The lights were blurry as they whizzed by. My cocoa was still too hot to drink. It smelled marvelous, almost magical. Dad switched on the radio, the announcer’s voice crackly and distant. “… Santa and his reindeer were spotted tonight,” he was saying. My pulse quickened and I imagined a tiny silhouette of a sleigh, of eight reindeer dancing in the inky night sky. Santa’s on his way …
From the window our tree blinked. The car pulled neatly into the garage, and we leapt out, eager to enter the house’s glowing warmth. The heat hit us as I pulled upon the door, my glasses fogging up. Four stockings hung above a cheery fire in anticipation of presents. It was finally time to open the first gift of Christmas. I ran into the living room and flopped myself down onto the couch,ready to feel the thrill that the unknown evokes. The present was always pajamas, yes, but the knowledge could not take away my excitement at the prospect of ripping off the red and green paper, of the scent of newness upon the clothes as I held them up.
But first…first, we read from the oversized family Bible with its gold-rimmed pages. In the days of Caesar Augustus… began my mother, stealing glances at my brother and me, our feet dangling over the edge of the couch, our eyes lovingly focused on her for this moment, this one magic moment. The story, although familiar, the phrases well-worn in the deep recesses of our memories, yet the words never lost their magic. For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Savior is given.
Soon enough, it was time. Time to set out Santa’s snack, to write him a letter, to thank him. My hands grasped the pencil tightly, etching the words onto the lined sheet of paper. Thank you for the presents. I hope you enjoy the snacks. In our home, Santa ate snack cakes and Pepsi, not cookies and milk, an eerily similar combination to what my father ate on a daily basis, but my mind failed to make the connection. My father promised to set out food for the reindeer, and off to bed we went, our bellies full of cocoa and anticipation.
Snuggled under the covers, sleep evaded me. The Christmas lights outside twinkled, a tease that told me I still had a good eight hours to wait. I could not help but listen for the distant jingle of sleigh bells, of hoofbeats, of the snack wrapper being opened. I turned over, sighed, and wished for sleep. Sleep never came easily that night. Santa was on his way, could be placing carefully gift-wrapped packages under the twinkling tree this very second, and sleep would not come.
Soon enough, however, light bled faintly through my blinds. Jolting myself awake, I sat up in bed, my pulse once again picking up speed. Was Seth awake? I had to use the bathroom, but dared not leave my room for fear of seeing the surprises awaiting me in the other room. It was a dilemma – to exit or not to exit? My full bladder told me one thing while my mind told me another. And so I waited anxiously. Perhaps five minutes went by, perhaps ten. But I had to leave, could not stay, my racing mind unable to take the weighted speculation. Seth too was awake, his face lined with the anxiousness I felt. Together we waited impatiently. We raised our high-pitched child voices, stomped around the tiled bathroom, flushed the toilet, all in the hopes of being heard in the other wing of the house. We dared not enter the bounds of the living room, dared not catch a glimpse of the presents awaiting us under the tree, but we longed for our parents to awaken, to venture into our bedrooms and say breathily, “Merry Christmas, my love!” whilst gathering us up in a hug that meant safety, love, and magic. A hug that, in the end, meant Christmas itself.
The presents were never the reason I loved Christmas. They were nice, sure: dolls and sweaters and lip gloss, smelling of everything my girlhood represented. But Christmas, for me, was more than just a box in snowman wrapping paper. It was the smell of cinnamon rolls in the oven, laughter, nose-crinkling smiles, snow falling softly outside my window, mashed potatoes with obscene amounts of butter, spoons on noses at the kids’ table…Christmas could not be contained in a box wrapped in red paper. Christmas was family, was fellowship, was cookies baking in the oven, was the love that my parents and I could not express in words.
To this day, I am unable to say what Christmas means to me. I once heard that when you turn 24, they neglect to tell you that you are still 23, 22, 21 … 1 years old too. So when I wake up this December 25, forgive me for feeling like a child once again, full of hope and anticipation and desire for the magic of Christmas.