I know it seems so cliche when people say “it’s the most wonderful time of the year.”  However, for me it is and not because of presents.  The sights, sounds, and smells of the season revive the kid in me.  It’s the memories of togetherness.  My fondest memories are around this holiday – watching my mom and dad dance together, aunts/uncles/cousins coming over, granny baking in the kitchen and making a separate “tea cake” just for me (plain jane). The smell of real butter in a cake takes me to a happy place.

One year, my mom had us make homemade ornaments – cardboard, glue, tons of glitter and instant fun.  The popcorn tinsel did not work because we ate too much and it seemed a waste to have it go bad on the tree.  At least that was my logic for eating the popcorn instead of threading it.

This holiday reminds me of family traditions and those that I hold near and dear to me.  After my father passed, passing those traditions to my nieces and nephews became imperative.  My granny passed a year after my dad – double blow.  To honor them, I expanded Auntie Ronda’s Christmas Eve celebrations.  When we became teenagers, my parents let us open gifts on Christmas Eve.  When my oldest nephew was born, for his first Christmas he would not be waking at the wee hours of Christmas morning, so we let him open presents on Christmas Eve and we slept in Christmas morning.

One year, there was the mystery of why all of the ornaments on the bottom of the tree were getting broken.  Was the tree leaning?  Did it fall over? But if so, why just the bottom ornaments?  Odd.  I was tired and napping on the sofa.  The lights were out in the living room since the tree was lit.  I heard ornaments shaking.  I opened my eyes.  Behind the tree, there was my other nephew, only two years old.  He always had us on our toes.  He had one hand on the wall for balance.  Then he hiked his left leg back like he was going to punt a football.  He aimed at an ornament and kicked and started giggling.  He almost jumped out of his skin when I came around the tree.  He asked me, “Auntie what are you doing here?”  Really, like I should be explaining myself.  For years, we only used cheap ornaments and would not put any on the bottom of the tree because of him.

I am a rather involved auntie. The nephews call me the “other mother.”  My sister faced the same dilemma every couple with a newborn has.  How do we make both grandparents happy on holidays? Forget about the grandparents, what about Auntie?! Can you tell I’m a middle child 🙂  Auntie has cookie baking, sledding, snowball fights, etc.  There are many things that entail an Auntie Christmas with her babies. I start Christmas shopping in June to make sure I get something that suits my babies’ personalities.  I want to see their faces when they rip off the gift wrap and open their presents.  And I’m not waking up at 6am to come to your house Christmas morning or worse yet, treated like second skimmings by having you visit Christmas evening when the poor kid is tuckered out.  What?!  So I told my sister that Christmas Eve is Auntie’s special time with her babies.  She had to inform the grandparents because Auntie rarely makes requests and this one had to be honored.  Also, when I moved across country or was in law school, my time to visit is already limited.  I want my quality time with them.

I put my presents under the tree the day after Thanksgiving so the suspense builds by Christmas Eve.  Poor gifts are battered from being shaken and wrapping paper mysteriously is torn from corners before Christmas Eve. Part of the fun. Since I knew they would tear the paper, I started saving boxes (shoe boxes, etc) and would put the gifts inside them before wrapping so they could not find out what I bought them.  One Christmas my niece almost cried when she ripped off the wrapping and saw a box for a knife set.  She exclaimed, “Auntie did you buy me knives!” She was only 7.  I told her to stop being silly and open the knife box to find her real gift.  The initial look of horror on her face was priceless.

Christmas Eve originally started as a light lunch and opening one present from Auntie and I would exchange gifts with my parents and siblings.  One Christmas, the kids were extra antsy while we were food prepping, so I decided to let them open all of my gifts for them.  Worked out.  While they played, the adults could cook and mingle undisturbed. After dad passed, it turned into a formal sit down lunch.  It is the one time I cook everything from scratch and typically use family recipes. Later, I started to incorporate dishes I liked at restaurants or saw on my favorite cooking shows.

Christmas Eve with Auntie became so popular that when my nephews became teenagers the guys from football team and band wanted to come.  We had to eat in shifts because the usual 12 guests was already too much for my Chicago apartment. However, every year there is always a fun story.  I thought as my babies became teens they would not want to do as much.  When my nephews were teens, they did not want to cookie bake, but they still expected to receive their own batch of cookies. They still watch Snoopy and Ransom of Red Chief.

One year, my nephew football player that used to kick the ornaments on the tree, kept teasing the three year old that he would take his Christmas gift.  Naturally, this upset the three year old.  My mom told my older nephew to stop aggravating the baby or he’d get it.  He joked, “Granny what are you gonna’ do – you’re getting old.”  My mom has a bad back and an arthritic knee that sometimes requires the use of a cane.  The next thing I know, there is an uproar of laughter and my football nephew is yelling “Granny get off.”  Mom had hopped off her chair and tackled him sumo style in the hallway.  Here’s my 60 something mom in her holiday velour skirt-set looking like Junkyard Dog from the WWE pinning down my nephew.  He was pinned down with no exit. Tears were rolling off of everyone from laughter.  She made him apologize to my three year old nephew instead of saying uncle. Then she looked at him and said, “Who’s the old lady now?” More laughter ensued.  Mom sat back in her chair trying to look like a dignified old lady, except in her impromptu wrestling match, her wig was cock-eyed on her head.  There she was sitting all prim and proper with her bob wig hanging half on her head and half on her shoulder.  By this time, we’re all on the floor laughing so hard my side ached.  For more gems, the snowball fight with my dad is a winner – click link below.

Snowball fights tradition

Each year we get a nugget or two like that.  A few years ago, my older sister asked if my youngest niece told me about her paper.  She put my niece on the phone.  In her class, the teacher instructed them to write what they did/liked about the winter holiday.  My niece wrote about our Christmas Eve traditions, cookie baking, watching Snoopy, sledding, and eating. I was a proud auntie.  Her teacher gave her a good grade and told her she went out and bought A Charlie Brown (Snoopy) Christmas – another convert!

As my babies are turning into teenagers and young adults, I am happy to see them carry on the traditions in my absence.  When we’re together, even though they are older, that child like innocence returns.  We honor the memories of those that we loved but are no longer with us.  Yet we make sure the tradition grows with us instead of crippling us. The old and young generations come together, singing, dancing (funny watching them show my mom the cupid shuffle and wobble dance), and remember that distance can’t break the bond of family.  That is why this is my favorite time of year.  I go through old holiday cards, watching friends’ family grow, reading holiday update letters of where people are, what happened this year and despite life’s ups and downs, they are grateful for the gift of friendship.  I have drawings from my babies when they were little, ornaments they made are always proudly displayed.  Ornaments and gifts received from friends make the annual pilgrimage to my end tables, book shelves and dressers. I have blogged it and said it numerous times before, people are your greatest asset. I have been blessed in abundance with loving and supporting friends and family that neither time nor distance can break the bond. This time of the year especially, I am reminded of that and truly grateful. “To be without friends is a serious poverty.”

Lifetimes of boxes
Timeless to me
Letters and photographs
Yellowed with years
Some bringing laughter
Some bringing tears
Time never changes
The memories, the faces
Of loved ones, who bring to me
All that I come from
And all that I live for
And all that I’m going to be
My precious family [and friends]
[Are] more than an heirloom to me – Amy Grant’s Heirlooms
Ronda Lee
Founder, Editor-in-Chief
Ronda is an attorney, writer, and entrepreneur. She is a contributing writer for the Huffington Post. Originally from Chicago, she has lived in Los Angeles and New York. She loves to travel and is passionate about education equity, especially for first generation college students.