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Celebrating Christmas in a Large Family Cimorelli-Style

Christmas is our favorite holiday! Between the Christmas decorations, cutting down a tree, putting up lights, making Christmas cookies, and wrapping a multitude of presents, it's always a whirlwind of excitement.

Christmas in a large family has brought us its own set of unique challenges over the years. For instance, when our kids were little, we had to use picture frame wire to tie the Christmas tree to the wall, as inevitably one of the little ones would try to climb the tree and knock the whole thing over! And then there was the time when we found three year old Lisa drinking the Christmas tree water. Four year old Katherine decided to eat a glass ornament, and we waited, terrified, for it to pass through her digestive system, hoping it wouldn't cut up her insides! I wasn't able to actually put any presents under the tree until Christmas Eve up until just a few years ago because there was always a young child or two who couldn't stop themselves from unwrapping the presents long before Christmas. It's also a relatively recent development that there are ornaments spread evenly around the tree; we used to have to put all the ornaments up high so the little ones wouldn't take them off the tree and run off with them!

Michael, Katherine, and Christina opening presents on Christmas, 1995. Notice the lack of ornaments on the lower part of the tree...also, this tree was tied to the wall with picture frame wire so as not to fall over on two year old sister Lisa, who was likely to climb it...

One of our very favorite traditions that we've had a 9 year break from, but that we are doing again this year, is providing all the music for one of the Christmas Eve Masses at our church. We started this in 1998, when I was leading a children's choir at our church in El Dorado Hills, CA, and it became a tradition that we looked forward to every year. When we moved to SoCal in 2010, we went to a much smaller church that already had choirs in place for all their Masses, so we took a break until this year, when we were invited to provide the music for one of the Masses here in Tennessee.

One of our early performances at Christmas Eve Mass. That's my son Alex in the middle, as one of the three "Drummer Boys"

What makes this extra fun is that we do 20 minutes of music before the Mass starts, including pieces from "The Messiah", a setting of "The First Noel" over Pachelbel's Canon in D, and some other more elaborate settings of Christmas carols. During the Mass, besides Christmas carols, we will be doing the Mass setting that I wrote back in 1998. This week has been a whirlwind of rehearsals, but it's been so much fun to "get the band back together" and to introduce my younger children to being part of it as well, as they were too young to participate the last time we did it in 2009.

Sheet music from Katherine's choir binder from many years ago. Her best friend was Kelly (they cantored together for this song), and notice the gymnastics doodles on the bottom. Haha!

Some of my favorite Christmas music was recorded in 2014, when my daughters released an EP of some of the most hauntingly beautiful acappella arrangements of Christmas Carols that I've ever heard. I love listening to them at Christmastime every year while sitting on the couch at night looking at the Christmas tree lights with a nice hot cup of cocoa.

Cimorelli's "Christmas Magic", available on iTunes

We start off the season with choosing a Christmas tree. When we lived in northern California, we always went to a wonderful place nearby called Apple Hill, where we would cut down a fresh Christmas tree and drink hot chocolate. We found a similar place in southern California, but it's not quite the same drinking hot chocolate when it's 70 degrees out and you're wearing a t-shirt and shorts! Here in Tennessee, there aren't as many Christmas tree farms, but we found one not too far away, so we are able to continue our tradition of cutting down a fresh tree.

Here we are, getting ready to cut down our Christmas tree in 2015 for our first Christmas in Tennessee!

Next comes decorating the tree. I like to make an event out of it, with hot chocolate and treats. My daughter Dani likes to hang the lights, and we all add the ornaments.

Decorating this year's tree: Nick, Christina, Lisa, Joey, Amy, Katherine, and Christian

Every year we have a Christmas party for friends and neighbors, and the week before Christmas, we like to have several Christmas-movie nights (this week we've watched "Home Alone 2" and "The Santa Clause 3", with more to come!). A couple of days before Christmas, we bake and decorate Christmas cookies together as a family and make some fudge for Christmas Eve, when we each unwrap one present.

Homemade Christmas cookies - yum!

My two favorite cookie recipes, copied out of my obviously well-used cookbook, Christmas Cookies

I usually make a clam chowder for Christmas Eve dinner. My mother made oyster soup on Christmas Eve, as that was her family tradition, but I was never a big fan of oysters, so I switched it to Manhattan clam chowder that we now have waiting for us after working up an appetite from leading the music at Christmas Eve Mass.

Christmas Day is a crazy time of present opening and eating way too much!

Christmas 2014, when we lived in Malibu

What are your favorite Christmas traditions? Leave a comment below!

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