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Every Christmas Eve, since before I can remember, I have done two things.

One has been with my Dad’s side of the family. I love it there. We have food. Boy do we have food! But its the family I go for. The breaking of the Oplatek, drinking wine, exchanging Secret Santa gifts for the kids. We usually do this in the early afternoon. The kids run outside and play on the rope swing in the front yard. They “walk” the dogs around the house about a hundred times. My girls love their Aunts and Uncle. They love to have them push them on the rope swing, as high as they possibly can go. Its not always at my dads house. Sometimes its at my Uncles and the kids all play outside on the patio while the adults enjoy their wine and cigars by the fire. Or Its at Mia’s, and the kids all congregate downstairs or in their cousins bedrooms, playing dress up and make overs. One year we found Bella and her cousin in the shower, fully clothed, with their hands and arms covered in body wash.

That was the same year we found them hiding in one of the older girls closets.At the beginning, when I was younger, it was always at my grandpas. One year he decorated a tree branch that he had put in a bucket of cement, instead of a Christmas tree!

And then, after we have stuffed ourselves on wine and pierogi’s and peanut butter-chocolate ice cream pie…We pack up our children and all of their new goodies and drive over to my Mom’s side of the family. Its always been this way. Before I could drive, my sister and I would get picked up and driven from one place to the next. But once I could drive, we went on our own. And now my husband drives our little family all over creation to make me happy on Christmas Eve.

We get there just in time for dinner, so we eat some more. Ham and mashed potatoes or potato supreme and other yummy things. Sparkling cider for the kids, wine and beer for the adults. And then of course, more presents. Stockings for the kids, even the big kids! My little ones are the only real kids on this side now. Everyone else is grown. My cousins, brother and sister are all “adults” now. We have fun though, and the girls love that they have their Aunt and Uncles undivided attention. We all sit on the floor and watch the girls open their gifts. My grandfather always has his tree up, with the same glass ornaments they have used on the tree since, well, forever. The skiers and horse drawn sleigh and ice skater figurines on mirrors at the bottom of the tree. Those have always been my favorite Christmas decorations.

A few years ago my Aunt made us mini-marshmallow blow guns, and all the “big kids” went outside and had an all out marshmallow war! The driveway was COVERED with them. My cousin said he went back the next day and they were all gone. The squirrels and chipmunks must have had a feast that year!

Christmas Eve is always a late night. We get home around 10 or 11, carrying sleeping bodies into the house. Sometimes they get put to bed in their dresses (and coats) if I didn’t bring their jammies. Bella is old enough now that she can walk herself in to the house, and before going to bed she leaves goodies for Santa and the Reindeer, always a Twisted Tea and cookies for the big man, and carrot sticks for the team.

Of course things always change. This year, we are without a car. Well, we have one, it just doesn’t really run. So we will be staying here, just our little family. And as much as I love to be home and just us, it makes me incredibly sad to know that we will miss out on our family. It has always been important for me, to have the girls grow up with their cousins, Aunts, Uncles, Great Aunts and Uncles, Grandparents, Great Grandfathers…..They have so much family, a family that loves them so much. It really is sad for me that we wont be going. And that Gabby will miss her first Oplatek.

I didn’t think it would bother me this much. But it does. I love this tradition. It is Christmas for me. Always has been. *sigh*

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