Twas the night before Christmas…for ‘Alabama Living’ readers
Besides being Santa’s busiest day of the year, Christmas Eve for many families holds a special religious or cultural significance. While children are more interested in leaving notes and treats (ones not otherwise consumed by hungry grown-ups) for St. Nick, those old enough to have an appreciation for family and tradition look forward to a candlelight service or a midnight mass, a reading of the Christmas story, a small gift exchange or perhaps a special meal.
We asked readers to share their Christmas Eve traditions. Consider creating a new one this year for your friends and/or families. – Allison Law
Some of the submissions were edited for length or clarity.
Christmas beach tree
In 1982, we were expecting our first and only child. We were able to take a vacation and some three-day weekends every year. Wherever we were, our tradition was to buy a unique, sometimes custom-made, Christmas tree ornament. As the years went by our tree became a personal tree.
As my son was growing up, he would gently take one ornament at a time off the tree, ask about it and look at the date on the bottom. As he got older, he would remember with the excitement of buying an ornament to go on the tree.
We passed the special ornaments on to him and his family. In 2014 my son moved to Elberta, Ala., and my wife and I retired to Gulf Shores. We started what we call the Christmas Beach Tree. We are truly beach people and spend many waking hours playing along our Gulf Coast.
Our tree is collecting unique ornament from our travels across our southern states. On Christmas eve, our new step grandson takes each ornament off the tree and asks about the date and where it came from. This is a true case of history repeating itself and we enjoy every minute of it.
Mike and Cecilia Luna
Gulf Shores, Ala.
The Feast of Seven (or more) Fishes
For over 40 years we have celebrated our version of the Italian Seven Fishes dinner. Depending on where we lived, availability of fresh fish and seafood sometimes meant less than seven choices. Since our arrival in LA (lower Alabama) we have exceeded seven. We have enjoyed anywhere from eight to 20 guests who anticipate the event yearly. Midnight Mass concludes our event. A great way to make family and friends a priority.
Donna MartrayBaldwin EMC
Christmas at the cabin
Our Christmas Eve tradition started approximately 28 years ago, when our oldest sister invited all of us to her house for breakfast. We now meet in an old log cabin in Lawrence County, where we have a meal every first Saturday of the month. We begin decorating our cabin about a week after Thanksgiving; we use traditional decorations using stringed popcorn and handmade ornaments.
On Christmas Eve, we get started very early in the morning to cook the breakfast, which we cook on an old wood-burning stove. Our menu consists of about 200 biscuits, ham, sausage, bacon, eggs by the dozens, sausage gravy, tomato gravy and homemade jams and jellies and coffee by the gallons.
We invite all our friends as well as family, and at times we have around 100 to attend. The sisters always greet our guests on the front porch, wearing their red and white gingham aprons and Santa hats and repeating the old phrase “Christmas Eve Gift,” which we learned from our Daddy.
The pickle in the tree
My children and grandchildren come to my house on Christmas Eve. For years I have had a ceramic dill pickle that I hide on my tree. It was told that whoever found the pickle would get an extra gift. Everyone gets one minute to look, but you cannot touch the tree. They keep taking turns until it is found. Sometimes it is easy to find and sometimes not so easy.
Whoever finds it gets money. When it gets found before everyone gets a turn, sometimes I have to hide it again. The kids all love it, but the grownups do, too. Even before Christmas when they come to the house they start looking and want to know if I have hidden the pickle yet. So I have to wait until the last minute before they come for Christmas.
Linda DycusNorth Alabama EC
Celebrating Czech heritage
My mother had Czechoslovakian heritage and each Christmas Eve, she made Sauerkraut and Mushroom soup. I still make it each Christmas Eve as well. Before you cringe, it is quite good and to me, seems similar to Chinese sweet and sour soup. She called it simply:
Slovak Christmas Soup
2 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon flour
1 cup cold water
4 cups boiling water
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon pepper
1 cup cooked or dry mushrooms
¾ cup sauerkraut and juice
Optional: You can also add noodles cut in squares. (I leave them out)
Brown the flour and butter in small frying pan until brown. Add paprika and cold water, boil until dissolved. Add that mixture to the boiling water, salt and pepper. Add mushrooms, sauerkraut and juice. Simmer for 10 to 15 minutes. Add noodles if you like.
