Zelophehad’s Daughters

Christmas Traditions, Christmas Memories

Posted by Kiskilili

One of my family’s more unique Christmas traditions ordinarily takes place sometime between Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve. We call it simply “the Catastrofeast.” In short, everyone collects unusual recipes they’ve never tried and we go wild. (Creating fine cuisine does not seem to run in our family; just last night Lynnette and I spent hours trying to produce something remotely edible to give to our neighbors. We joke that the bishop will be contacting the Zelophehad family shortly and asking that we please find some way other than cooking to share our talents with the ward.)

In the past we’ve tried several methods for unveiling and sampling the mystery dishes–sometimes auctioning them off, sometimes playing “musical dishes” and passing them around the table (you’re allowed to sample whatever you’re holding when the music stops), sometimes ordering from a menu. But always the dishes are given code names: Leviathan Bait, Goblin Growth Hormone, Tauntaun Fodder, Death in a Pot. Ever since we started this tradition there have been eclairs, now universally referred to in our family by their original code name as “Crime Stoppers.”

The year we initiated this tradition, we assured my rather wary mother that it would be a “nice meal.” Little did we suspect that my younger sister Amalthea was planning to contribute Baloney-Os, replacing the frosting in Oreos with baloney. (Lynnette paid Melyngoch a dollar to eat one.)

When we were younger, a less structured but no less elaborate tradition involved arguing literally for hours over where in our living room to put our Christmas tree. My brother Ziff and I thought we were hilarious when we made suggestions like putting the tree on a miniature roller coaster and having it ride around the room, or installing trees with rockets in them in the corners of the ceiling, and then playing “Dodge the Tree” and running around the room as the trees randomly launched. (Okay, so we’re not the most practically minded bunch. This is, of course, why it took hours to reach a decision that was actually feasible.)

When we were kids our mother would hide each of our main Christmas presents somewhere in the house, and leave a trail of clues in the form of riddles around the house, putting the first clue in our stockings. One at a time, youngest to oldest, we’d be allowed to hunt for our treasures. As we got older we started drawing names and writing each other’s treasure hunts. The first year we did this it was a disaster. More fateful words than “make it as hard as possible” may never have been uttered, and twelve hours into the treasure hunts, when our in-laws had come over and were begging us to finish up so we could open the presents under the tree, several missions had to be aborted mid-hunt and the locations of the treasures revealed. (We should have known we were in trouble when Lynnette announced, several days before Christmas, that by her calculations Amalthea would find her treasure on December 27th).

Although I do have fond memories, a few years ago, of lowering Melyngoch’s present down from the ceiling just as she finished solving the last clue, since then we’ve transformed the treasure hunts into a complicated board game we play Christmas morning.

Like many families, we ordinarily produce constructions out of graham crackers and candy sometime during the Christmas season. Perhaps less like other families, these constructions are rarely houses. Sometimes they’re buildings, such as sackbut conservatories or dinosaur museums, but as often as not they’re bizarre conglomerations whose identities are decided not before but after they’re finished. (Was Elbereth the one who made a gingerbread garbage dump?) My best creation of all time was an R2 unit with a bad motivator, but unfortunately the rather unstable motivator fell off when someone walked by and jostled the table.

We have a history of failing to label the presents when we wrap them, or writing things like “To: Luke’s Tauntaun, From: Darth Maul Motorbikes Inc.,” which makes Christmas evening (when we open our presents, very slowly, one at a time) all the more exciting. For several years I’ve suggested leaving all tags off altogether, opening the presents randomly, and then trying to guess who each present is to and from, but my sisters maintain this would likely result in fistfights.

I think probably all of my siblings went through a phase at some point or other when wrapping presents in such a way so as to disguise them was an elaborate art form into which a lot of thought was put. My mother acted horrified several years ago when one present, when its wrapping paper was torn off, was revealed to be a cushion from the couch. (Amalthea had unzipped it and put the present inside.) Of course, no one had even noticed the cushion was missing.

But my favorite tradition of all is filling each other’s stockings, where the most exciting and unusual presents are put. The only sad thing is, there’s really very little at this point that would be shocking anymore, after the pickled pigs’ feet, the chocolate-covered spiders, the inflatable Jar Jar chair, the wind-up nun that spits fire.

What are your family’s favorite Christmas traditions? Or, alternatively, what are your fondest Christmas memories? Did you pay your little brother to tell you what he was giving you? Did you trick your little sister into giving you two presents? Did you hit your older sister over the head with part of a doll high chair and give her a concussion on Christmas Eve?

10 Responses to “Christmas Traditions, Christmas Memories”

  1. 1.

