My family followed established traditions on the day after Christmas just as we did on the day itself: Dad muttered about bills. Mom took a lengthy nap. The oldest children whined because we’d been left in charge of the youngest, and the youngest played with the empty boxes their toys had come in, chewed on ornaments from the tree and threw things.
Throughout the day, we visited our increasingly bedraggled Christmas tree to paw through our piles of plunder, admiring some items and wondering why on earth someone had chosen to give us others — though we mostly kept such thoughts to ourselves because of the multiple messages we’d heard during the preceding month about peace on earth.
We snacked on the candy and nuts Santa left and traded treats we didn’t like for those we did. Sometimes a shrewd negotiator, wanting to swap two gumdrops for three candy canes, would throw in a few peanuts to secure the deal.
Arguments flared over use of the nutcracker; and we felt grudging admiration for anyone who managed to crack and secure a Brazil nut in one piece. Most of us resorted to breaking the tough nut any old way and then chewing it off its shell like chipmunks.
Books were a common gift — evidently Santa was a reader — so we would disappear from time to time to our bedrooms to lounge on unmade beds and read in peace.
Eventually, someone would suggest we set up the carrom board, which Santa had left us many years before. We would drag it out from behind the couch, put it on a card table in the living room, and elevate it with wooden playing blocks so the webbed pockets in each corner could hang properly.
Next, we searched for the playing pieces, which resembled thick plastic rings made for a giant and regularly escaped their designated box. We roamed the house, wreaking havoc wherever we looked, until we located all the escapees. We then centered the pieces on the board and began playing what our uncle called “poor man’s pool.”
The annual carrom challenge had begun and would last throughout the holiday. Dad always had the best won/lost record. Unlike his children, he never had to disrupt a game he was losing by “accidently” jarring the board so the pieces bounced around the room and fights broke out over where to reposition them.
So the days after Christmas rolled merrily by, occasionally interrupted by visits to or from grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins and friends. These chaotic visits also included traditional activities.
Young girls compared the wardrobes of the dolls Santa brought them and tested their limited skills: crying when turned upside down, saying “mama,” when vigorously thumped on the chest, and drooling water out of their mouths after being force-fed with the small baby bottles that accompanied them. Since most of us played with real-life babies on a daily basis, we soon tired of the dolls we’d wanted since Halloween and went to see what the boys were doing.
Usually, we found them using whatever toys they’d been given to do ferocious battle: crashing their toy trucks into one another; knocking over structures made of blocks, tinker toys or Lincoln logs; or, when all else failed, wrestling.
Teenagers compared new clothes and accessories then sneaked away on secret missions, which seemed to involve driving up and down Main Street. Lots.
The only damper during the days after Christmas was our parents’ insistence that, despite the holiday, dishes needed doing and cows needed milking.
Gradually, as we celebrated the New Year, tried to find the homework the toughest teachers had assigned for the holiday, and decided which new clothes to wear on the first day back to school, the magical excitement of Christmas faded.
But the rock-solid foundation of our family remained strong.
Janet also blogs at www.auntbeulah.com on Tuesdays