Often referred to as “the most wonderful time of the year,” the holiday season is the period of time from Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day, which includes festive occasions such as Christmas, Hanukkah and Kwanzaa. The annually reoccurring time period also includes personal and national traditions aimed at getting individuals in the spirit of the season.
For most families, this may include matching pajama sets, a screening of the classic film “A Christmas Story,” yuletide carols, ugly sweaters, gingerbread house competitions and more. But in my family, we do things a bit differently.
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Although I am an only child, I have an extended family, including 18 biological aunts and uncles spanning three countries and a host of family friends from all parts of the world. This, combined with my parents’ unconventional nature, makes the holidays a unique experience in my household.
Here are some of my family’s weirdest holiday traditions, including a Christmas tree that may or may not get bought and decorated in a rush on Christmas Eve.
Last-minute Christmas tree
The most unusual of the holiday traditions is the last-minute Christmas tree. When I say last minute, I don’t mean one or two weeks before Dec. 25.
In my West Virginia household, our tree is purchased and decorated one day (two if we’re lucky) before Christmas. Why, may you ask? There is no rhyme or reason behind this other than it’s what we’ve always done.
Whether a store-bought artificial tree or a real Douglas fir, my family cannot be bothered to complete the time-honored tradition of putting up the Christmas tree until the holiday is almost over. As a staunch Catholic man, you would think my father would honor the ritual of putting up the tree on the fourth Sunday before Christmas, but this man lives by his own rules.
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Every Christmas Eve or Christmas Eve Eve, my father is out at the crack of dawn, eliciting the help of my uncles or neighbors to bring home our highly anticipated evergreen. After trimming excess branches, immersing it in a bucket of water and wrapping it in festive lights, it’s up to my mother and me to decorate the living room centerpiece with handmade and store-bought ornaments. Usually, we begin around 9 or 10 p.m. on Dec. 24, just in time to bring in the holiday at midnight.
By now, you’re probably wondering: if the tree is lit on Christmas Eve, when do you take it down? The tree will remain a permanent fixture of our home’s decor until at least Valentine’s Day. Most years, the tree comes down before the Easter holiday, but one year, it remained until the Fourth of July.
Here are photos of our “Charlie Brown” style Christmas tree from 2020 and 2021.
Last-minute gift shopping and wrapping
The Christmas tree is not the only last-minute tradition we honor. Every year, my parents wait until the week before the yuletide holiday to do their shopping, often making last-minute purchases on Christmas Eve. Again, the reason behind this is unknown.
This may have started as a way to cut costs during the holiday season. Maybe it was because my father, a Nigerian immigrant, rarely got to spend holidays with his own family who lived across the Atlantic Ocean. Therefore, opting to send gifts in the mail after the Christmas holiday had already passed. Either way, the explanation behind this mystery still boggles relatives’ minds to this day.
Since I was a youngster, I had a personal tradition of making a Christmas list the day after Thanksgiving. I’m a spoiled only child, what can I say?
This color-coded list included a description of the item, a photo, links to where it can be purchased, suitable alternatives and more. This list was then hand-delivered and emailed to each parent. No matter how hard I tried or how much time my parents were given, I received whatever items were left in stores on Dec. 24.
Because the tree trimming and holiday shopping are not completed until Christmas Eve, it should be no surprise that the wrapping and placement of the gifts do not occur until midnight or later, only to be unwrapped by 10 a.m. the following morning.
Special screening of “This Christmas”
According to Rotten Tomatoes, the most watched Holiday movies include: “Miracle on 34th Street,” “The Nightmare Before Christmas,” “It’s a Wonderful Life,” “A Christmas Story” and the other ones you know. For many American families, watching one of the aforementioned films is a generational holiday tradition.
But for my Nigerian American family, we watch the 2007 comedy-romance “This Christmas” starring Idris Elba, Loretta Devine, Regina King and Chris Brown. This tradition began when I was 11 years old and is one of my favorites. Every year, my mother and I turn on the film, reciting our favorite lines by memory as we do our belated gift wrapping.
In addition to this holiday movie staple, my family and I watch Christmas-themed horror movies throughout the day and night leading up to Christmas morning. My mother, born on Oct. 31, is a horror movie fanatic, and it’s the only genre she will happily watch, hence the unconventional tradition.
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International dishes on the menu
My family’s holiday gatherings include not only my extended Nigerian American relatives but a host of family friends from all parts of the world, including Eritrea, India, Tajikistan, China and more. Meaning our holiday dinners typically include more than just turkey and dressing.
Our holiday feasts, served buffet style, usually attract 30-50 people and include a plethora of international dishes like jollof rice, scotch eggs, himbasha, fried plantain and more. To represent my mother’s Southern Black roots, we also have baked macaroni and cheese, sweet potatoes, collard greens, coleslaw, corn casserole, mashed potatoes and gravy, green bean casserole, and the list goes on.
With the exception of a few thoughtful guests, my parents make most of the dishes themselves on Dec. 24-25. Even I’m beginning to wonder how they squeeze weeks worth of holiday traditions into 48 hours.
“Silent Night”: The Temptations vs. Boyz II Men
Although pumpkin vs. sweet potato pie is a popular topic of debate during the holidays, in my household, there is no bigger rivalry than which version of “Silent Night” is superior, The Temptations’ 1970 rendition or the 1993 Boyz II Men version.
Every Christmas morning, my mother and I battle it out, playing both songs on repeat until my father plans his escape, which includes searching for the one fast food restaurant open and serving coffee. There are no winners in this war, only a confused Amazon Echo and an earworm that lasts until New Year’s.
Reggae hits instead of Christmas carols
After making my father suffer through “Silent Night” all morning, he gets to torture us by playing reggae during Christmas dinner. No “Santa Baby,” “White Christmas” or “Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer” in my house. Just Bob Marley and Beres Hammond’s greatest hits. Who needs “All I Want for Christmas is You” when you have “No Woman, No Cry?”
Rotating holiday party
Last but certainly not least, our rotating family Christmas party. This tradition only started in 2018 but has quickly become a fan-favorite on my mother’s side of the family.
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With eight living siblings, they each take a turn hosting a family Christmas party the week before Dec. 25. Since it’s only five years in the making, only some aunts and uncles have had their turn. But the ones who’ve been lucky enough to host this family gathering have made it a memorable occasion. For the first iteration of this tradition, we all assembled at my Uncle Tim’s house in Charleston, West Virginia, where he had Bob Evans cater the dinner and gifted everyone an Amazon Echo device. Talk about season’s greetings!