I had a load of fun with my cousins. We saw them on Easter, and at random times when visiting my mom's mom. And we always saw them on Christmas Eve. Mom and dad packed up all the gifts they bought for the kids, along with a dish or two of food, and we made the trip across Corpus Christi to my grandmother's house. We switched some years actually, and it would be at an aunt's house, and once or twice at our house.
I remember it being very cold some years - like below 30 - and fairly warm some years - like in the 70's at night. When we arrived at our destination, we would help unload the wrapped gifts and place them under a tree. Multiple families and multiple kids, plus a few gifts for the adults, made for a very full tree. Then there was the food. Pan de polvo and other sweets. Tamales, sometimes made with deer from a recent hunting trip, were always part of the spread. Chips and queso dip in a crock pot also. Maybe some cheesy rice or something like that. You'd kind of just eat all night. There might be a Christmas-themed movie on the television, then later we'd monitor Santa's progress. The local meteorologist would provide regular updates, I guess because Santa was in the sky where the weather was.
I caught up with my cousins. They might have a new video game to show me - I really did not like Street Fighter and would always lose because I didn't know the secret moves. Someone might have fireworks, since new years was a week away. Hide and seek or some sort of game where we ran around in the dark - I recall something with a flashlight where people were trapped in "jail" until someone else comes to release them - were common, unless it was raining. We'd all be told when we'd be able to open presents - often midnight. In retrospect, I don't know how some of the adults stayed so chipper until then, after hours of food and alcohol. At midnight, then, we'd rip open the gifts, and all disperse. We had to get home before Santa arrived; for some reason the weather person stopped giving updates by then.
Christmas morning, for us anyway, was a walk down the stairs to find unwrapped gifts in front of the fireplace. My brother and I played, and assembled things. Mom and dad downed some coffee and packed for a short trip to the Valley. We'd pick one or two new things to take, and we'd head to McAllen. Mom put Christmas music on the radio, and we kept our eyes open for wildlife. Well, not just wild, it was also a treat to see the cows grazing.
We arrived in McAllen for my dad's side of the family's Christmas. Honestly, this part was somewhat boring for me. I always thought of McAllen as a sad, hot, humid, place with foul-tasting tap water. I'm just being honest, but I understand that I was young. I actually know very little of the place besides my grandparents house. I knew almost know Spanish, but Spanish soap operas were always on the television. Soap operas were bad enough in English, but that was torture. I did have two cousins down there, but they were girls, and besides a game or two of UNO, we didn't play much. There were often tamales, but also a bunch of gross stuff - cabrito, menudo, and occasionally a whole cow head that my grandfather would pull apart for tacos. I did love the tortillas though. Smaller and thicker than the flour tortillas commonly purchased at stores today - they were always cooked on the comal until they were slightly crisp. Although they were probably already full of lard, we often spread butter on them. They were on the side of each meal, but also eaten occasionally as a snack.
We traded gifts there as well, but by then we were getting a bit numb from all the free stuff, and could feel the the good times winding down. "How many weeks until my birthday?" I'd ask myself.
That was our Christmas tradition for many years. At the time, I assumed everyone did something similar, but I realize now traditions are all over the place just among those who celebrate Christmas. Despite the fact I was sometimes bored, cold, or hot, they were good memories.