By Debra Minor Wilson
Times West Virginian
Sometimes something just feels so right that you do it year after year.
With six grown children (Abby, 30; Jimmy, 28; Elizabeth, 26; Christine, 24; Carolyn, 24; and Michael, 20) and four grandchildren (Darrell, Cora, McKenna and Felicity, and twins due by Christmas), Pam and Jim Nolan are experts at holiday traditions.
“The biggest thing was the buildup to Christmas Eve,” Pam Nolan said. “They’d get new outfits and we’d always go to the candlelight Christmas Eve service at First Presbyterian. They always liked that.”
Then they’d all troop home for some Christmas Eve snacks or treats.
The biggest treat was opening one gift each.
“We’d have a fire in the wood stove and Jim would read ‘Polar Express’ or ‘The Night Before Christmas.’ We’d all be there together,” Nolan said. “And then we’d put out cookies and milk (for Santa) and carrots for the reindeer. We’d usually leave a note, something like we hoped Santa was having a good Christmas.”
Then the kids would go to bed, all sleeping in the same room on Christmas Eve.
“It wasn’t necessarily the biggest bedroom. They would just pile into one room,” she said. “It started when they were really young and the whole concept of Santa coming into the house was kind of scary. They did this until they were really big.”
Once morning came, Jim would go downstairs first to make sure Santa had made his visit.
“Then we would all go down together,” she said.
The kids would race to their stockings and see what treasures had been left. Then they would all go to the tree in the family room to open their gifts.
“They took turns being the delivery person,” Nolan said. “They thought this was great. And there was usually a family present, which was left out away from everything else.”
Being the polite guy that he is, Santa would always leave a thank you note for the treats the kids had left him and his hardworking reindeer crew.
By then, it was time for brunch: sticky buns, fruit and egg casserole.
“We had to have that,” she said with a laugh.
By this time it was usually afternoon.
“We’d all just flop down in the family room and take a nap,” she said. “Usually everybody was there for most of the day. My sister and her two kids would be there but as they got older they wanted to be at their house.”
Now the grandkids are there.
“We try to get a game or new puzzle we can all work on,” she said. “Something we can all participate in and help each other with.”
And then it’s dinnertime.
“Sometimes we don’t really get dressed. It’s just nice to relax and just be there,” she said.
The days before Christmas were a big part of the tradition, too, she said.
The best thing about pre-Christmas was decorating the tree, she said.
“We have pictures of Jim lifting them up to the top of the tree. It was always a family event.”
She had similar traditions like this when she was growing up, she said.
“My dad was in the Air Force so we moved around a lot. We were not ever around family,” Nolan said. “But we always decorated the tree together. We’d go to church on Christmas Eve, and then drive around and look at the lights to see how the houses were decorated. I always enjoyed that.”
Then they would go home and open presents.
“Christmas morning, Santa had come and we had family time. I don’t remember a big breakfast, but Mom always made a big dinner. Then I would go to my friends’ and show what we got.
“It was a day to be home and be together.”
It pleases her that this is how her children want Christmas to be for their own families.
“They’re the ones who want that routine now with their children, those simple traditions of being together.”
Every Christmas, when they were little, she’d give each one a new ornament, which she stored in shoe boxes with the kind of ornament and year written on the inside of the lid.
“I still have those boxes,” Pam said.
Children may grow up and move away, but each of these ornaments brings back the memory of an excited little one bright-eyed with the anticipation of Christmas.
When the family lived in Delaware, they would go to the early Christmas Eve service and then visit Jim’s parents.
“That was always a nice time,” she said.
When they moved to West Virginia, that tradition changed by necessity. They’d spend Christmas Eve and Day here.
The children loved participating in the children’s service on Christmas Eve, when the minister would call little ones to the front of the church.
“They were so sweet,” she recalled. “They loved their own special story in the service.”
At home, Santa always left each child’s gifts in the same place every year.
“It was so special to me, having everybody together and interacting and laughing,” Nolan said. “I selfishly got to have them with me. On Christmas there were no practices. We weren’t running anywhere. We were together. I cherish that.”
Email Debra Minor Wilson at firstname.lastname@example.org.