What makes me happy on Christmas morning

I can't imagine I'll ever outgrow the current of excitement that runs down my spine when I wake up on Christmas morning.

Since my mum has been living abroad for most of the last decade, I usually spend Christmas morning with my dad and stepmother, my brother and his boyfriend, my aunt, and my stepsister, her husband and their two adorable kids – and there’s a predictable routine to how we spend the morning of Dec. 25.

Shortly after I open my eyes, I can hear my dad in the kitchen, starting a pot of coffee and putting on some Christmas-y music (as I pray that no stray Rod Stewart or Conway Twitty CD accidentally makes it into the mix). We assemble downstairs, waiting for my aunt to arrive, loaded down with gift bags, even the smallest items individually wrapped. My dad and stepmother start putting things in the oven and juicing oranges, as we kids make occasional attempts to help in between regular visits to check and recheck what’s under the tree. For my entire life, my older brother and I (now both in our thirties) have had to be physically restrained from immediately tearing open all gifts the moment we wake up. We’re made to wait until after breakfast, but we’ve used our two young nephews in the last few years to make a shameless plea that (for their sake!) all presents should be immediately addressed. (It hasn’t worked yet, but my brother and I are nothing if not persistent.) And then, after a big breakfast in the sun-flooded dining room, we sit in a circle and take turns excitedly working our way through each our our gift piles.

In all, Christmas mornings are exciting affairs, with an almost-embarrassing mountain of gifts (my parents still love to overdo it) and pajamas and food and gratitude. We are a blended family, a group of people thrown together through previously painful circumstances – i.e., two separate, embattled divorces – but we have figured out a way, in just over a decade of knowing each other, to establish our own traditions and strong sense of family. It’s not all perfect and we don’t all play artificially nice; there are rolled eyes and occasional pranks and clearly clashing opinions – just like in any other family.

But what makes me happy about Christmas morning now – more than my love of ripping open presents and rooting through stockings and eating crisp bacon and drinking cold mimosas and sipping warm cups of my Dad’s strong, strong coffee – is the reminder that everything in life is both possible and unpredictable. And sometimes, a once awful situation that creates what feels like an irreparable rift can be put together again in a way you never could have imagined. Christmas mornings for me have become a hopeful affair, a reminder that anything can be healed with a little luck and an open heart. And that makes me really happy.