Why I celebrate cousins day every Christmas week

When I was a kid, I read every single Sweet Valley twins book that I could find, graduating to Sweet Valley High when age appropriate. I never forgot one book in which Liz and Jess discuss their excitement for Christmas in the Wakefield household. They talk about how they open one present on Christmas Eve, because that was a special Wakefield tradition. It had always made me wish that my family would create something that was all our own, our special way of doing something really different around the holidays. I would get my wish, years later.

My cousins and are spread out across the United States. One is in Seattle, one is in Pennsylvania, one is in Texas after being in Chicago and one is in Maryland. When the youngest was turning 21 a few years ago, my other cousin suggested that we all celebrate him finally catching up to the rest of us with a night out in New York City. Hotel rooms were reserved, dinner plans were made, bar hopping commenced. Sleep did not really happen. And we found ourselves the next morning, sitting exhausted in the hotel lobby, cracking each other up telling stories from the night. “Did we remember to take a picture for Aunt Kathy?” My one cousin suddenly asked and we all checked our phones to make sure we had indeed done so for her.

As we all begrudgingly separated from each other that morning, one of my cousins said, “we should really do this every year, it should be our thing.” And so Cousins Day was born. I think we look forward to it even more than actual Christmas. Two months in advance we start trading texts and emails discussing who is flying in when, what time we should go to dinner, are we allowed to invite girlfriends and boyfriends or should it just be us.

And then when we get together it’s like a colossal pile of words as we catch up on almost a year’s worth of events for everyone. For the past ten years I always buy scratch off tickets for everyone under the condition that if anyone wins big we share it. I believe we still have yet to win more than fifteen dollars. But every year, we remain hopeful because hey you never know. We jokingly discuss what we’d do with our imaginary winnings, bemoan how we all can’t live closer and of course we do imitations of our respective parents. Sorry mom and dad-and aunts and uncles-but us kids find you all vastly amusing.

Growing up, we were put together at a certain time of year because of family ties, because it was something our parents arranged and that’s what we did on Christmas. The family gathered together. But while we were upholding this regular tradition, we were growing up together and becoming adults, and realized that we didn’t need to be collectively be put together only by our parents like we were still children. We were lucky enough that beyond being blood relatives, we had become friends. Bonded by all of our years of family events. But it was like we had just woken up to the fact that we truly loved seeing each other. And now we were old enough to do something about it on our own.

Cousins Day has led to us making plans for other “grown up play dates”. My brother visited my one cousin in Seattle this year, while I visited one in Austin, Texas and coordinated to meet up with another one in New Jersey. We’ve repeatedly all discussed taking a big group vacation together.

Being around all of them was become my favorite thing about the holidays and I’m so grateful that my insistence on trying to create a unique holiday tradition was surpassed by simply figuring out how much I love my extended family, and how lucky I am to be able to call them my friends. They make everything about the holidays that much more special.

[Image courtesy NBC Universal]