?
Christmas Eve Eve is- who would’ve guessed- the day before Christmas Eve: December 23rd.
Every year on this day my family all gathers at the hearth of our metaphorical home: My grandparent’s house. All of us, even the most estranged and eccentric of the bunch, somehow find our way back year after year with nothing more than the promise of a fruit platter and Michael Buble.
Obviously, everyone celebrates this day differently or chooses to forgo it all together. It’s not, like, a mandatory requirement. Completely optional. But, hey, to me it’s just more food, so I’m all for it.
What Do You Do On Christmas Eve Eve?
You eat. You drink. Maybe, you’ll cry. What can I say- this day is multi-faceted. She’s teeming with possibilities. She’s ambiguous.
In my humble opinion, this is yet another opportunity for good food, festive music, and COOKIES. So many cookies. All of the cookies. My family really pulls through on all fronts, and my grandparent’s house is always overflowing with snacks, my boy Michael, and many different types of sweets.
So, yes, maybe the only reason I look forward to this party is because of the appetizers. And, yes, I may go to the food first rather than, you know, my family. And, yes, maybe I sit at the island the entire night and eat off the cheese plate, but that is no one’s business but my own. It’s my prerogative, not anyone else’s.
Anyway, the night is filled with horrendous caroling, my cousins getting tipsy and loud, and a gift exchange filled with the most boring, practical presents known to mankind. Pots and pans and tool boxes and stuff from Home Depot. That place has no business being anywhere near me.
I get twenty different questions about how I’m liking school and jingle my heart out once the basket with all the bells is passed around.
Dinner, however, is a whole other ballpark.
Dinner: Mad Libs with Booze
We make good decisions.
My cousins and grandparents always make enchiladas the day before the party, creating this chaotic buffet line of my family attempting order. All of this to say, it really doesn’t matter because the food is great and the conversation is better.
Because once at the kid’s table, always at the kid’s table (and I live by that), my younger cousins, my friends, my siblings and I are cast out to the wolves-
And by wolves, I mean the circular table in the other room. We used to have another table added on as an extension to the main one in the front room, but it’s been decided by everyone except the kids that there is no need for that.
So, of course, like any group of middle school and high schoolers do, we play Most Likely To, Never Have I Ever, and say a lot of stuff that would have our parents smacking us upside the head for.
Sorry, Uncle Dennis, who was washing the dishes behind us. Hope we didn’t scar you.
The kids at the table maybe eat half of what we’re supposed to and then start sneaking the cupcakes and cookies that are on the displays in the kitchen, fighting over them in hushed whispers and sharp pinches.
I always win Never Have I Ever because I’m boring and never talk to anyone, but a win is a win, ammirite?
But once the adults finally finish talking about, like, taxes and stuff, we are summoned into the other room for the Half-Time show of the Christmas Eve Eve party.
Caroling: A Literal Fever Dream Come True
After dinner, we get into our caroling sesh, and the bound packets of song lyrics are distributed amongst the varying scale of drunkards in my family, who all drape themselves over the couches as the rest of us pile into the chairs set up in the front room of the house.
By this time, everyone’s voices have grown loud- people are laughing without restraint, cheering, pushing each other around- and that’s when my great uncle takes the stage.
And by stage, I mean the dinky keyboard placed at the head of the room.
He ascends to his plastic throne in a foot-tall, floppy hat with music notes smattered across it like chicken pox and we all eventually fall silent in his presence.
Everyone, at the point adorned in the Santa hats, reindeer headbands, and various elf accessories stored in the large bin by the bells, takes it upon themselves to stock up their armories with the most valuable artillery known to man: fake snowballs.
These high-quality, top-notch products are vied after by many, and they serve a single purpose: to protect the dignity of the army. Keep the soliders sharp.
You see, we only have one rule during family caroling: You do not pick the same song someone else already chose.
Starting from the right, we go around and everyone is required to choose a song and scream the name and page number obnoxiously thirty times, and even then that one cousin is bound to ask what song we’re doing. We’re just like that.
But, the problem then lies in the abundance of repeats. We’re fallible, fickle human beings. We mess up. But my great uncle does not accept failure to comply.
If, by some cruel spike of poor luck, someone chooses a song already sung by our merry bunch, they are pelted with fake snowballs with the fury and efficiency of an armed battalion.
This is accompanied, of course, by violent screaming and someone getting more wine, but that’s show biz, baby.
Without fail, as we begin our tirade with the cult incantation of “Jingle Bells,” we never, ever, make the Man with the Chicken Pox Hat happy. We are sad, weak, pathetic little children with neither poise nor potential.
Disheartened by his stern lecture, we begin the ordeal again, this time with more rigor. This repeats until we meet the expectations of my great uncle, who embodies the ultimate Mustache Twirler villain- sans the mustache. With his manic smile, “no pain no gain” attitude and scary, scary hat, he orchestrates us like marionettes as we sing song after song after song until, finally-
The Boss Level.
The Twelve Days of Christmas.
This is the undisputedly best part of the night. No one can argue with me. I’ll throw hands. And feet. And shoes.
We assemble into troops- two to four in each. As I am always the best at everything ever in history, I get to be a partridge in a pear tree. I’m just like that- you know, the best. My fellow comrades are the friends I had forced to join the fever dream that is this party and we prepare for duty.
Another spot that is always reserved is five golden rings, which goes to my tipsy, highly enthused cousins and my aunt, who screams the words with a dedication everyone can admire.
And then the beginning chords ring true throughout the surprisingly humid room, and we begin to sing.
And, yeah, maybe people forget their cues, and maybe that person is me. But, and there is one, there’s something about the way we all finish with horrible vibrato and terrible pitch that strikes something in all of us.
We’re family. A stupid, crazy, boisterous bunch, but a family nonetheless.
The Night in Summary
I look forward to this party every year. It’s fun and warm and leaves a certain nostalgic film over the world that makes time stand still.
It’s not picturesque and it’s not cinematic. We bicker and stumble over our words and tell jokes that fall flat, but it’s those moments where I’m laughing so hard my Santa hat falls over my eyes as my cousins swing their hips to FIVE GOLDEN RIIIIIIINGS that I remember the most.
We complain loudly about each other’s love lives and fight over who gets to pet the dogs. There’s protests about taking pictures and grumbling under our breaths. All of us are broken, imperfect, shells of people attempting to reach out to each other.
But somehow, on Christmas Eve Eve, it always works out.
My family will never be boring. My family is my aunt that screams during caroling. It’s my uncle in his wonky hat. My brother crying because he wanted Chipotle. It’s my grandpa managing the food train and my cousins being fake excited for their Home Depot gifts.
My family is many things, but most importantly, it is mine.
And I will never, ever, say anything different.