Robyn Margulis Vernon Ogrodnek

There are many wonderful things about the holiday; but for me, the best part of Christmas is getting together with family and celebrating traditions.

While some choose to celebrate with family on Christmas Eve, we've always celebrated on Christmas Day. As a child, I loved the holiday. My mom always tried to make Christmas as special as she could, even when money was tight. I recall the excitement as we ascended the steps on Christmas morning discovering a multitude of wrapped gifts under the tree;

an area that had been barren the night before. We had fun uncovering the contents of our stockings while waiting impatiently for mom to wake up. Of course, we were usually up ridiculously early, so waiting became part of the tradition - mom needed her sleep since she was up all night making the magic happen.

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After opening presents and eating a hearty breakfast, we'd hit the road. Christmas was always celebrated at my grandparents' North Jersey home; and a 2:00 p.m. dinner was the centerpiece. Our feast would include an antipasto made with the finest Italian ingredients, freshly baked bread from Giordano's Bakery in Newark (fondly called "Frank Sinatra Bread" by me because, as the story goes, the infamous crooner had loaves of it delivered to him by air), Grandma's meatballs and gravy, and baked ham. My grandfather and I rarely had room for the main course because he and I used to sit at the table long before anyone else joined us filling up on the bread and antipasto. We always managed to save room for dessert, though, which included a large tray of assorted cookies that my grandmother spent the week making. (Our favorites: Grandma's butter cookies and her infamous deep fried Italian bow-ties. Yum!)

After dinner we made our way into the formal living room that, with its plastic covered fancy couch, was never lived-in except for this day each year. The tree, which was a small artificial rotating version with silver tinsel branches, was sparse with ornaments and illuminated intermittently with a detached lamp of green and red. As kids we hated that tree. As an adult, I love it, because it was my grandparent's Christmas tree and it was an integral aspect of my childhood Christmas memories.

After my beloved grandparents passed, the torch was passed to my mom. For years we would travel every Christmas day to her house. Wonderful memories were created over the years as our family grew. After my mom and dad moved to North Carolina, my brother, sister, and I took over the tradition. We get together every year on Christmas day, regardless of whether our parents are able to make it up for the holiday.

My children were born into two faiths so our holiday traditions consist of celebrating both Christmas and Hanukah. The kids enjoy lighting the Menorah as much as they do decorating the Christmas tree. And the excitement that I always felt on Christmas Eve and Christmas day is now echoed by them. We continue to carry on the tradition of making beautiful memories as a family. I am truly blessed.

No matter what your tradition, enjoy! Happy holidays to all. May the new year bring you and yours good health and prosperity.


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