Lasagna, cookies and gifts
Several years ago, I broke Christmas tradition and began cooking lasagna for my family’s Christmas dinner. The key is home-grown tomatoes instead of canned. We have a salad and cheese garlic bread with the meal.
One of our traditions is to allow the grandchildren to open one small gift before we eat our food. They are so excited. We also donate clothing or shoes to a child in need. Teaching children to give and share is so important.
In addition to these traditions, we also sing Christmas carols. They have enjoyed singing, “O Christmas Tree.” I cut out pieces of large cardboard to make Christmas trees out of. I decorate them with candy canes and paint snow on each one. Then, a hole is cut where they place their faces while singing “O Christmas Tree.” I top the tree with a star, moon and sometimes a snowman hat. We build memories. Then they return to their homes to await the arrival of Santa Claus.
Nita WalkerVinemont, Ala.
Granna’s Lasagna recipe (courtesy of Nita Walker)
3 pounds ground hamburger meat
2 teaspoons minced garlic
2 tablespoons dried basil
3 tablespoons salt
2 quarts homemade tomatoes with juice
24 ounces tomato paste
1 small can tomato sauce
Cook the hamburger meat and drain well. Add other ingredients and simmer for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.
6 cups cream-style cottage cheese
1 ½ cups Parmesan cheese
4 tablespoons parsley flakes
1 teaspoon pepper
2 teaspoons salt
1 box lasagna noodles
2 pounds mozzarella cheese
Mix ingredients and place in refrigerator until ready to use. In a four-quart pot, bring 3 quarts water to a boil. Add 1 teaspoon salt and 1 tablespoon oil. Add one box lasagna noodles and cook according to directions.Layer the strips of noodles in a greased 13 by 9 baking dish. Top noodles with half of the cheese filling. Add 1 pound shredded mozzarella cheese. Spread ½ of the meat sauce over the cheese. Repeat layers. Bake at 375 degrees for about 45 minutes. Lasagna can be made the day before and refrigerated; in this case, bake about 1 hour.
Every Christmas Eve, my family gathers to spend the night at the home of my grandparents, Hershel and Sarah Scott (Granny and Papaw). This includes grandparents, siblings and spouses, aunts, uncles, cousins and spouses, and great-grandchildren. A total of 22 spend the night.
I remember as a child writing Santa a letter on Christmas Eve, reminding him to drop our presents off at Granny and Papaw’s house.
Today, we enjoy eating Christmas goodies and watching the kids play together. Every year before bedtime, a family member reads the Christmas story from the Bible. We gather around the fireplace, sing carols and thank God for another Christmas together.
Everyone prepares their beds, sleeping bags and air mattresses for the night. Everyone sleeps upstairs because Santa delivers presents downstairs.
This tradition has been around since my parents married 40 years ago. As a child, I always wondered how Santa delivered all those gifts to 22 people. Now, it’s a tradition I share with my husband and boys.
Nicole BoltonThorsby, Ala.
I was raised playing “Christmas Eve Gift!” and “Christmas Gift!” My paternal grandfather’s family passed on this fun tradition, which is believed to have originated from a nanny and was part of her culture. We are told that in olden days people would fill their pockets with candy or nuts on Christmas Eve. The first to greet the other with “Christmas Eve Gift!” would a receive a candy or nut.
Now, after many decades, the fun is in the “getting.” Long ago we dispensed with the candy, nuts or even a gift – but there’s no less joy. Earning “I got you!” bragging rights brings forth joyous squeals and laughter.
Diane Taylor Aman