Madeleine Fitzgerald '21
The Christmas season is my favorite time of the year. I love hearing the music playing in stores and on the radio. I love seeing the trees and wreaths up around the city. But my favorite part of the season are my family’s traditions which make it the most special holiday to me. Most of my mom’s family lives in eastern Canada, and every Christmas Eve, her father’s side gets together for a big party and gift exchange. I don’t get to see my extended family very often, so Christmas Eve serves as a family reunion of sorts.
My immediate family always packs into the car and drives the 40 minutes from downtown Montreal, across the St. Lawrence river, and through the snow. Four generations of the Garcia family come together on the West Island of Montréal for a night full of food, jokes, and gifts. Throughout the year, we all hunt for either the perfect joke or gift, particularly the most coveted gift each year: movie tickets. Some people, actually just my cousin, bring the gift they want so they can purposefully pick it. Other people bring back the gift they got the year before.
Once we all arrive, we drop our gifts by the tree and dig into a delicious dinner. My aunts make Filipino food, the best of which is her ensaymada. We have pancit alongside chocolate chip cookies and ham. The food display is far too large for even our family to finish, but it represents the beautiful mix of the newer Canadian traditions and those my family brought from the Philippines. Once we all put our plates down, someone is tasked with writing down everyone’s names onto slips of paper, and we put them into a bowl. Then, the games begin. Someone pulls the first name, and that person selects a gift. Once a gift is selected, it can be taken three more times. However, there is an unspoken rule that if a child selects a gift then they get to keep it for the entire game, given they like it. If they don’t, the other unspoken rule is someone has to take it from them. If your gift is taken, you get to take another one from the pile or take one someone has already opened. I always find this part of the game funny because while it is a Christmas celebration complete with cheery music and too many sweets, people are whispering to their partners or parents or kids about which gifts to steal. Nothing like a good dose of family rivalry on the night before Christmas. Everyone is trying to get the movie tickets unless they have recently been removed and then they are probably aiming for the set of chef knives. I always eye the Holt Renfrew bag, but I have learned my lesson with that one. My uncle Tony works at Holt Renfrew, the Canadian equivalent of Saks Fifth Avenue, so he always brings his present in one of the iconic pink bags. However, the present is never from Holt Renfrew, usually it’s a Winner’s tee shirt or something from Canadian Tire. The real fun of his gifts is not what it actually is but trying to guess what the posh wrapping is concealing.
Once everyone has had their name drawn the game comes to an end. We all continue eating, listening to the music and attempting to get a group photo. Big hugs are exchanged and loose plans are made for Christmas and Boxing Day. The movie tickets are used for a Christmas Day movie and maybe someone will exchange their gift on Boxing Day, although that’s very rare. The whole night is so magical to me, and I never feel the Christmas spirit more than when too many of us are crowded into a living room around a beautiful tree with an abundance of wrapping paper spewed about. Stepping out into the snowy air some time past midnight and breathing in the first signs of Christmas day are made all the better by seeing my family waving and calling out “I love you.” I will miss this so much this year, but luckily, we are doing a Zoom Christmas Eve party, so, hopefully, that captures some of the magic. In whatever way you get to spend your holidays this year, I hope they are cheery and wonderful!
The Exchanged's Mission Statement
The Exchanged's Comment Policy