Christmas carols playing softly in the kitchen, the smell of crackling fires and the fir tree decorated with twinkling lights and family members enjoying homemade reindeer cookies (some gluten-free!) with hot tea. All these things signal that Christmas is in the air at my grandmother's house in rural Pennsylvania, where my family and I go to celebrate the holidays every year. Somehow, the memory of the 25 or so people who pile in from all parts of the country (my mother is one of six children) and begin screaming at one another over who moved the toothpaste and why there is no hot water left for the shower always fades over the course of the year. I return each December filled with the great expectation for happy, peaceful (ha!) memories that lie in the week ahead. And really, would you have it any other way?
We have a few traditions in our family that make for an altogether jubilant family vacation, one that is grounded in religious observance, but also leaves room for plenty of rabble-rousing fun. For instance, in the dead of winter, my father always organizes our Christmas Eve football game. It is coed, and apparently two-hand touch, although it's always seemed more like full contact to me and my inevitable sprained ankle.
My siblings and I also bake close to 10,000 sugar cookies. I make the dough. My sisters, Arabella and Zoe, select the cookie-cutters. And my brother, Oliver, is in charge of sprinkling each with the colored sugar of his choice. Thankfully, most of these cookies are sent as gifts to friends and family, but a fair number of them contribute to the afternoon tea parties held every day until Christmas. Sometimes it's just our immediate family, but often many of the neighbors and close friends will join us in the evenings for Christmas caroling, a tradition started by my great-grandmother. We watch old movies late into the night on Christmas Eve, and after church in the morning, all the children get to open their stocking presents (though, as I remember, I usually managed to sneak a peek in the wee hours of the morning), followed by a plentiful brunch and more merrymaking.
These are just some of the ways my family enjoys one another's company around the holidays. I would love to hear some of the special traditions you and yours may have.
Daphne Oz is the co-host of ABC's The Chew and author of the national best-seller The Dorm Room Diet. She is the daughter of Lisa and Dr. Mehmet Oz.
What's your favorite holiday memory?
Next: The Rev. Ed Bacon on why family is good medicine »