Let me start off by saying that I do not have a religious family. Christmas and all other major holidays have always just meant family, friends and food. I love the idea of holiday rituals, and even though we’re not religious, we still have rituals—but I have come to realize that they are somewhat… unique. For instance, when I was a kid our Christmas eve get together always had a theme.

The Cowboy Christmas started it off. Dad wanted cowboy boots, so my mom got him a pair. His brother bought him a cowboy hat. I got him a black satin shirt with embroidered red and white cards on the front. I was really young at the time and was so excited about picking that particular shirt out, thinking he’d actually wear it out of the house (I was wrong). Someone else brought bandana party favors for all the guests and from there it quickly grew out of control.

For the Miami Vice Christmas (yes, I’m so lucky to have grown up in the 80’s) everyone wore pastel T-shirts with white blazers and no socks. Mom found a shiny, baby-blue plastic palm tree that we decorated with pink lights for our Christmas tree. There were pink flamingos in our front yard.

Then there was the Russian Christmas where mom made borscht, homemade blinis with caviar and flavored infused vodkas—this was before you could just buy them at the liquor store. Dad made a gorgeous salmon en croute and painted St. Basil’s Cathedral with a Van Gogh Starry Night background on the dining room windows. My uncle dressed up as a Russian Cossack and threatened to make us wait in line for squares of toilet paper. From what I can remember, the night ended in my dad chasing my uncle around the dinning room table because he was after the last of the pepper vodka.

Next came a Dickens’ Christmas, which was an old fashioned English Christmas. My parents made a beautiful roast beef with Yorkshire pudding and my brother made an incredible gingerbread Big Ben—it was so amazing.

One of my favorite themes was the Hoo-Hung-Wu Christmas (our last name is Woo, so it was perfect). It was at the height of the murder mystery game craze and we did it up right. One of our guests that night was a Chinese seamstress and she brought robes, Chinese hats and fans for everyone. We even had dry ice going to lend an air of mystery. I was in charge of fanning the ice to make it wispy and I accidentally tipped the bucket off the railing and it landed on a guest…

Now that most of the children in the family are grown, we’ve moved on to more tame celebrations that involve a lot of singing. We mostly stick to Christmas carols, but we always sing a round of “No Woman No Cry” at the insistence of my uncle. Unfortunately, the majority of us are awful singers and have no memory for lyrics. A few years back, we played Christmas charades and the losers had to go outside and carol to the neighbors. About thirty seconds into the first song you could see porch lights going out all over the block. It was unbelievably hilarious and sad at the same time.

This year I was a little subdued because I still had a cold, but it was great to spend time with family and friends—talking, singing and enjoying the white elephant gift exchange. We had an appetizer party and everyone brought something. I couldn’t taste much because I was stuffed up, but what I could taste was great: shrimp fried rice, delicious marinated ribs, Asian-style chicken wings, cheese fondue, bagna cauda, artichoke dips, bacon wrapped dates, queso fundido and more.

It was a lot of fun, but a few people in the family are thinking we should bring back the theme Christmas. We’ll see what happens next year…