Memories of Christmas
Christmas morning hit and we were sleeping in. My family never used to sleep in on Christmas mornings, but we did that morning. And, no, this wasn’t from anything related to what the name of this article would indicate. The Butter-Rum had yet to make its appearance. What this Christmas morning had in store for my small family was a departure from the kinds of traditions of my youth.
When I was a kid, Christmas morning struck with all the fervor and frenzy of a whirling dervish. We kids would wake up at 3 in the morning and sit in our beds in excited anticipation until we couldn’t take the strain anymore and then we would rush out to look at the presents. This could happen simultaneously but more often than not the sound of my older brother’s little pounding feet was a cue that I could throw the covers off my own bed and leap out in a mad dash to get to the lights and the presents first. If I got up first (which was rare) my brother would be the one on my heels and we would race into the living room and stop in stupefied stares, looking at all the presents Santa had lain out so beautifully the night before. My older sister would make her appearance last of all with yawns and stretches and wide eyed wonder.
The rule was that we couldn’t wake up Mom and Dad until 5:00. At 5 we could wake them up, but only to open our stockings, we had to wait until after church to open our presents. We would usually be done with our present examinations that every kid knows only too well by 4:00. We would then all sit around in jittery excitement waiting for 5 o’clock, watching the long minute hand make its laborious crawl around the long track of the clock.
5 o’clock would finally strike and the moment that second hand hit the number twelve, we three were down the seemingly endless hallway to our parent’s room. We would burst in yelling, “It’s Christmas, it’s Christmas, wake up, wake up, wake up!” as loud as our little lungs could manage and my Mom would laugh and my Dad would groan and say “Is it 5 o’clock already?” and then, threateningly to himself, “it better be.” and he would reach over to his nightstand and look at the clock and groan again as he saw the time and we would all laugh and laugh.
Mom got up with us as we yanked and pulled and yelled and she would be as excited, if not more so, than we were. Dad would not. He got up slowly, long after we had all exited the room faster than a pack of wild wolf pups going for the fresh kill. He would come out when we had just started opening our stockings and taking each thing out one piece at a time. He would watch us with love and a twinkle of excitement, as we shouted at each new revelation, as he made the coffee. And then he would sit down and ask us what Santa had brought.
Santa never scrimped on stockings and we would show him with glee, shouting over each other the most exciting things in our stockings until he had to yell louder and louder, “One at a time, one at a time!”. He would go around to each of us, starting with the most exciting thing, and see what we got and play with our toys or build anything that needed to be built (or didn’t need anything, but was just really cool).
We would play with our stocking toys until it was time to get ready for mass and then we would put on the very best thing we owned. My dad would even wear a tie to church, the only time of year he accepted that particular wardrobe accoutrement. And then we would pile into the car and go pick up my grandparents on our way to our Church (Catholic) and my dad would drop them off at theirs (Episcopalian) only to come back to ours where we had saved him a seat, if we were lucky enough to get a pew.
Afterwards we would pick them back up and all go have breakfast at our house together. The wait to open visible presents while we ate was torture for us kids, but particularly my brother. He would be the first one done, before I was even halfway finished, and he would beg to start opening presents and my dad would say, “No,” until my brother was in so much agony that he would twist his body like a contortionist in his seat. My grandma would see all this and say, “Oh, Wayne, just let them open their presents. It’s Christmas morning and he’s just a kid.” Dad would acquiesce to grandma every time and all us kids would use the table as sprinting blocks and be in front of the tree, breaking every sprinting record by covering the ground from table to tree in approximately one second. Grandpa would groase angrily to himself that no one had finished their breakfasts and everyone would ignore him.
The presents went fast, but orderly, each person getting a turn to open a present. As soon as one person had announced what their gift was the next present was given out and everyone would be talking about whatever present they found most interesting. The whole time the air was abuzz with the sounds of laughter, praise, thank yous, and tearing paper until there was nothing left to open.
The presents done the grandparents would chat for a little about what a great Christmas it had been, say their goodbys, and go home. A Christmas lull would descend over the family. Sometimes we napped, sometimes we played quietly among the wreckage of wrapping paper and boxes that had so recently been a display so beautiful it could have been in a museum or storefront window. Mom would look at the mess like it was a tumor and talk about how somebody had to clean up that mess, generally adding she had done it the previous year. My dad would be lying on the couch or “helping” to build something or straight up playing with a present and from wherever he was, he would say we could do it later and get the whole family to pitch in but to just let it be for a while and let us enjoy this time. My mom would begrudgingly agree and the hush of opened magic would permeate our home until we fell asleep that night after quickly cleaning up the house. Another magical Christmas finished, it would slowly fade into the land of slumber.