“Aaron, wake up; it’s Xmas!” Melissa whispered, lying next to me in bed. The sun was just barely up; I figured it was about half-past seven.
“No it’s not, it’s only the 21st.” I was close — it was the 22nd. She smiled at me and we got out of bed.
Flashback a few years ago. the house where I grew up in Pennsylvania, December 24th, around eleven PM. My mom and I are the last people awake after my little brother went to sleep a little while ago.
“Are you going to help me?” Mom asked me. It was genuinely inquisitive, not rhetorical. I think I was either watching the color television or cleaning up in the kitchen. I’m a bit of a night owl.
“Help you with what?” I replied.
“Put the presents out.”
I was a little surprised, partly because I had forgotten that it was Xmas eve, but also because every year prior I had also been asleep, or at least out of the room, when the presents were laid out.
My family has a tradition, as I imagine many families do: Xmas Eve everyone goes to bed by 10 or 11 o’clock. Once we are all asleep (or in my later teens, listening to a walkman / using the computer), Mom and Dad would go retrieve the presents from wherever they were hidden in the house. I honestly never knew where. I had my suspicions but as much as I would hunt around before the big day, I’d never find them. (And believe me, I looked EVERYWHERE — even the attic!)
When we would go to bed on the Eve, the only presents that would be under the tree would be the gifts from the kids to Mom & Dad, or the kids to each other, and maybe one or two presents from Mom & Dad. The stockings would be laid out on the floor near the tree, flat and empty. We’d leave a dish of cookies and carrots / celery out, along with (when we kids were all young) a note to Santa with some last-minute reminders of what we really wanted for Xmas that year.
But in the morning, it was like a Xmas miracle. One of us, generally the youngest of the four of us that was old enough to sleep in their own bed, would wake up around 6 or 7 a.m. Dad would already be awake, drinking coffee, and reading the paper. Whomever woke up would have to wait until EVERY other sibling was awake. They would typically wake up Mom first, and then the two of them would wake the rest of us up. I was almost always the last to get out of bed, at least after I hit puberty anyways.
Mom would already have the camcorder out, and she would videotape the three of us coming out to the tree. We never had to feign excitement, because there would be at least a million presents around the tree. (In all seriousness, I would guess there were probably a few dozen presents there, most from “Santa”, plus the stockings. I’m not all that sure how my parents did it, since we weren’t particularly wealthy and there were 5 or 6 of us altogether.)
We would always do stockings first. Stockings generally consisted of trinkets / widgets, candy (chocolate bars), fruit (apples & oranges), and, in my later teens, bath products (deodorant, shaving cream, shampoo, etc.) [Funny thing about the shaving cream is that my facial hair grows pretty slowly. I shave about once a week, twice if I need to be especially clean-shaven. I'm still currently (today, December 2008) using the shaving gel I received a year or two ago. ] Stocking would more or less be opened simultaneously. Mom would often do hers last, so she could videotape us opening ours. We’d often have to prod her, with mock annoyance, to open hers so that we could move on to the presents.
When we exchanged gifts, we always did one at a time, all of us watching the person opening the gift. Sometimes, if we were particularly frenzied, two people would open one at once; But we would try to pace ourselves, as much as possible. There were a lot of gifts, no doubt, but 5/6 of them weren’t for you, so you paced yourself. As I got older, I learned to enjoy the excitement of watching my family members open the gifts that I got them; There would often be a lot of thought put into the selection, and so it was rewarding to see their reaction. I began to understand why Mom was so persistent about videotaping us on Xmas Day.
Back to Xmas Eve.
Mom headed down the stairs, and I followed. She led me into the garage, through the foyer door.
And there they were. Three garbage bags full of presents, all neatly wrapped and labeled. All in the back of Dad’s 1950′s Chevy truck (he’s into restoring old cars). They couldn’t have been here the whole time — it wouldn’t make any sense to keep them in bags like that, and I know I had looked down here in years before. But I didn’t ask. I figured they probably kept them at my Grandparents’ house or something. I didn’t really need to know.
I grabbed two bags and she grabbed the third, and we took them upstairs. We laid them around the tree, spacing them out to give the illusion that there were even more than it seemed. While I finished the presents, she filled up the stockings with random goodies she had. She took the cookies that my younger brother had laid out, put them back into the cookie tin, and took a few bites out of the carrots / celery that were there. She penned a note (“from Santa”) to leave on the dish.
“Danny still believes… I think,” she said, somewhat sheepishly.
A long time ago, I was pretty sure it was Mom that wrote the note back — she has a very distinctive style of writing, sort of a hybrid of cursive and printing, but I never said anything; I didn’t want to spoil it for my sisters. Even so, it was surreal to see her actually penning the note. It was like watching a magician load their sleeves up with birds, rabbits, and scarves right before a show.
* * * * *
Our presents are all stacked up at the top of the stairs in the attic. Don’t tell Sullivan, he already wants to go up there enough just because he likes climbing stairs; He doesn’t need another reason to want to go in there. He’s seen us wrap the gifts, and while he’s old enough to “get” unwrapping a present, I don’t think he’s made the connection that the wrapped gifts are for him. Still — I figure it’s better to keep them out of sight until Xmas Day, if they were under the tree he might try to open them just because he’s curious.
Melissa really wants me to bring the presents down for the tree, mostly because it would look cool. If we didn’t have a little boy with a penchant for exploration, I’d probably agree to that. But I want Sullivan to experience the magic, the proverbial “Xmas Miracle” of waking up on Dec. 25 and all of a sudden seeing a bunch of exciting wrapped gifts around the tree; Gifts that weren’t there the night before.
We have this “snoring santa” tchotchke that Mel got from her Grandmother some years ago – Sullivan likes to sit and watch it snore. I thought it might be funny to hide the snoring Santa on Xmas day — maybe he’ll think that it was the snoring Santa that left the gifts.
It’s very strange though, finally being the person who stays up late on Xmas Eve to bring the presents out of hiding. My folks did that for 20+ years with we kids, and this is the very first year that I’ll be doing it with my own kid. In some ways, the last Xmas Eve I spent with my family was symbolic. As much as I’ll miss spending Xmas with them again this year, Sullivan is finally old enough to appreciate present-opening, and so Melissa and I both felt it would be important for us to have Xmas day here at home.