One of the Christmas memories from my childhood that shines the brightest, despite the years since I’ve experienced it, is the yearly drive on Christmas Eve from my grandparents’ house in San Leandro to my home in San Jose.
Every Christmas Eve, we gathered the baked goodies for our big family dinner, the wrapped presents for our cousin gift exchange and the adult white elephant exchange, piled in our mini van, and drove to Grandma and Grandpa’s house. We spent the evening eating (a lot of the dishes from those Christmas Eve celebrations are the same dishes I make for my family each year), singing carols together while Grandma or one of my aunts or uncles played the piano, playing with cousins we only saw occasionally and opening gifts.
Christmas Eve was the happiest day of the whole year – even better than Christmas day. The time we spent celebrating with extended family trumped any highly anticipated Santa wish-list gift that I found under the Christmas tree.
But it was the drive home from Grandma and Grandpa’s house late on Christmas Eve night that stands out in my mind in such a profound way. Before leaving the party, all five siblings opened our traditional Christmas Eve pajamas and changed into them for the ride home. I remember sitting in the back seat every year as we took the hour-long ride back home. My younger siblings almost always fell asleep, and everything was peaceful – not common with our big family. Mom and Dad turned Christmas music on the radio and I spent the ride looking out the window at the stars in the sky. The stars always seemed brighter on the night of Christmas Eve, as if the entire expanse of the California sky was covered in sparkling while Christmas lights.
That ride home was magical. I was full of good food, baked lovingly by all of my favorite people – my Grandma, my mom and my aunts. My smile lingered from Grandma’s house to my own doorstep remembering the fun I’d had with my cousins. The carols we sang together played in my head. And I was full of anticipation and hope. Anticipation for all of the Christmas morning excitement of presents and candy and surprises. And hope that I might catch a glimpse of Santa flying across the sparkling night sky.
The Christmases of my childhood were magical, but nothing was more magical than the drive home on Christmas Eve.
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