Bright and very early the next morning, we would rouse the boys, feed them a quick Christmas morning breakfast, pack the car, kiss Grandma Dora and Grandpa Bill goodbye and head across state to my husband's parents' home.
We would pull into the driveway at the Holles' house just in time to help set up for lunch. After stuffing ourselves from a table with an array of food, it was time for another round of opening presents before we all sat back and enjoyed a special pageant written and performed every Christmas afternoon by my sons and their cousins.
Late in the afternoon, we would load up the boys and all their new toys, and head back home.
By the time the 24-hour excursion was over each year, I would be exhausted and would swear every year that we would not do it again next year.
But we always did. It was just too hard to break the tradition, and we couldn't bring ourselves to disappoint either set of grandparents who wanted to spend time at Christmas with their grandchildren.
The cross-state trips at Christmas continued until my father died. For several years after his death, my mother didn't have the heart to host the traditional gathering and the celebration shifted to my home until she found her footing and once again felt like playing hostess. But by that time, expanding families and growing conflicts over scheduling had shifted the family Christmas at my husband's parents to the weekend before Christmas. The rushing holiday car trips had come to an end.
Now during the holidays when my sons, daughter-in-law and granddaughter are all home and relaxed and enjoying the glow of the season, talk will often turn to memories of Christmas when they were young, and always one of the boys will mention memories of the trips we made each year from one set of grandparents to the other. They talk about the songs we sang and the games we played in the car as we sped across the state. They laugh about the time we traveled wrapped in blankets because it was below zero on Christmas Day and the heater in the car could not keep us warm enough, and they argue over the number of deer in the huge herd we spotted in the snow at the edge of a field early one Christmas morning.
That mad Christmas dash that once was a source of irritation has now became one of the family's treasured memories of the holidays.