The best of Christmas

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Each year, when my father was still with us, he would phone at 6:00 am to wish me a Merry Christmas and get the day started.  This year, the lines from Heaven must have been pretty open because that phone in my head rang at 5:30 am and I was wide awake (thanks Dad!!).  But this, begrudgingly, is among the favorite of my Christmas memories.

There are many Christmas traditions we still follow, and although they become slightly modified as the years pass, the holidays wouldn’t be the same without them.  After we moved to our tiny little town, Christmas Eve was spent bundled in our warmest winter gear standing at the end of our driveway.  The sirens could be heard before the truck was spotted and the lights would crest the hill by our house.   Santa Claus was atop the biggest fire truck and would pass all of the eager children, bundled tight like we were, waiting for a glimpse of the big guy before we were hurried off to nestle in our beds.  There were no visions of sugar plums, and the wonder of how he fit his ever-growing frame down our very thin stove-pipe was enough to keep me awake for hours.

Santa on a fire truck

As the years passed we began to give back.  We would faithfully wait at the end of our driveway with a case of beer for the jolly man.  I mean, he had to have been frozen up there and what better way to keep him jolly than some beer?  I’ll never forget the eve of one particular Christmas when Santa told us that he didn’t drink beer, but instead enjoyed a Rye and Coke.  I guess everyone has a Christmas wish and the following year we granted his with a tall glass of whiskey and carbonated syrup.  My gifts were fabulous that year!!

We almost missed him this year, and I raced to the corner of the next street to catch him on his way back.  I stood in anticipation, forever in the shadow of the child I once was and with the smile of the child I hope to always be, and Santa waved and wished me a Merry Christmas.  My night was complete.

Each Christmas morning, we were allowed to open our stockings and then were forced to stare longingly at the big presents under the tree while we choked down some form of breakfast.  Complete and total torture.  That tradition should have been abolished, but still remains intact much to my nephew’s chagrin.  (although my brother’s Eggs Benedict makes the wait worthwhile!)  Paper flew, boxes were cast aside and we became buried in a pile of pure love.  Thanks to my mom, inevitably, one or more of the presents would still have a price tag on them and that became a much-anticipated tradition as well.  My brother followed up spectacularly this year by not only leaving the price tag on a gift for his wife, but the price tag was hanging outside of the gift box and not wrapped up inside.

My mother had become the David Copperfield of making presents disappear.  She mastered her craft so well over the years, that we would receive some of our Christmas presents in March when they magically appeared months after the festivities had ended.  It was always a race between my brother and I to see who would open the last present on Christmas Day.  We would skilfully hide a gift or two and casually pull them out an hour or two after the mayhem had ended.  My mom really upped the ante on that one and it was anyone’s guess as to whose Christmas present was going to appear at Easter!!

As I sit writing this, the dessert is in the fridge waiting to be finished, my brother has put the turkey in the oven and we will meet again in a few hours to enjoy our family dinner.  This is the best of Christmas.  It’s not the presents or the tinsel, it’s time laughing about the price tags and the long-lost gifts that is the most important to me.  It’s Santa Claus on a fire truck and being tricked by my nephew to play a Shepherd in church on Christmas Eve.  It’s a glass of wine with the people closest to me, the people who don’t care that I have to unbutton my pants after eating too much turkey.  These are my precious Christmas gifts and the best of my holiday.

To all of you and all of yours – a very Merry Christmas and happy holidays.