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Christmas super fan: Nonprofit director, adult family rise at 3 a.m. for presents
Opening presents after sunrise just 'didnt feel like Christmas'
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Brandee Thomas, managing director at My Sister’s Place, wraps presents Tuesday morning at her office in Gainesville. Each year, Thomas conspires with her grandmother and niece to make sure all of the family shows up for their annual Christmas traditions at 3 a.m. Christmas Day. - photo by Erin O. Smith

In Brandee Thomas’ family, the presents are opened and breakfast has been served by the time the sun rises Christmas Day.

Typically, the entire family wakes by 3 a.m.

“I don’t remember when it started,” Thomas said. “It seems like we always did it. I don’t remember opening presents as a kid with the sun up.”

Thomas, managing director of My Sister’s Place in Gainesville, said she and her grandmother Anna Mae both love Christmas. When Thomas was young, her grandmother would wake all three of her granddaughters in the earliest hours of the morning, ready to start the celebration.

“My grandma loves Christmas,” Thomas said. “She gets so excited about us opening our presents, so I almost think it was more that she couldn’t wait for us to get up.”

Though Thomas and her two sisters are now grown, she and Anna Mae continue the tradition of waking up early.

“It became a running joke to see how early we could get up,” she said. “I’m not a morning person at all, but on Christmas I can’t wait. The earliest I think we did presents was maybe 1 a.m.”

A few years ago, Thomas said one of her sisters asked to celebrate at a “more normal” hour. They opened presents at 7 a.m. and most everyone agreed: never again.

“It didn’t feel right,” Thomas said. “It didn’t feel like Christmas.”

Thomas said she starts “lobbying” to her family members in the summer, to make sure they know this Christmas tradition will remain the same.

“I say, ‘You know Christmas is my favorite. Will you please be here at least by 3?’” she said. “But I have to work on my sister a little while to get her to come my way.”

The entire Christmas Day at the Thomas home is on an adjusted schedule. After opening presents, they begin preparing breakfast while the grandchildren play with their toys. After breakfast, a few people catch a nap while others start working on the big Christmas dinner.

“My mother and my grandmother like to have Christmas dinner by 4:30 p.m. at the absolute latest,” Thomas said.

Thomas also has a Christmas Eve tradition that she began as a high school student.

“I was working at Applebee’s, and my grandmother said, ‘It would be nice if we had some snacks on Christmas Eve, so we could just sit around together and talk,’” Thomas said. “Being her co-conspirator I said, ‘Yeah,’ and I just got a couple trays from work.”

Soon, the Christmas Eve party became Thomas’ “thing.” She cooks and prepares special cocktails for her immediate family, who come up from Brunswick.

“I’m very protective of the guest list, so it’s a very exclusive Christmas Eve party,” she joked. “It’s just my parents, my grandmother and my siblings and their families. It’s my favorite thing, because the older I get, the fewer opportunities I have to just enjoy my immediate family. I try to take advantage of that.”

Thomas’ 13-year-old niece is another co-conspirator, along with Thomas and her grandmother. She spends the night at her grandparents’ house so she can be one of the first to wake Christmas morning.

“I even created a mocktail for my niece when she was little so she wouldn't feel left out,” Thomas said. “She's 13 now and for the last handful of years has called to remind me to not forget her special drink. I love it.”

Thomas said she’s “not above using guilt or the children’s excitement” in her favor when arranging the Christmas celebrations each year.

“Christmas is just my favorite holiday,” she said. “We don’t have a lot of family traditions, but really Christmas Eve and Christmas Day are hard and fast traditions. And I’m very protective of that.”

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