It’s Christmas Eve morning.
When I was a little girl Christmas Eve was the one day where my anticipation was beyond manageable. I would spend a good portion of the day asking my parents “Is it time to go to grandma and grandpa’s house?” Every year on Christmas Eve my grandparent’s basement was a hurricane of gifts. And what child doesn’t love tearing into a pile of presents!
There was so much more than presents, however.
I remember going to my grandparent’s house and helping my grandma decorate. I loved putting up the Christmas village, the ceramic tree with the lights, and the Christmas tree (which has been known to be stored with the ornaments still on the branches.)
Of course, what is Christmas without food? The meal hasn’t changed. We still enjoy ham, meatballs, potato salad, broccoli salad, and a plethora of delectable sweets: Christmas cookies, cake, pies, and candy. My grandma bakes fantastic pies! My grandpa used to buy the ubiquitous Christmas ribbons and peppermint nougat candies with the Christmas tree in the center. They also had mixed nuts, which were placed in the traditional oak bowl with the stand in the center for cracking and cleaning. And my personal favorite: punch. There’s something about drinking 7-Up, fruit juice, and Cool Whip in “my” Santa mug.
The exchanging of gifts lasted several hours. We would all take turns opening a present, which pained me as a child, but I enjoy as an adult. Grandpa was notorious for discreetly unwrapping his presents before it was his turn. Who knew lottery tickets, circus peanuts, and obscene amounts of chewing gum were that exciting.
I recall the Christmas where my cousin received a toothbrush in her stocking. She was about three years old, and this was the best present. Ever! She gleamed with excitement and ran around the room showing everyone. She’s grown now and has kids of her own, but every now and then a toothbrush shows up for her under the Christmas tree.
I remember the video my father gave to my aunt, “The Wise and Witty Sayings of Red Heads.” She put the video in and waited for it to start. And waited. And waited. After several minutes, she figured it out.
My grandpa used to hang a $2 bill on the tree for everyone. They were always crisp and new. I think that’s the only time all year in which I actually saw a $2 bill.
Often the snow would be piled deep on my grandparent’s deck, and the lake effect snow kicked in on our way home. The best way to top off the day was a ride home with big, fluffy snowflakes gently falling on a calm, silent night. (Well, outside was calm and silent anyway. Kids hyped on sugar and gifts are anything but calm and silent.)
Now my children, nieces and nephews, and cousins enjoy Christmas Eve at grandmas. As a child, Christmas Eve was all about opening gifts and gorging on punch, cookies, and meatballs. As an adult, Christmas Eve is about savoring the moments and traditions that were built on over thirty years of Christmas Eves at my grandparent’s house. For years I took for granted the traditional foods, decorations, and the effort grandma put in for the annual night of festivities.
Things have changed a bit over the years. Grandpa has been with us in spirit for ten years now. The gift giving has started earlier in the day to accommodate schedules.
But the magic remains. It’s no longer found in presents, a punch bowl, or a nougat candy. The magic was never there.
It was, and remains, in my spirit.