Christmas Pajama Breakfast: The Birth of Embarrassing Traditions
By: Sarah Ockler
By: Sarah Ockler
In my family, you're never too old for matching pajamas on Christmas morning (and you're never safe from Mom's carefully planned pajama theme, no matter how new you are to the Ockler family scene).
It started quite accidentally, way back in the eighties when I was still a kid. Friends from our neighborhood were having a tough year--among other struggles, their teen daughter had gotten into a heap of trouble and wouldn't be spending the holidays with them. Worry, sadness, and loss had stretched the family so thin that to celebrate Christmas--to trim a tree, to exchange gifts, to pass food and laughter and wine at the dinner table--seemed like a cruel joke, a suggestion too ridiculous to even consider.
Mom learned all of this on Christmas morning that year. She'd called the neighbors to wish them a happy holiday soon after my younger brothers and I had tackled the mounds of presents left by Santa. We were buzzing from our third round of hot cocoa with tiny white marshmallows and comparing our stacks of loot when Mom told us to drop the toys and grab our winter gear. No matter that we were still in our pajamas, chocolate mustaches painted over our mouths, sticking-out-everywhere morning hair wild in the dry winter air. Brian and Emily needed cheering up, she'd said. Back then, the details we would get years later didn't matter. We had a surprise, Christmas-inspired mission to spread a little holiday cheer, and that was good enough for us.
Mom. Dad. My two brothers. Me. The five of us layered on our coats and scarves and mittens, stuffing our fleece-footed pajama toes into boots lined with plastic bread bags to keep the slush out. We marched in a line down the snow covered sidewalk, lifting our feet high to make new tracks in the unspoiled white powder, past the next door neighbor and the old house we lived in before we moved a few doors down to the current house. We listened to the snow crunch under our boots and watched our breath turn white in the air until we finally reached Brian and Emily's. Mom knocked on the door of the cornflower blue house, her and Dad on the top step while my brothers and I giggled from behind them at the silly sight of ourselves, outside on Christmas morning in our PJs and Wonder Bread boots.
Emily gasped when she opened the door, and though it was more than 20 years ago, I still remember the tears and the hugs. She and Brian welcomed us in and, after all the crying, cooked us a king's breakfast. We told them about our favorite gifts and laughed about what the other neighbors thought, if any of them had peeked through the frost on their windows as the five of us marched in single file down the bright white street. Brian and Emily were glad to see us and we were glad to be there. We stayed with them all day.
Our visit didn't erase their troubles or put back together the broken family. But for a while, they weren't alone on Christmas, and they knew that we loved them. And so in the following year, come December, they invited us again for breakfast. We had advanced notice this time, but there was a rule. A stipulation. Pre-conditions, you could say.
The breakfast invite would only be honored if we showed up in our PJs.
We complied. That year and the following and the one after that, too. Even when my family moved a few towns over, no longer within walking range, distance didn't stop the Christmas Pajama Breakfast. We'd just drive to their house in our pajamas, hoping only that my father didn't get pulled over. Because the dads had started a competition, it seemed, for the whackiest Christmas PJs ever. There were Santa hats and snowmen ties that lit up and candy cane striped socks and even old-fashioned men's nightshirts and nightcaps, and how would he explain that to the police? Mom started buying the rest of us new PJs just for the occasion--matching for the girls, matching for the guys, leaving the dads to their own delirious inventions. Another family heard about the festivities and added themselves to the guest list, and soon we were alternating years at our three homes. Over all the Christmases, the families grew and shrunk again, with boyfriends and girlfriends coming and going, then new spouses and babies. People moved away. Friends joined. Friends left. But always there was a table covered in food, surrounded by families in pajamas, sharing stories and laughing and being merry on Christmas morning.
Two decades later, Brian and Emily still live in the same cornflower blue house a few doors down from the gray one where I grew up. Their children are grown now too and have children of their own--Brian and
's grandkids. Their family has expanded, has mended and broken and mended again many times over, as all families do. They don't always attend Christmas breakfast anymore. Neither do I, as I've been away in the years since college and now have in-laws, another whole family out of town. My husband and I don't always get to spend Christmas with my side of the family, but we do always get the new pajamas. I like to say that it's embarrassing. That dressing up in matching pajamas with your mother and seeing your husband match your brothers and having everyone line up on the couch for pictures is ridiculous. But my eye-rolling is a lie. I love this silly tradition. And every Christmas Eve, no matter where I am, more than any other gift, I look forward to those new pajamas and everything they've come to represent--friendship. Family. Love. And a time of togetherness, even if the time for it has long passed. I still remember that quiet march down the snow-covered sidewalk. I still remember what it meant to Brian and Emily. I still remember what it meant to me, and what it means to me now, so many years and matching pajama sets later. Alice
Merry Christmas to each and every one of you, and best wishes for a 2010 filled with joy, love, and hope.
What a fun tradition, Sarah! Thanks for sharing it with us. At my home our only “tradition” is our Christmas Eve party ever year with lots of food and friends and of course a bounce house because what’s a party without one, right?
Sarah has very kindly contributed a little bit of summer on these bleak winter days (actually today in TX we’re experiencing spring weather that’s close to 80 degrees. And then later today it will drop to very cold and rainy and gross. O the joy of TX weather...)
Anyway, for the rest of you who live in normal places with at least somewhat predictable weather...comment to win a signed copy of Sarah’s much loved book, 20 Boy Summer.
+1 follow me
+1 link to 25GoC and/or this contest
+1 link to 25GoC and/or this contest
I hope all of y’all enjoy your very own family traditions this season,