    The Christmas I was in fourth grade, and my brother Ziff was in second, he paid me fifty cents to tell him what I was giving him (a bag of marbles). I was always horrified that he and Lynnette wanted to know what they were getting, and usually managed to find out, but of course, my scruples had their price. The transaction took place in the back seat of our old blue sedan Veronica while our unsuspecting mother was in the BYU Dairy Lab buying milk and eggs.

    I also remember a Christmas Eve when Ziff, who must have been four or five, cut holes in all of the wrapping paper on the presents under the tree because he couldn’t take the suspense anymore. (Now I wonder if either of his sons has tried that trick….)

  2. 2.

    I’m guessing these last things are things you did?

    My mom used to make a nativity out of white chocolate, and poor little joseph, mary, and baby jesus had their heads (if not bodies) bitten off by Christmas Eve.

    My favorite memory was our nativity one year when no one wanted to be the angel. So we took one of our old dolls, placed a noose around its neck, and hung it from the ceiling fan (vaulted ceiling, for a more dramatic effect). When the angel appeared in the story, down swung the angel, hanging by her neck, twirling over the shepherds. It was marvelous.

    And, I used to make my little sister open my presents and give me hints as to what they were.

  3. 3.

    This is AWESOME. I love your family. I always thought my family was kind of quirky, but compared to this any of our Christmas traditions will sound hopelessly staid.

  4. 4.

    Most of our Christmas traditions are pretty staid and unquirky too. In the past, we always read the Christmas story on Christmas Eve, and then we got to open one present.

    Now that we’re grown up, we just open all our presents on Christmas Eve (we open them one at a time from youngest to oldest). We sing a few carols (especially John Rutter’s “Angel’s Carol”). On Christmas Day, we sleep in and do absolutely nothing (except play computer games, watch movies, eat cereal, etc.).

    My parents’ ward has a Christmas music concert on Christmas Eve that we go to (and pretty much everyone in the family sings in the choir).

    We usually go caroling the Monday before Christmas (for FHE). Yes, music is a huge part of my family’s Christmas traditions.

    I instituted a new tradition about 4 years ago of me cooking something different/nontraditional for Christmas Eve dinner. One year I made cabbage rolls, another year I made pad thai, and last year my fiance and I made wienerschnitzel (well, he made it–I had to leave the kitchen for a long period of time because the onion we cut up for the German potato salad was so potent I couldn’t stop crying). I’m not sure that my family really considers it a tradition, but I have fun doing it.

  5. 5.

    P.S. even though I already knew about your various family traditions, this post made me laugh hysterically. Thanks for all the great stories. :)

  6. 6.

    This is just fabulous. Thanks for sharing it.

  7. 7.

    What a great post! Yours sounds like an awesome family! You should write up the family stories a la Little Women. I bet it would sell millions.

    “the wind-up nun that spits fire”, I so want one of these! Where do I get one?

  8. 8.

    Thanks for the comments. Of course, we like “staid” traditions too–I’m planning to spend Christmas Eve singing and listening to Christmas music, and maybe some people in the family who are good at visual things will do some Christmas puzzles.

    Your stories about nativity scenes are too funny, cmac! That reminds me that when we were younger my mother refused to spend money on a “real” nativity scene, convinced as she was that we would break it. Instead she bought a tiny plastic one and arranged it next to the record player. We used to put the angel on the record player and then turn it on in an effort to have the angel come flying dramatically onto the scene. (The poor angel didn’t last long.)

    I love your tradition of cooking something nontraditional for your family for Christmas Eve dinner, Seraphine. We recently revived a very old tradition of having Baked Alaskas for dessert on Christmas Eve (cookies topped with ice cream and meringue).

    Tatiana, I only wish I knew where such a thing as a wind-up fire-spitting nun came from! ;)

  9. 9.

    I enjoyed the Christmas Eves when we memorized a bunch of scriptures about Christ’s life and mission and then recited them while sitting together and holding candles. As I recall, such scriptures would include the wonderful Isaiah 53 and one of my personal favorites, Mosiah 3:5-10.

  10. 10.

    Awesome post, K. M. and I were laughing as we read it.

    To get to the fire breathing nun, simply do the following:

    1. Go to tinyurl.com
    2. Send a check for $35 to Kaimi.
    3. Enter the following numbers (one at a time) into the tinyurl field:


    I guarantee, the link is one of those. Oh, and by the way, one of these steps is not real.

    Happy hunting! I would try to make it more complicated (this is way too easy, and making these is a fun distraction) but unfortunately, a stack of 55 exams is still calling my name. . .