Since both sides of my family are crazy cheesy fanatics for the holidays, I experience every holiday like they are straight out of the movies, or so it seems. Growing up on my dad’s side of the family, we would get together with the WHOLE family. I am talking 2nd, 3rd, and 4th cousins, maybe even 5th. It was crazytown, yet fantastic.
First and foremost you have to understand that my dad’s side of he family is huge. My immediate family on that side is probably average in size, but when you take into consideration the extended family, it grows exponentially. To this day I still have not met the entire family.
Since my parents had me so young, I was fortunate enough to know my great grandparents on my dad’s side for a very long time. We would spend a lot of my childhood Sundays and holidays at their house. Christmas time on my dad’s side of the family was always an adventure, more so when my three other siblings came along because it was always a fun time trying to get everyone ready to go. When my great grandparents were still alive, everyone would venture on over to their house in Azusa, California for a fun filled day of activities. We would also go to a Knights of Columbus dinner around Christmas time and Santa, who looked a lot like my grandpa, would come all the way from the North Pole to Visit our clan. The Knights of Columbus dinner was always held at the Knights of Columbus Hall and fortunately it was big enough to fit our family and close friends. Santa would bring us candy filled mesh Christmas stockings (do these still exist?) and he’d magically have enough for my entire family. Back then no RSVP was needed so how the hell did Santa know how many stockings to bring? As an adult, I feel as though I still do not have my shit together, even when requiring an RSVP. What kind of witchcraft is that? Anyway, Santa would patiently sit there and listen to what every one of my cousins wanted for Christmas and send them on their way. When I was old enough to know that it wasn’t the real Santa, I would crawl up on to his lap, lean over and whisper, “Hi Papa”. He would then smile and give me some nonsense about how he wasn’t my Papa, but the actual Santa. I loved him more for that. He would then give me a mini candy cane with my mesh stocking and send me on my way. I am not sure if he remembers this like I do, but I didn’t realize how special those moments were until I was a little older. I will cherish them until the day I die.
Around the same time as the Knights of Columbus Christmas dinner, we would go over to my great grandparents house to do a gift exchange with my extended family. Throughout the entire day, approximately 50 people (give or take a few) would come and go. My extended family includes my great aunt and great uncle’s families. I thought that getting together with extended family was a normal thing, but as I got older, I realized that my friend’s family’s didn’t do that. I am not sure how the gift exchange was organized, but it always worked out. I always remember being shy when initially getting to my great grandparents house, but eventually I would start to play with my cousins. I think I was intimidated by the amount of kids that were there since I was used to being the only child.
As soon as I would walk into my great grandparents’ house, I would be hit with the smell of menudo and I would start to salivate. To me, the smell of menudo is like a security blanket because as soon as I smell it, I feel comfort and safety. I would be greeted at the door by my great grandma with a big hug and my great grandpa would be either sitting at the table or in the backyard doing something with the family (because they got there on time). Our family (my dad cough* cough*) would tend to arrive a little late, but surprisingly we weren’t always the last ones to arrive. By the time everyone got there we would start the gift exchange. It was the 90’s and my family is Latino so you can probably guess the wicked cool things we got.
After the exchange was finished, us kids would go play among ourselves and the parents would drink and be merry. It was amazing that we got home safely because it was a full day of drinking and eating for the adults.
I will always have a special place in my heart for the memories I have of the Christmases spent at my great grandparents’ house and the Knights of Columbus because of how much time I spent there. Once my great grandma passed away, the family rarely got together anymore. She was like a magnet that we were all pulled towards. She was definitely the matriarch of the family. As a matter of fact, both my parents families are matriarchies. Boss lady’s all around and for that I am thankful.
Who really remembers the last moment or time they believed in Santa Claus? I think for most people that is a tough question because as we get older, our memory fades or changes. I have many memories where I remember being excited about Christmas and the lore of Santa Claus, but there is only one time that I explicitly remember thinking Santa was a real person, but before I share that memory with you, let me give you a glimpse into my life during the holidays when I was a child. I had to break this into a two part post because I will be describing memories from when I was extra young and from when I was a little bit older. Either way, both deserve their own post.
