Growing up, the days leading up to Christmas Eve were filled with so much excitement. My mom and I would run errands around town, stopping at the local market and Italian bakery for treats, while my grandma stayed home rolling struffoli and baking thumbprint cookies. Helping them prepare our Christmas meal, decorating cookies, and setting the table was magical. I couldn't wait until I was old enough to host my own Christmas dinners.
As I grew, our guest list started to dwindle until it was just us around the table. While our traditions stayed the same, I longed to be surrounded by a bustling roomful of people again. One Christmas Eve, my wish came true when we were invited to drop by our neighbor's house to celebrate the holiday. A house filled with people was music to my ears.
I'm never happier than [when I know] my home will be filled to the brim.
From then on, Christmas Eve meant going to mass, having dinner at home with my grandparents, and then heading to my neighbor's for a bustling Christmas get-together. Their home was always filled with such joy and laughter, not to mention the food was absolutely amazing. Every year, I would meet so many new and interesting people, and I loved that anybody was welcome. No one from our neighborhood ever had to celebrate the holiday alone. To repay their kindness, I vowed that I would have the same open door policy when I had my own home.
Now, I always account for a few extra guests when I shop for Christmas dinner, because I never know who will show up. Like my neighbors, I don't believe anyone should celebrate the holidays alone. Everyone I know has an open invitation to my house during the Christmas season. Over the years, my family has hosted the families of nurses who work through the holiday, families who were displaced by a fire, teenagers looking for a place to crash, and friends with different religious beliefs who don't even celebrate Christmas. I make sure everyone leaves with a small token wrapped in bright paper and tied with ribbon.
One of my favorite Christmas celebrations found us with more than twenty people around the table. By the time we were ready to sit down to eat, our dining room was filled with family, friends, and an exchange student from Lagos, Nigeria. My oven worked overtime as I prepared turkey, lasagna, ham, and all the sides. The meal took days to prep, but I was never happier knowing that my home would be filled to the brim. Even after dinner ended and the evening started to wind down, we stayed up late and played board games all through the night.
An open door policy might not be for everyone, but it's the way my family chooses to spread joy each year, and I wouldn't change a thing. And I hope that one day, my kids will carry on this beloved tradition. I can't help but smile when they ask if their friends can stop by for an hour or two on Christmas, because when it comes to the holidays, I believe the more the merrier.