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Our Christmas Eve

Christmas may be the big day, but many have their own traditions for Christmas Eve. Here, locals share stories of tree-side slumber parties, big eats and singing the songs of the season

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Posted: Friday, December 23, 2011 8:08 am

It was the day before Christmas and all through the land, Lodians were eating and laughing and watching old movies, excited for everything that is planned.

The day is mostly filled with anticipation of the big holiday. You hope for relaxation, but have the realization that the house needs cleaning, the bird needs to defrost and there are casseroles and you’re not sure when they’ll get their turn in the oven. 

But it all works out. And if it doesn’t, it’s a family memory you all will laugh about 365 days later.

For most, the Christmas Eve tradition is something to look forward to, whether it’s as simple as a Christmas movie marathon or as complex as a living room performance.

In time for Christmas and the night leading up to it, some in the Lodi area share their family traditions. Here are local traditions, both old and new:

Funny gift exchange — Peggy Frizzell: The Holden family gathers on Christmas Eve for a low-key, stress-free dessert party with a white-elephant and funny gift exchange. It’s a newish tradition, as the grandkids are all married with great-grandkids.

Everyone together — Julie Nunez: We usually make pozole and open our home to any and all who want to come and join us. We play games with “A Christmas Story” playing in the background. We usually eat too much and drink too much, but we are all together.

Playing with our new toys — Heather McAllister: We always went to my Grandma Neo’s house and opened our presents after dinner and before dessert. Then, we all just sat around and played with all our new “toys.” We went to bed and couldn’t wait until morning to see what Santa had brought us. 

All in love — Robin Grace Jennings: We drink a little too much and irritate each other every year. 

A night at mom’s — Brenda Lynskey: We would all get together at my parents’ house, open gifts, drink and eat cookies and candy that mom spent a week making and food we made to take to her house. Then, on Christmas day, Mom would make a huge dinner, and we all overate. I sure do miss my parents at holidays.

Ushering in Christmas with song — John Vatsula: On Christmas Eve, after the meal, those of our large family who are able to attend, retire to our large living room — which is beautifully decorated by my wife, Emily, and warmed by the fireplace glow. A creche is on the sideboard, and the manger is unoccupied.

As her mother before her did, Emily hands each end of a swaddling cloth to the two youngest children. The infant is placed in a hammock and gently swayed while we sing: “Al a ro ro nino, a lo gran Señor” (Rock the child, rock the great one). “Que veniste al mundo solo por mi amor.” (You came into the world solely for my love). The infant is placed in the manger. Hymns and carols are sung.There is some reminiscing. Christmas is ushered in.

Taking care of the wildlife — John Vatsula: In the frigid Illinois winters of my youth, Slovaks celebrated the vigil of Christmas by scrubbing the habitats of our domestic animals, laying extra bedding and providing each species with a special treat. After chores, our meal consisted of die-sized cubes of unleavened bread (bobalky) accompanied by steaming bowls of sauerkraut. We would take a quick nap, then we’d be off to midnight mass, after which we visited relatives (it is rumored that partaking of liquid refreshment sometimes took place). We arrived home at dawn, just in time for chores.

Today, I cling to a remnant of tradition. I stuff the Goldfinches’ sock with nyger seed, top off the tube feeders, scrub and refill the birdbath, broadcast seed in the yard for the sparrows and juncos and boil fresh nectar for the hummingbirds.

Pajamas and candles — Gwin Paden: When Paden moved to Lodi in 1957, she started the tradition of taking her four children, ages 6 to 11, to a service at First Methodist Church in their footed pajamas.

“Everyone was given a lighted candle, and the trick was to try to get it home before it would burn out,” she said.

Years later, after her husband passed away, and she married Jack Paden. They started their own tradition of attending midnight mass at St. John’s Episcopal Church, where Jack sang in the choir. They have participated in the church’s Christmas Eve pantomime pageant, but they usually end the evening watching the Pope’s service on TV.

Contact Lodi Living editor Lauren Nelson at laurenn@lodinews.com.

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