I don't recall having a lot of Christmas eve traditions growing up. I mean, my father was a pastor, so we always went to church. We also got to open one present on Christmas eve before we went to bed. One year my sister and brother and I all got big stuffed talking Alvin, Simon, and Theodore toys that night, which was pretty much the coolest thing ever, but other than that, my holiday memories are all of Christmas morning. The stockings, the presents, the french toast, the reading of the Christmas story from the Bible, the playing with toys all day, you get the picture. (Mom, if we did have more rigid traditions on Christmas eve, feel free to comment below, but try to keep it to one paragraph)
In Germany, however, Christmas eve is a bigger deal. When I married into a German family, I inherited a lot of traditions, but my favorite by far is the shop 'n' swap. It's not very German, to be sure, but every year on Christmas eve, Simone and her family go to a market street (usually Church Street in Burlington, but last year we went to Hampden in Baltimore) and everybody splits up. The goal is to buy a gift for everyone else involved in about an hour, but each gift cannot cost more than $4. It actually started at $2.50, but you know...inflation. Once everyone has finished shopping, we all go back to my mother-in-law's place and wrap the gifts. Then we have lunch and everyone opens their presents to see what exciting, terrifying, or wonderful thing has been purchased for them for the low, low price of $4 or less. Oh, and the other caveat is that each gift must somehow be "useful." Interpret that however you like.
This is actually kind of a difficult game. There aren't that many awesome things out there for under $4. And believe me, you want the gifts to be awesome. How else can you win? My wife and her mother and sisters keep insisting that there is no winner in shop 'n' swap, but that's only because none of them ever win. My brother-in-law Dave and I are in a fierce battle every year to see which of us husbands is going to knock out a victory. They also contend that it is not called "Shop 'n' Swap" but rather "The Christmas Game," but I think we all know which name is awesome and which one is lame.
The store employees totally get into it too. I think there must be something intoxicating about a crazed bearded man running into your otherwise dull shop and shouting "Show me everything in this store that costs less than $4!" They almost always drop what they are doing and start helping you search. Nothing brings people together at the holidays like trying to make a sale.
So as you read this, I am probably out shopping and/or swapping and having a great time with my family, old and new. I hope you are having fun doing whatever it is you always do, and if you are doing something new, who knows? It might just be your new favorite tradition. Merry Christmas!