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Four Years at the Mount

Holiday traditions

Sibling Season

Michael Kenney Jr.
MSN Class of 2019

(12/2016) It snows in Michigan. A lot. In fact, if snow shoveling qualified as a holiday tradition, my article would extend far beyond this page. Luckily, however, my family’s holiday traditions are much more enjoyable, as they make for some of my favorite memories each year.

Our Christmas traditions begin the day after Thanksgiving. On Black Friday, our family meets up with our cousins to make blankets for a local children’s hospital. From that day forward, we are in the full Christmas swing — my mom decorates the entire house, Christmas music plays nonstop, and we binge on all of our favorite Christmas movies.

Some of our traditions are unconventional. A few years ago, my family went through a random Food Network Channel phase. We were particularly riveted by cooking competitions, so since then, we began an annual Christmas Bake Off. The six of my siblings and I break into teams of two or three. We flip through our cookbooks in search of recipes that we would regularly not have the ambition to concoct, and we kid ourselves into thinking that ours will look as decedent as the ones in photographs. Once everyone has picked their recipe, we set the timer, and begin. None of us are passionate chefs, but we all have a competitive edge, so the juxtaposition of our skill and our will to win is probably quite humorous. We make our parents the judges, but they are too kind to state that one dessert is better than the others. "They liked ours best," each group will insist to the others, but ultimately we’ll never know. We save the desserts for Christmas Eve night and Christmas day.

My siblings and I also do a Secret Santa gift exchange. For nearly a whole month, each sibling searches for the perfect gift for the sibling they have selected at random. Everything from the style of the wrapping paper to the content of the card is carefully considered to match the recipient’s personality. Following our Christmas Eve mass, we all gather around our tree and begin the ritual. Each person goes around the circle, reveals the sibling they had picked, and talks about how they decided on the gift they purchased. Inevitably, each gift has a story behind it. It usually begins something like, "I thought of you immediately when I saw this in the store because…" or, "The store clerk must have thought I was crazy because…" or "My friend told me about these when…"

After all the gifts are opened, my dad reads us ‘Twas the Night before Christmas and then we deliberate on a time to wake up in the morning. The proposed times range from 6-9 a.m. but nevertheless, we wake up when my two younger sisters run into our rooms the next morning.

Christmas morning sparks blissful chaos no matter how old we get. We wake up our parents and then head to our Christmas stockings. My parents fill our stockings together the night before, and we can always distinguish which parent picked out the assorted trinkets. My dad gives the ones that are practical or educational where my mom gives the ones that are trendy or edible. Once my oldest sister and my dad have brewed up some coffee, we open our gifts. We love watching the Macy’s Christmas Day Parade. My dad whips up hash browns, sausage, eggs, and toast for all nine of us. We take our time eating and jamming to Christmas music. When the early afternoon rolls around, we change out of our pajamas and go on a family walk. We are also apt to pop in a Christmas movie. Some of our favorites include White Christmas, Polar Express, Elf, It’s A Wonderful Life, and Eloise’s Christmas.

The Christmas Eve and Christmas celebrations are almost warmups for the days to follow.

My sister’s birthday is the day after Christmas, and my dad’s is the day after hers. My mom decorates the kitchen the night before everyone’s birthdays, and we wake the birthday celebrant up by corralling in his or her room for an off pitched rendition of Happy Birthday. My mom and dad make up a special breakfast, and the rest of the day is dedicated to the birthday honoree. They choose the agenda and request their favorite dinner. Usually, my siblings have basketball games that we’ll go to, but after those, we will gather for a long dinner. The dinner usually takes a couple of hours as we laugh and talk and laugh some more. When dessert rolls around, we go around the table saying our favorite qualities in the birthday person, sing Happy Birthday, and open gifts.

Our family usually spends New Year’s Eve exercising, reading, and lounging around the house until the early evening. We go to mass in honor of the Solemnity of Mary, a Catholic feast day celebration. We then have dinner, where we reflect on the past year and reopen a jar where we stashed our goals for that year. We talk about our progress on them, create new ones, and then put them in the jar. My dad then picks out a family movie. We try to catch bits and pieces of the televised New Year’s Eve Celebration in NYC. We count down to midnight, and my little siblings run around our front yard, banging pots and pans in jubilation.

Read other articles by Michael Kenney Jr.