On Christmas morning, five piles of presents sit around the tree. Needlepoint stockings marked “Haley,” “Austin,” “John,” “Julia” and “Lauren” lie on the couch, stuffed with chocolate Santas and coins, candy canes and trinkets.

The presents from Santa are always unwrapped and the best gifts under the tree. The rest are wrapped presents from Mom and Dad. These presents appear under the tree days and weeks before Christmas day. My 11-year-old sister keeps score of how many gifts each person has, and who has the biggest one waiting for them.

Unwrapping gifts on Christmas morning has been a tradition for as long as I can remember, but my memories of the holidays don’t stop there. Below are eight of my favorite memories about Christmas.

1. The Advent calendar:

The only school days I ever rolled out of bed willingly when my parents came to wake me at 6:30 a.m. were the days the cloth Advent calendar was hanging in our living room. The first person awake got to take the shape, ranging from a sheep to a star, out of the numbered pocket and place it where they thought best on the Nativity scene, slowly setting the scene, as Advent is a preparation for Christmas. Obviously, this was an honor envied by all. Even with two kids out of the house and two in high school, the Advent calendar still goes up every year, and my youngest sister has no competition when it comes to building the nativity.

2. Seeing extended family:

My immediate family celebrates Christmas on December 25. On December 26, we meet with my mom’s extended family, and the family of seven suddenly becomes a family of around 30. We drive to Houston and have a delicious dinner followed by a gift exchange. As wonderful as the dinner and presents are, the best part is seeing cousins, aunts and uncles that we haven’t seen since early in the summer.

3. Getting the tree:

My siblings and I protest a fake tree every year. So, every December, we drive out to a farm and pick one out. After a little bickering, we reach a consensus. The rest of the evening consists of decorating the tree with ornaments – ranging from balls to homemade ones, eating pizza and drinking eggnog, and listening to Christmas music.

4. No school for a month:

When I went to college, I discovered one of the most magical things about Christmas. That is, I experienced Christmas break. Almost a month long, Christmas break is the perfect size. You feel like you get a break, but a month-long break doesn’t make it too hard to go back in January. It’s the perfect amount of time to catch up on sleep and enjoy the festivities of the seasons.

5. Seeing the stores:

I generally avoid shopping in December, but I still love walking around the department stores. Malls have 10-foot trees, complete with red ornaments and bows, and everything is trimmed in silver and gold. Christmas is one of the few holidays where it seems like the whole world is celebrating, and nothing puts you in the mood for the holiday season like the glittering decorations.

6. Making cookies:

Every holiday season my siblings and I make Christmas cookies. My mom bakes sugar cookies, and we frost and sprinkle them with pink, blue, green, white or yellow. Of course, Santa cannot eat three dozen cookies, so my family takes on the burden of eating the extras.

7. Christmas movies:

I love movies, and there is no better time to indulge this love than at Christmas. My sister, mom and I only watch Hallmark movies in December, because no one does cheesy, feel-good Christmas movies quite as well as Hallmark. And when we get bored of Hallmark, we turn to the classics. My mom watches “Miracle on 34th Street” on a loop during the holidays, and I watch “It’s a Wonderful Life” every single Christmas.

8. Christmas Eve Mass:

Of all of the Christmas traditions, this one is my favorite. Christmas can be so commercialized, and nothing reminds me of the real reason for the season like Christmas Eve Mass. My family shows up an hour and a half early every year. This ensures that we get to sit through the Mass, but we mainly do this to participate in singing Christmas carols before the Mass begins. Songs include “Silent Night,” “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” and “What Child is This?” Few things are as beautiful as hearing both choir and congregation sing these songs that many know and love so well.