I was incredibly lucky to be born into two families who love the holidays. Being the first child and grandchild on both sides of my family was pretty cool because I got to reap the benefits even more during the holidays. I was the only child around so I received double the attention and double the love. I was a very well mannered kid who rarely asked for anything so when Santa Claus came to visit, it was a real treat because I felt like Santa really understood me since he gave me everything I asked for. I miss the magic of Christmas that I once believed in as a child. I still wholeheartedly believe in Christmas magic, but it just feels different as an adult. The excitement of knowing the stockings would be magically filled in the morning and we would be eating papas and chorizo for breakfast was elating. The anticipation of christmas was and still is a gift in itself. Maybe some of that magic will come back once I have kids of my own. Growing up, I never knew what to expect at family gatherings and to this day I expect the unexpected. Getting together with family as an adult can be incredibly fun and harmonious, or it could be a complete nightmare. Either way, it was and is always a surprise.
I lived in Southern California growing up and believe it or not, it wasn’t hot as f*** in December like it sometimes is now. We were actually able to wear simi heavy winter clothes and the ski resorts got actual snow and didn’t have to make their own (and they say global warming isn’t an actual thing :p). It was actually cold enough to put our heaters on. As silly as it sounds, the sound of the heater actually triggers happy thoughts for me during Christmas time. My Grams used to live with us for a while and she had this gigantic entertainment center that was in the living room. During the holidays, the entertainment center was home to a lot of Christmas decorations. Among those decorations were our stockings which hung from the shelves instead of the fireplace. Red, green,orange, and blue Christmas lights intertwined with the decorations and stockings on the shelves, while fake cotton snow was shoved in between ceramic Santas. The reflection of the Christmas lights on the entertainment center and Christmas tree would bounce off the ceiling and twinkle all over the room. We would leave them on all night so we could hold on to the magic as we slept. I was a weird kid who liked to occasionally sleep in the living room anytime of the year, but I especially enjoyed it during the holidays. The heater would kick on and the smell of the heater and christmas tree would find its way to me, and I would open my eyes to find the bright reflection of the christmas lights dancing in front of me. I couldn’t see anything else but the lights and couldn’t smell anything else but the heater and christmas tree. It was an amazing thing to experience and it is what I think of today to remind myself of what the magic of Christmas is. When I had those moments as a child, I knew that Christmas was coming and with that came the claymation movies, Alvin and the Chipmunks (record, not movie), the music, the food, and so much more. Those were some of the things that made up the Christmas season in our household and those are the things I look forward to and hope to share with my children someday.
Most people would probably agree that the best thing about Christmas is getting together with family. While I agree that this is awesome and fun (and I definitely cherish my family and time together), one of the most special things to me about Christmas is my stocking. My Grams made all of our stockings from scratch and each one with a different pattern. Not one of them is the same. In fact, my dad’s stocking is extra long because he is extra tall. The stockings are so special to me that when my Grams was still alive, I asked her to make a stocking for Justin even though at this point in time we hadn’t even said ‘I love you’ yet. It was a big risk to take, but I am glad that I did because it was also at this point in time that her health began to decline rapidly. Because her health was failing, she gave her stocking pattern to my aunt and had my aunt sew them for her, but it is still just as special. So now Justin and our dog Juno (and subsequent dogs) have their very own Grams stocking. Why is it that we cherish things more when the people we love the most are gone?
Now that you know part of what makes Christmas so special to me, I will share with you the one memory that sticks out in my mind of the last time I believed Santa Claus was real. It was before my parents were married and I split time in between both grandparents houses. When I was with my mom, we lived with my Grams and during this specific Christmas, I was probably about three or four years old. My Grams was opening her gifts and there was a beautiful small package that was meant for her from Santa. I remember being excited for her to open it merely for the fact that my relatives were embellishing that the gift was from “Santa”. If I remember correctly, it was a beautiful pair or ruby earrings. They may have not been ruby, or even red, but I remember her getting earings and everyone was in awe. Maybe I am remembering this incorrectly because I was three or four years old, but it has stuck in my mind ever since. I couldn’t believe that Santa loved my Grams so much that he would bring her a pair of such beautiful earrings. We weren’t well to do and literally everyone on both sides of my family worked their asses off to provide, so I was surprised at such a fancy gift. The love and thoughtfulness behind such a special gift is part of the magic of Christmas I miss so much.
Live and love well this Christmas, Zoo Fam. Stay tuned for Part 2.