Merging Cultures and Families for a Festive Christmas Eve

As Christmas approaches, I’ve been thinking about the rituals I want to share with my young sons, Max and Michael. Now 2 and 4, they’re becoming aware of how our culture celebrates (and commercializes) Christmas, and they’re also showing a real capacity for remembering events. That’s where the pressure comes in.

As their mom, I feel especially responsible for how they experience Christmas. I want to show reverence for the celebration of Christ’s birth – but they’re preschoolers, so that only goes so far. I also want it to be filled with the excitement, anticipation and sense of connectedness I experienced as a child visiting my father’s family each Christmas in New York or spending the day with my mother’s entire extended family at our annual Chandler Family Christmas in North Carolina.


So how do Mark and I bring the best of our shared experiences to our young boys, staying true to our pasts while creating our own future memories? One way we do it is to continue on with our Chandler Christmas, which we will host this year. But now that we live in Charlotte, we’re a continent away from Mark’s family. Having shared 9 Christmases with Mark and his parents (German immigrants) in California, I have come to appreciate the unique mix of German traditions and Bay Area influences the Meissners have incorporated into their holiday. Their Christmas Eve ritual is one Mark and I plan to bring to the boys here in Charlotte.


The evening starts with piles of fresh steamed crabs, drawn butter, crusty bread and salad. It’s an easy dinner to prepare and is wonderfully messy and delicious. It’s also a lighter meal leading in to the decadence of Christmas day. The Meissners usually enjoy it with a nice Chardonnay. Mark and I especially like Alysian by Gary Farrell, though for those of you who don’t own a wine shop, we sell plenty of delicious, value-priced Chardonnays such as Hindsight Napa Valley Chardonnay or Domaine Louis Moreau – a Chablis, or French Chardonnay. This year we’re looking forward to ordering up some fabulous crab from our neighbor, Bill, at Clean Catch. Of course, we’ll get the wine from our shop J

So, following dinner, the Meissner tradition is to attend a late evening Christmas Eve church service and return home to open a present or two by the fire. As adults, we’ve enjoyed sipping an after dinner drink with his parents, noshing on chocolates (like those I make at the shop) and other sweets as we share a present before settling in for the night. Mark remembers as a child coming home from church to find that their Christmas tree had been put up, decorated and laden with gifts while they were out – a German tradition the Meissners maintained for many years. Since I prefer the tree for longer than a few days, we put ours up early.


But we will continue the sharing of a gift on Christmas Eve. It’s a nice way to follow up the service, and it might just help take the edge off the boys’ wild eagerness to get up early and tear open all their gifts. OK, who am I kidding? They’ll get up early regardless, but I have to say I love this ritual. It’s lovely to sit by the fire after church, filled with that desire to be just a little better, a little kinder than usual, because it’s Christmas Eve after all. And the beautiful hymns are still playing in your head. And it’s getting very late and everyone is tired and happy to share just one small gift in the quiet of the night. It makes me feel warm and content just writing about it.

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