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, I expect the lines from Heaven will be clear again Christmas morning and that phone in my head will ring just prior to that dreaded time in the morning. But this, admittedly, is among the favorites 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, only the wonder of how he fit his ever-growing frame down our very thin stove-pipe. I pondered that thought until the weight of my eyelids became too troublesome and drifted into sleep with that unanswered query still nagging my brain.
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 and the rest of the fire department. I mean, he had to have been freezing up there and what better way to keep him jolly than with 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 one 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. Santa waved and wished me a Merry Christmas and I walked back home with a smile that went from one ear to the other.
Every Christmas morning we were allowed to open our stockings and then we were forced to stare longingly at the big presents under the tree while we choked down some breakfast. That tradition should have been abolished but still remains intact. 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 a few years ago by not only leaving the price tag on a gift for my sister-in-law but the price tag was hanging outside of the gift box and not wrapped up inside.
My mother was the David Copperfield of making presents disappear. She loved to start her shopping in June and would hide the packages where we would never find them. 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. There was always a competition 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 changed the face of that contest and it was anyone’s guess as to whose Christmas present was going to appear at Easter!!
As I sit writing this, the gifts are waiting to be coated in the festive colors of wrapping paper. The Shrimp Dip has been made by my brother, (hopefully there will be some left for the big day) and he is busy preparing his house for the onslaught of family, food and extreme commotion. This is the best of Christmas. It’s not the gifts or the decorations, it’s time spent laughing about the price tags, the long-lost gifts and the early morning phone calls. It’s watching my brother “float” his Christmas dinner in gravy. It’s Santa Claus on a fire truck and being tricked by my nephews to play a Shepherd in church on past Christmas Eves. 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 or that I may just wear track pants this year. Christmas is about presence and not presents.
To all of you and all of yours – a very Merry Christmas and happy holidays.