I still get that Christmas Eve feeling—a mixture of excitement and anticipation for the big day. Over the years my role has changed when it comes to Christmas—I am now the purveyor of all that is merry and bright—which is a heavy mantle to carry, and one I wear with trepidation mixed with the hope against hope that I will once again pull this one off.
I remember the days, when as a little girl, I would lie in my bed on Christmas Eve with visions not of sugar plums, but of what would await me the next morning. Santa always had a surprise waiting: one year it was a room full of balloons around the Christmas tree; another year I found a Rocket Crystal Radio in the Christmas tree. Wrapped in Christmas paper bearing my name, it was the best gift ever. And the fact that I could only listen to CKLW (a local station) was not a problem at all. I raised the little antenna at the tip of the rocket, put the earphones in my ears, and I was off to another plant. Another year (before the rocket radio year) my sister and I found two “walking” dolls, not under the tree but in the dining room. They were three feet tall. Mine had blond hair and my sister Peg’s had auburn hair. You took them by their left hand and some kind of intricate mechanism allowed them to walk with you. We thought we had died and gone to heaven!
I have another vivid Christmas memory that I may have shared with you before. But it is worth repeating. I wrote it up afresh for my Writers’ Group Christmas Party and called it: Magic and Wonder. Here it is, edited a bit to fit in this column:
“I never wanted to stop believing in Santa. And to this day, I still do. But I remember when I believed in more than the spirit. I believed in a living, breathing, jolly old fellow who ate the cookies and milk my sister and I left out. I believed that he really did park his sleigh and his eight tiny reindeer and Rudolph on our roof, and that he found his way into our house even though our chimney led to an oil furnace and not an open fireplace.
I was convinced for years that Santa himself left the gifts under our tree and it is for one very specific reason. One year, my sister and I, ages 8 and 5, were nestled in our beds, and although we were not sure what visions of sugar plums were, we were imagining the magical things that awaited us the next morning. We were trying hard to fall asleep, but to no avail. Then we heard it. Jingle bells. And footsteps on the flat roof of our bedroom. We shared a double bed and huddled together in excitement, trying to douse our giggles, fearful that if Santa heard us, he would go away.
There was a stillness in the house. No one was stirring—not even the mice that made themselves often known in the walls of our bedroom. The television was off which was odd since my parents stayed up late. And my brothers were not saying a word. These things did not make sense but we were not going to question them. It was the magic of Christmas Eve. Santa was here. And he was going to leave our presents.
Getting presents at Christmas was really the only time we got toys in those days. We got clothes and books on other occasions, but toys only came at Christmas. We were not going to peak out our bedroom door because I am sure in our little minds that meant that Santa would vanish if we discovered him.
Finally, we heard footsteps on the roof again, a distant ho, ho, ho, and the sound of jingle bells. We did not move for a while, so caught up in the wonder. We hugged each other, and only in furtive whispers did we check with the other that what we thought had happened really happened.
Before falling asleep I noticed the sound of the television and the din of the rest of the family’s voices and wondered drowsily to myself where they had been. But I did not question it. And the next morning my sister and I had a wonderful tale to tell. Years later we learned that our older brothers, Jim and John, had climbed up on the roof, jingled some bells and pretended to be Santa. I wonder if they knew what a gift they had given their little sisters. The gift of magic and wonder.”