By Mike Watkins//Contributor | Thursday, December 20, 2018
When I was a kid, Christmas was always incredibly special – and memorable. My family loved and celebrated Christmas big. We spent the entire month of December celebrating and established many traditions that have become very special memories.
One that stands out – and my three brothers and I still talk about – is how, on Christmas Day, my grandmother would spread out all of her grandkids’ presents (there were 9 of us at the time) across her living room floor.
Front to back, the room was filled with beautifully wrapped gifts. We looked forward to stepping between the presents, lifting and shaking each gift to see which ones were ours before the other cousins arrived. We absolutely loved it.
Following are some fond holiday memories and traditions from swimmers and coaches.
As you read these, think about some of the holiday memories and traditions you share with the people in your life.
“My family and I have so many wonderful memories. We’ve spent every Christmas together going on different adventures and traveling to new places. Top of the list are spending a week on a catamaran in the British Virgin Islands, scuba diving, hiking, SUPing and wakeboarding. We’ve hiked all over Sedona, Ariz., skied Flagstaff, went scuba diving in Kauai and much more. There never seems to be a dull moment with my three sisters! Aside from all the outdoor activities, we enjoy spending time playing games or putting together puzzles and testing our culinary skills by whipping up some delicious food.”
“When I was younger, my whole extended family used to have Christmas at my grandma’s house. Everyone would come into the Cleveland area, and we would have dinner and do a Christmas gift exchange. It was always my favorite part of Christmas. And this sounds cheesy, but I’m getting married a few days before Christmas, so I’m excited to make those new Christmas memories.”
“My favorite Christmas tradition is looking through my grandmother’s recipe book with my mom, aunts and cousins. It’s amazing to see how well she’s kept all of our family’s favorite recipes over the years.”
“I can remember being real young, and my parents would get creative to help me believe in Santa. We would leave cookies and milk out by the fireplace. When we woke the next morning, there would be crumbs left and one cookie with a big bite out of it. Leading into Christmas, my parents would tell my sister and me that elves had moved into the basement. We’d tiptoe to the basement door, open it slowly and quickly shine flashlights downstairs hoping to see them. There was always movement and sounds because, unbeknownst to us, my dad would be standing behind us throwing something colorful down the stairs to pull the wool over our eyes. One year, we heard reindeer. My parents had a family member climb on our roof and stomp their feet. We couldn’t believe it! Reindeer on our roof!”
“My favorite Christmas memory was when I was 6. I woke up in the middle of the night on Christmas Eve because I thought I heard jingle bells on the roof. I laid in bed wide awake, afraid to move because I didn’t want Santa Claus to know that I was awake.”
“My freshman year at Michigan, we were training at altitude in Mexico. I remember celebrating New Year’s by jumping in for a grueling midnight practice that tested everyone mentally. It was a moment with my teammates I’ll never forget.”
Robin Vanderkaay (mother of the Vanderkaay brothers)
“Our family loves the Christmas holidays as it is often one of the only times we are all together. We have a tradition of doing Buffalo chicken wings on Christmas Eve. This comes from swim meets we did with our age group program that took us to Buffalo, N.Y., every year right before Christmas. Great memories!”
“I remember that Christmas was the only day without morning practice that my brothers and I would wake up early. We would get up and go surfing before opening presents.”
Kaitlin Sandeno Hogan
“Christmas Eve is actually my favorite day of the year. My fondest memories of Christmas Eve are those of tradition – always going to candlelight church service, having a nice dinner and getting to open one gift (that is always PJs) from our parents. When I was really young, I would always sleep with my older sister (come to find out that was to make sure I stayed in my bed). These days, our Christmas Eve is pretty much the same but with some new traditions and more family members as we grow! Still candlelight church service, but my sister makes an incredible meal that we all enjoy at her house – homemade enchiladas (with a fried egg on top). We play left, right, center and do a white elephant gift exchange. And we still get that one gift from our parents – PJs – but I no longer sleep with my sister.”
“We have a tradition amongst the three sisters to buy presents for one another and then open them on Christmas Eve. We always try and guess the present before opening – so it’s fun to see how close or how far off we are. Sisterhood is an unbreakable bond, and I hope to carry on that tradition ‘til the end of time. A memory my parents love to remind me of – but I’m not very proud of – is that I am a competitive person. I was a competitive athlete for many years, and that competitiveness took me to the ultimate stage – the Olympics. But my parents like to remind me that it may have all started under the Christmas tree. You see – I guess I would count each of the presents to see who had the most (typically the youngest, Jordan) and let it be known to all. I’m happy to announce that I’ve outgrown that stage.”
“My favorite holiday memory is both the night before Christmas as a kid waiting for Christmas morning to open presents and now having my kids come downstairs on Christmas morning with their excitement. Along with that, though, is that a few years ago, I started allowing them to buy presents for each other and talked to them about being more blessed to give than to receive. You wouldn’t believe how true it was from the very beginning. They get so excited to watch their siblings open the presents they got them.”
Megan Quann Jendrick
“One of my favorite Christmas memories is from 2014. Our daughter, Sydney, had just been born at the end of October, joining her brother, Daethan, and it was extra special because it was our first Christmas as the four Jendricks. Nate and I always wanted two children, but between swimming and books and school, it had taken us a long while to find the right time to start a family. So, that year was finally the first Christmas morning where we got to sit around the tree with both of our babies, and it just felt so complete. Nothing was missing – everything was so beautiful – and it was just a reminder of how blessed we are. Every Christmas is so wonderful, but that one sticks out as an extra special memory for me!”
“My strongest Christmas memory is when I lit my hair on fire when I leaned over a candle on the table. My favorite childhood Christmas gift is my cat, Backstroke.”
“My favorite thing about Christmas is being with my three children and husband. Getting up early Christmas morning, opening presents, eating a great breakfast and playing a new board game together. Last year, we had an awesome spike ball tournament, watched a good movie together and then took a nap. Total bliss!”
Samantha Arsenault Livingstone
“First thing that comes to mind is Christmas Eve. We do a family swim at the Y in the morning to get out that WILD, excited energy and then enjoy hot chocolate and bake cookies!”
“My favorite swimming-related Christmas memory was getting to come home during college to stay with my family and train with my club team, the Mission Viejo Nadadores. It always felt great to get time at home, reset in the pool that I grew up swimming in and then feel well-rested heading back to our winter training camp at Stanford.”
“The holiday season meant the ever-dreaded Christmas training for me. There was always something about this part of the season that was love-hate. However, the most memorable set I did was 30x100s from the block, hold best average on 2 minutes long course. It was a set that was absolute torture, but you felt so victorious after it was over.”
“One of my favorite traditions is my family’s secret stocking exchange. We have had our same stocking for as long as I remember. My dad’s was a sock knitted by my great-grandmother. It now could fit an elephant’s foot. In the morning, we turn on the TV fireplace (NC winters are not usually cold) and listen to Alvin and the Chipmunks’ Christmas music for the reveal.”
“My father comes from a large Irish Catholic family with 7 siblings. Growing up, all my aunts and uncles and cousins would come to our house, and we would have a large family dinner with about 30 of us. Christmas morning was the one morning I never felt guilty about missing swim practice – Badger actually had Christmas morning practice! Only went 1 year – 1997 before World Championships. Guess it was worth it that time.”