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.