When we were little Christmas was an expectant time. We went to bed early so that Santa Claus could come and leave us presents. We had written letters to him assuring him that we had been good. We let him know what gifts we wanted.
It was so hard to go to sleep. We would try and the harder we tried, the harder it was to relax enought to finally drop off. But eventually it happened.
Christmas morning was glorious. We would get up and file to the living room. That is where the Christmas tree was with all the presents beneath it. There was an order to opening gifts that has been followed from then on. I will tell you more later.
Some Christmases we went to spend the day with my mother's family on the farm. It was fun getting so many people together. But most years it was just our family and that was special.
One Christmas when I was 5 or 6 I awoke to hear the sounds of nuts cracking. That was Daddy. I cannot pass the nuts in the store at Christmas without thinking of him. He loved them so and Christmas was the only time they were available.
There were voices. Had Santa been there?
I got out of bed and went quietly to the door. There were Mom and Daddy wrapping gifts and putting them under the tree. Most people would say that was proof there is no Santa Claus. Of course I know better. He is real.
Every year Santa left a giant Hershey bar for each of my brothers and sisters. Mom and I got big boxes of chocolate covered cherries. They are still my very favorite.
Another year my brother and I woke up early. It was about 2:00 in the morning. We went to the living room and there was the tree with all the presents under it. We were much too excited to go back to bed so we decided to wait quietly until everyone else was awake.
We spent the time guessing what was in each package. The round one had to be a basketball. It was fun. The problem was that even our whispering got louder and louder. Mom got up and shooed us back to bed.
Then there was the year my brother and I decided to play sick and stay home from school before Christmas. We knew where Mom was stashing the gifts and we were going to take a peak. Mom was working at the time so she took our youngest sister to Grandma's. We were alone. Yay.
We went into the closet and went through everything. I found two dresses that I assumed were for my sister and me. Mom sewed most of our clothes. She had outdone herself with these and they were gorgeous. I even tried mine on. Perfect fit.
That was a terrible Christmas for me. I discovered that a major part of the fun is the expectation and surprise in the packages.
When I was about 15 I went to my boyfriend's house on Christmas Eve. I had a wonderful time with his family. He was to take me home so I would be home by 11:00.
There was a terrible blizzard that night. I lived at what amounts to be the top of a steep hill. He drove home the way we usually went. His car could not get to the top of the hill. He tried another way. No luck. We went around and tried to get up the hill past the cemetery. It was steeper than the rest.
Then we decided that perhaps he could go part way up and then turn into a subdivision. By winding through streets that only went up for a block we were finally ably to come out on my street and I made it home. He had no trouble going to his house because it was all downhill.
Because it was so late I went to explain to Mom why I did not make curfew. She understood. She was wrapping gifts for my brothers and sisters and told me I could help so that she could get a little sleep. I was happy to do it.
Then the next morning we opened our gifts from Santa. I was miserable because I knew everything the other kids were getting. I do like surprises.
As we got older the kids started buying gifts for our parents and each other. In order to make room under the tree we opened those gifts on Christmas Eve.
When I was a teenager I realized how much my parents loved Christmas and what they did to make sure that our Christmas was a good one. We did not get gifts for birthdays and other occasions. There were special things we did but money was hard to come by.
At Christmas my parents went all out. They would go into debt or sell something that was precious to them just to make sure that our Christmas was a good one. And they never ever let on. I knew but I never mentioned it to them. That was my gift to them.
One year I got my first wrist watch for Christmas. I was being recognized as the soon to be adult that I felt I was. It was before we had digital battery operated watches. It had to be wound by the little stem to keep it running every day. No problem.
The problem was that it felt hot. I told my parents but they just chuckled and told me that I would get used to the feeling of wearing it soon. I kept complaining and they kept being amused.
Then one day I showed them the blister on my arm where the watch had burned it. They took it back to the store. It seems that the watchmaker had not put in that teeny tiny drop of lubricant that keeps the gears from creating the friction that eventually caused my burn.
As we got older and began having families of our own we still tended to go to Mom and Dad's for Christmas Day. Mom always told us she was cooking and we were all welcome. Just don't get between her and the television during the football game.
Daddy never understood why any of us moved into our own homes, much less why we would want to spend Christmas Day at home. As my family got older I wanted my children to develop happy memories of our Christmases like the ones I had. So we began to spend Christmas Day at our house. Daddy did not understand.
Now Mom understood about Christmas Day. However she had a strict rule about Christmas Eve. Everyone in the family was required to be there, no matter what.
We had baked goods, candy, cakes, and pies. One year she even decided to make every fruit cake from the recipes she had been collecting for decades. I always took some of the things I had made. There were cold cuts and chips, pickles and relishes, vegetable trays... all easy to eat and no work at the time.
We all sat and talked and laughed. The kids played and told the adults what had been happening in their little lives. Daddy just sat in his chair and reveled in having his family around him. Mom even was able to enjoy herself because all the work was done for a time and she could join in without interruption.
We are a large family. We were not blessed with those soft genteel voices. As we talked the noise level would rise. So we talked louder. The noise level would keep rising and we would keep talking louder. To new members of the family it was disconcerting but they would learn to adjust.
Then came time to open the gifts. We all took our gifts to each other to Christmas Eve. Christmas morning was reserved for Santa Claus.
Daddy played Santa. He did not dress up or anything. He was the person who passed out the gifts. The first gift always went to the youngest member of the family. We would all watch as the gift was opened then ooh and aah at the gift. Then the next in line would receive the next gift and the same oohs and aahs were issued.
After each person in the family had received a gift in the order of their age and the appropriate responses were given, the gifts were not necessarily given in order. But each gift received the same presentation... we watched as it was opened and then appreciated the wonderfulness of it.
As I said we are a large family and there were a lot of gifts. Gift opening took a long, long time. We loved every second.
I miss those huge Christmas Eves. Mom and Daddy are gone. Some of the children are no longer with us. There have been divorces and marriages that have changed who is a present member of the family. Two of my brothers have died. But the spirit of Christmas lives.
I tried to keep the big Christmas Eve celebration going. But people would move too far away so they could not come. Soon it was just my children and grandchildren. There were still enough of us to have a raucous, noisy party.
Now I have moved away. I came back to the part of the country where I was raised and away from the big city that I hated. My children and grandchildren had to stay where their jobs are. My Christmases are quiet now. But I have all those happy memories and they are more than enough.
By the way, for any who doubt, Santa Claus is real. He still leaves presents for me under my tree.