28 December 2011


I remember waking up as a child and racing downstairs Christmas morning to open presents. My dad was a grump who always said, “Bah humbug,” so often that my mom just referred to him as Scrooge every Christmas season.

On years when Christmas fell on a Sunday, we were not allowed to open our presents until after church, which really meant after dinner because we would be starving by the time church had finished. Having to wait made my brother and me very unhappy.

When I was 12 we moved to Ohio with my mom’s family. Their tradition was to celebrate Christmas as a family on Christmas Eve. Each year my brother and I were allowed to pick one gift from under the tree and take it to Aunt Mitsa’s house to open at the holiday party. The rest remained for Christmas Day.

The Alek family members – my grandmother’s generation and their descendants – all gather for a potluck dinner and time around the tree. A potluck is an American tradition where every family brings a dish to be served to the group. At our family dinners, one person is responsible for the main course, usually a turkey or a ham, and guests bring a salad, side dishes and desserts. Our Christmas Eve gathering has turned into a Day After Christmas gathering but it still works the same.

This year’s festivities began Christmas Eve morning at my husband’s house. Breakfast was served, a traditional bacon, egg and cheese casserole alongside cinnamon rolls and toast. Paul and I joined his parents and his brother into the room with the presents and passed them to each recipient.

A little later, Paul’s three stepsisters and their families joined in the festivities. We enjoyed more food and more presents together.  

Paul's step-dad a.k.a. Santa's helper
Our nephew
Paul's mom and our niece

Christmas Day we went to church, I with my mother and Paul with his, and then met at Paul’s grandmother’s house that afternoon. This year Paul and I had the pleasure of shopping for the dollar gifts, a Paparodis family tradition. We received a lot of strange looks as we filled our cart at the store where everything is $1 and checked out with nearly $40 worth of merchandise. Apparently no one spends $40 at the dollar store….at least not a few days before Christmas.

Each gift was wrapped and then family members from oldest to youngest select a pretty present. Once unwrapped, the next in line may either steal an opened present or choose another present to be opened. We had some great gifts this year.

Our dollar gifts
Uncle Roy picked a stellar winter hat
Cousin Nicole has always had a strange fascination with Paul's feet
The Singapore picture books we brought along were a big hit

Cousin Stephanie wins best photo

Christmas number three occurred Monday morning when Paul’s brother and his girlfriend joined us. We again had breakfast and then gathered around the tree to shower Jamienne with gifts. Then it was time for my family’s Christmas.

Paul and I headed to my aunt’s house first where I saw my cousins and their kids. We learned that a new little person will be arriving in July, so that was super exciting.

At Aunt Mitsa’s, we enjoyed dinner and sat around the table talking. Most of the men ended up in the living room watching two of my family members play each other in a football video game. My 11-year-old cousin creams every one of his opponents, including his father, every time. I have to root for the underdog but my money is always on the kid.  

My Gran, 87, is the eldest of nine. She and her remaining brother and her sister still
reside in the same neighborhood in which they were raised. 

It’s always great to see family, especially those I only see one day a year. While I am bummed that I will yet again miss my cousin being pregnant, I am excited to come home to her new baby next Christmas. Paul and I have offered to host Christmas in Singapore next year but I am not sure how many people will actually follow through. Plus, let’s be honest, I’m not sure they will all fit.

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