When I was a child, Christmas Eve was the most magical, wonderful – yet, the longest day of the year. My big brother and I woke up very early. But, hey, we weren’t stupid. Well aware the daylight hours would drag until nightfall when the Santa countdown began, we struggled to lie in bed – sleep really late – maybe even until 7:30. I know that sounds early. But, compared to our 4 AM wake-up on Christmas morning, 7:30 was a real sleep-in – and a struggle. As every child knows, Santa’s “watch elves” work overtime on Christmas Eve. That, after all, is the final stretch of the “Naughty/Nice Season.” Regardless of how nice you have been all year, one wrong move on Christmas Eve Day, if witnessed by a cranky elf, and you could wake up to a stocking full of switches.
Indeed, December 24 – most stressful day for a child. So, we tried to linger in bed. In addition to our effort to shorten the day, this would also decrease the possibility of our starting to argue with one another or impatiently agitate Mom. There were just so many ways of getting in trouble on Christmas Eve Day.
Emotions ran high.
The pressure was on.
Anything could happen.
Still, by 7:30, we were up and running. Meeting at the cereal box, the challenge was not to bicker over who poured more in the bowl, or who had first dibs on reading the back of the box. On to the living room – the everyday argument about what cartoon we would watch must be avoided today, of all days. And so it continued…
Parents were stressed with final preparations. It was still too early for their “eggnog.” So, we tried hard to just stay, as my grandmother would say, “out from under foot” (translation: “out of their way”). There was hurrying, scurrying, lots of whispering, and always the suggestion we, “Go on outside and play!” Of course, our response (albeit non-verbal) was, “Play with WHAT?” After all, it was Christmas Eve. We were suddenly children without a single toy. Oh sure, we had some “old, used stuff.” But, we needed new toys – we couldn’t play with that old junk anymore.
And in the innocent world of childhood, where you usually never give a thought to time, on this one day of the year, we were checking every hour- and yes, nagging the grownups, “What time is it NOW?” Uh oh – hoping the elves didn’t hear that – or see the look on Mom’s face when, clearly annoyed, her response was along the lines of, “It is 15 minutes after the last time you asked. Now, get back outside and play!”
At some point, my brother and I came up with the bright idea of taking a nap. Yes, the dreaded nap – sleeping during daylight hours – the very thing we railed against any other day of the year. And, as was our motive of sleeping late that morning, we merely sought to:
1) Shorten the day
2) Stay out of trouble
The primary problem with that whole nap thing was it ruined our ability to fall asleep that night. Okay. Now, we have a real dilemma. Christmas Eve night, and we were wide awake – not even drowsy. Everybody knows Santa doesn’t stop – won’t even slow down at a house where children are awake.
So, we lay there in the dark, eyes squinched tightly shut – as if that would somehow force sleep. Prisoners of our own wakefulness, we dare not speak. Even the slightest whisper would trigger a “Are you still awake in there? You know Santa will be here any minute. He better not find you awake! And…the elves are watching!” (Those darned elves!)
And so we waited for sleep – not with “visions of sugarplums” dancing in our heads. No. We had been studying the WISH BOOK (Sears Catalog) for a month. Pages were dog-eared, with something circled on every page. Those were the visions dancing in our heads. And despite knowing we would probably not get anything we really wanted, we still fantasized. After all, it was called a “wish” book – not an order form.
Sometime during the night, we finally fell asleep, and when we got up at 4:00 on Christmas morning, we found Santa had, indeed, snuck into the house, leaving lots of fun surprises, few, if any, that we circled in the WISH BOOK. But, it was okay. It was Christmas morning. We had made it through another year without getting busted by the elves. Our stockings were filled, not with switches, but candy, fruit, and nuts. And under the tree were toys – not necessarily what we dreamed of, but it was Christmas. And besides, there was always next year.
Though I am compelled to add, in those days, a year was a lot longer than it is now…
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Thanks very much, and Merry Christmas! 🎁🎄 Nancy