I was not one of the children nestled snug in their beds with visions of sugarplums dancing in my head. I was sent to bed early, certainly, but I was listening at the door. Listening to rustlings and doors closing and some old Christmas movie playing on the black and white TV with rabbit ears and about half a roll of tinfoil THAT COULD NEVER BE MOVED OUT OF ALIGNMENT BECAUSE THEN YOU WON’T BE ABLE TO SEE CARTOONS, OKAY, SO JUST LEAVE IT ALONE? Of course that TV sat on an old, non-fuctioning console TV, in a room with orange shag carpet and a plaid orange couch. Don’t ask me about the couch. My father was sitting in his gold armchair with his giant feet on the mushroom-shaped ottoman, smoking. After the local news and their Santa-tracking radar declared that he had been sighted in our vicinity, we were sent to bed, and I didn’t dare open the door. I smelled the smoke and I knew from every other night that he was sitting and smoking. My mother was wrapping our meager–by today’s standards–gifts. Because she was the one whose quiet footsteps went back and forth across the hallway from the living room to the bedroom. I imagined her putting the presents she had wrapped in their bedroom under the tree. Our letters to Santa were conveniently left on my father’s armchair, and the cookies and milk on the end table by his chair.
Before I knew that my parents were Santa, I sat by the window and listened for sleighbells in the sky. Even after I knew that my parents bought the gifts, I was still half-convinced that Santa Claus had something do with it. One of the most magical sights in the world is a tree with gifts under it.
One year, my father brought in a LARGE paper bag on Christmas morning and took out a black lab puppy. Sometimes the gifts were passed down from generation to generation, like my mother’s tin dollhouse. It must have been so hard for my parents to come up with gifts for three kids, but we were used to generic fashion dolls in the same way we were used to hand-me-down clothes.
Of course, my parents couldn’t manage all the gifts on their own after my youngest sister was born. I can imagine PawPaw giving money to Nana and Nana slipping folded bills into my mother’s hand after Sunday dinner, telling her to go to Kmart and use the lay away.
Christmas Day has gotten so crazy since my sisters and I have grown up that Mom and I started a new tradition: we each open one gift on Christmas Eve. That way we can enjoy the memory of those first Christmases when my middle sister and I got matching dolls, and board games my father wanted to play, and toys for my baby sister to sharpen her fangs on.
Christmas Day is for the madness that is our family. Christmas Eve is for Nativity scenes, holiday music and movies, eggnog, and memories.