c h r i s t m a s | 2 0 1 4

the thing about my family and their current living situation is that my parents, my brother, and T and lee and luca all live in the same house. so when we're "all together," that basically means H and i are just added to their already existing togetherness.

for a couple years, we were all split up. first lee moved, then T went with him. then i moved to a different city, and J joined T and lee. then T had luca, and shortly after my mom moved. then, finally, my dad joined her after selling their house in connecticut. it took two and a half years for things to settle down, or at least, settled enough for all of us to be in one place for christmas, finally.

having everyone under one roof for the holiday was such a treat, and while we are all in vastly different places in our lives, there were fresh opportunities to practice old traditions, and i think that's what made this christmas shine a little brighter.

christmas traditions generally began with the tree and decorating of it, and the rest of the house as well. this year, H and i weren't around for the decorating, but we also weren't missing much because the current living arrangement has a lot of things packed away (and unreachable, so i'm told) in storage.

next comes the baking of the fudge and peanut clusters.

in connecticut, we would buy enough ingredients to fill six pans of fudge and the entire dining room table with peanut clusters. mom and H would make the fudge, and T and i would make the peanut clusters, all while having a dance party/sing along to mariah carey's

merry christmas

, and causing my mom to wonder out loud if we were actually helping or just dancing.

once everything was set and wrapped up nicely, we'd put on layers and hats and mittens and deliver them to the neighbors while singing "we wish you a merry christmas." every year we would try to get out of delivering them because it was 'too cold' or we 'didn't feel like singing,' but my mom would persuade (or guilt) us into it and we'd all end up glad we did it, even if it took a few minutes for our fingers and toes to thaw out afterwords. it was usually pretty awkward or hilarious, but singing to people while handing them a plate of chocolatey treats is one of my favorite traditions.

this year, we didn't deliver any goodies to the neighbors, and the amount of fudge and peanut clusters combined didn't even fill the dining room table. also, H hadn't arrived yet and there was no dance party because we started after luca went to bed, but it was still fun baking together.

christmas eve generally consisted of miscellaneous activities in the morning. working, baking, shopping, wrapping. "christmas eve" mostly starts with the christmas eve service. up until a few years ago, it was a candlelight service at my old church in connecticut, and nothing felt more like christmas eve than those last few moments, with the candles lit and the lights turned down and the mixture of magic and mild panic that i felt about seeing all those tiny flames lighting up the room.

afterwords, we'd exchange our "kid gifts," which is probably my favorite christmas tradition. we've always bought christmas presents for each other, and our parents, and exchanged them on christmas eve. it started with gifts we'd get from the small gift shop they would set up on the stage in the gym at the elementary school, and as we grew older, the tradition of exchanging gifts (wherever they came from) on christmas eve stuck. christmas morning was reserved for gifts from my parents to us (or, from "santa" as my mom would write on the to-from label) and to each other.

this year, all of our christmas eve traditions were just as they used to be, except now we attend a church that doesn't include candles and i'm okay with it because as much as it is beautiful, it's also a fire hazard.

(to avoid a mid-post photo dump, all tree photos that were taken are included at the bottom.)

when i was little, christmas morning meant lining up in age order and waiting at the top of the stairs for our parents to give us the green light to come down. i never understood why this was necessary and mostly felt annoyed, like it was some kind of game or my parents wanted to further build the anticipation or something. it wasn't until T was describing it to someone this year that i thought about it and realized they probably weren't just sitting down there drinking a cup of coffee, and it was probably only like fifteen minutes and not like the hours it felt like at the time.

then, when the glorious moment arrived, we walk down the stairs. me first, as the youngest, then J, then T, then H. we'd stop so my parents could snap a photo, and then we'd proceed with the gift opening frenzy.

this year was the first time in six (ish?) years that we all woke up on christmas morning together. we didn't wait at the top of the stairs (in fact, we were all downstairs when we decided to take this photo), and all the jaw dropping excitement about christmas morning entirely revolved around luca, but. traditions!

luca is old enough so that it's exciting for him (and us), but he's also doesn't really get it. it was kind of a fascinating thing to experience.

he was brought into the living room, which was full of wrapped presents, a teepee, a slide, and a roller coaster. it was probably overwhelming in the sense that he doesn't fully understand – what was happening, or what they were and how they were fun things. i think his smile at first was mostly because we were so excited. LUCA, LOOK AT ALL THE THINGS.

he was excited about the roller coaster, but it turned out, what he enjoyed most about it was pushing the cart and watching it speed down the track and crash into whatever was at the end. that, or playing with his matchbox cars on it. mostly because the separating pieces of the track would likely cause the cars to flip over. and that's probably his new favorite thing. cars crashing and saying "whoooa" when they do.

the first thing he did with the slide was climb up it, like he was playing

american gladiators

. by the end of the day, he was climbing up the stairs, pulling his feet forward, and sliding down all on his own. that might be my new favorite thing. watching him learn how to do new things.

he can unwrap presents, but it's like he sort of doesn't understand why it's wrapped so he's not really into tearing it open or the anticipation of waiting to see what's inside. each gift was exciting for him, but entirely unexpected. it was like he enjoyed what he got and wanted to play with it without having any concept that there were other things waiting for him.

it was kind of overwhelming for him, not in a way that it was too much at one time, but in a way that he just wasn't interested in sitting in a pile of toys. he got excited about each thing, but he wasn't excited about everything all at once. he mostly walked around while holding whatever he had just opened, and when he was focused enough or sitting down, we'd give him another present. which meant, he was basically opening presents well into the afternoon.

even with all the gifts he'd just received, the best gift you can give luca is bringing him into the garage and letting him see the "mo" (motorcycles). the lawn mower and weed whacker are pretty thrilling too, but he doesn't usually remember they're out there until he sees them. it's all just reaching for the door handle and "mo" over and over again.

the teepee isn't quite as exciting as the slide, but it's so adorable when he wanders in there with an action figure or matchbox cars, just to be in there. i would sometimes go in there and just sit there until he noticed and joined me. he would think that was pretty funny, and would walk around the teepee and peek in at me through the two windows on the sides.

and then, christmas dinner. traditionally, we'd have the same type of spread at christmas that we would at thanksgiving. turkey, casseroles, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, stuffing. although, since the past couple years have been non-traditional–christmas dinner included, i guess they decided it would remain on the list of "new traditions." meaning, no turkey. i just couldn't wrap my mind around this and my mom eventually caved and ended up getting a small turkey to add the the prime rib and ham that were already on the menu. (in my defense, i don't like prime rib or ham and i never actually asked her to add turkey. she just kept saying yes to all the things i said i wanted.)

unfortunately, the christmas dinner photo did not turn out as well as the thanksgiving dinner photo. but i'm still posting it because it's a gem and it makes me laugh out loud.

i do want to point out that once again, lee is the only grown man cooperating for the photo. and i'm not actually sure what luca is doing here. perhaps throwing a toy on the floor? either way, he's adorable.

and now, here are ALL the photos.