When I was growing up, going to grandma’s for Christmas dinner was the highlight of the day. Even more exciting than opening the box that contained Chatty Kathy or the year I got Clackers (which proved to be more dangerous than learning to drive a car), it promised to be packed full of fun with cousins, aunts, uncles and grandparents who made it their job to make the day special.

Mom would dress me up in itchy clothes, saved especially for Christmas (wool skirt, no less), and we’d head that way, even though it didn’t take us long, since my grandparents only lived 10 houses away. Cars would be parked on the lawn, as well as all along the street, as food, presents and excitement were brought into their home. Tables were set up in every room to accommodate all of us, although it seemed we always had plenty of space to run, play and eat. The women gathered in the kitchen with grandma, while the men joined grandpa, who’d be sitting in his recliner smoking a cigar. My cousins and I would make a mad dash for the basement to play with the new toys Santa had left us that morning.

I grew up surrounded by a large family, with all of my mom’s siblings choosing to stay in the town they were raised in. So many of our family traditions stem from grandma, who pulled us all together for the holidays. With every passing year, I find myself being more and more grateful the kids live close by so we can share in the celebration together.

Now, being the grandma who pulls us all together, I realize it’s a job not to be taken lightly. The planning begins months in advance so I can get the date and time on everyone’s calendar. This in itself can be challenging to negotiate between them all to guarantee they all show up. Everything I do is for the grandchildren as I want their family memories to be as special as mine. The adult children put up with me because they don’t have a choice. From decorating the tree together to making Christmas cookies, I will come up with any excuse to bring them all together. 

Since the majority of the grandchildren can now voice their opinions, not going to Gigi’s and Papa’s house will ever be an option. The plaque that hangs in the kitchen, “The answer at Gigi’s is always yes,” is an understatement. Plus, it’s a great excuse to wear my Christmas vests mom made so I can look like a walking Christmas tree. I love being fortunate enough to be able to join the grandkids on the Santa train to the land of make believe. Their excitement makes it magical.

I’ve seen the jolly guy recently trying to clean the fireplace so Santa must really be coming to town. I think I’ll start on those cookies now, as I also know he likes to pretend he’s the cookie monster. Ho-ho-ho.

Sandy Turner is a GateHouse Media columnist.