The Greatest Christmas
“Come on, kids,” said Dad, “It’s time for you to get to bed. Santa’s probably on his way by now.”
The three of us looked up in alarm. We had to be asleep BEFORE Santa arrived, or we wouldn’t get any gifts!
Outside, an amethyst light had descended; the perfect backdrop for wishes and dreams.
We scrambled upstairs to throw on our pajamas, and engage in minor skirmishes over the order of the brushing of teeth.
We thundered across the hardwoods like a herd of stampeding buffalo, rushing to get ready for SLEEP, of all things.
Mom would occasionally holler up to make sure that no mayhem took place, but it was really only a token effort.
In that mad dash for sleep preparation, no knees went un-barked, no toe un-stomped. We knew the rules.
Clomping complete, we staggered back downstairs for the last ritual of the night: the placing of the cookies.
Only a child could understand the significance of offering up a plate full of heaven to a fat man in a red suit.
But offer we did, with all the solemnity of a priest offering the host to his flock.
For kids, cookies are the sacrament of Christmas; a gift to the God of Gifts.
But Christmas is about giving, after all, so we knuckled down, swallowed hard, and passed them over with a sigh.
Then… then it was off to bed.
Or so we thought.
The funny thing about Christmas Eve is that sleep, no matter how needed or necessary, is nigh impossible to achieve.
We got into bed, pulled the covers close, and then waited. Waited for what we knew would be an eternity.
Every tick of the clock echoed in the dark as every minute stretched to infinity.
It was nine o’clock when we went to bed. And it would be twelve long hours before we would be allowed to rise.
An infinity, you see.
I lay in bed listening to the sounds of the house settling, wondering what they were, and what they might signify.
Was that groan from above the weight of eight shining reindeer settling on the roof?
Was the creak by the stairwell the sound of a leather clad boot tip-toeing its way across the living room?
And the visions. My God, the visions that flashed across the insides of our eyelids.
Every wish. Every dream. Every toy I ever desired shining bright in the night with a spectral promise.
They danced before me like the music of the Sirens, dashing all hope of sleep on the rocks of childhood’s desire.
I looked over at the clock; Ten o’clock, it said. This was going to be a long night indeed.
Dreams! I thought. Maybe I can lure myself to sleep with a dream! All I had to do was come up with a good one.
The only problem was, how could I come up with a dream to top the dream of Christmas itself?
My mind flashed through all the movies I loved, desperately trying to will one of them to life in my mind.
Images of swashbucklers fluttered before my eyes, only to jar me back to reality as soon as the treasure appeared.
Westerns showed a brief promise, until I remembered that one of things I most wanted for Christmas was a cowboy suit.
Growing increasingly frustrated, I squeezed my eyes closed and tried to force an image, any image, into being.
Memories from my kid life – triumphs and failures, friends and family, the birth of my sisters. All flooded forth.
Each called forth the emotions of the moment, painting my soul with the colours of their magnificent glory.
Overwhelmed, and in tears, I looked again at the clock. Midnight, it said – nine more hours to go.
This was not going to be easy.
The crying had made my nose snuffly, so I got up to go to the bathroom for a tissue.
As I passed the top of the stairs, I took a chance and looked down into the living room to see if Santa was early.
All that met my eyes was the warm glow of the Christmas tree, with no gifts yet in sight.
Crushed, I trudged back to a bed I now blamed for keeping me awake. At this rate, Santa was never going to show up.
I crawled back under the blankets, and pulled the pillow over my head, hoping to block out all thoughts and sounds.
But it was a useless effort. Memories unleashed are seldom remain quiet things.
Pieces of the past came forth in the dark, carrying angels of mercy upon their imagery.
I remembered things I thought I had lost. Moments in time washed away like water.
The smell of my mother’s hair as she cradled me against her breast.
The sound of my father’s laughter as he cheered my run around the bases after my first little league home run.
The light in my sister’s eyes as we splashed between the waves of a summer beach.
The purr of a kitten as she slept upon my chest one lazy Sunday afternoon.
The thrill and sorrow of the turning of the last page of a beloved book.
And the satisfaction of a day spent at the movies, watching other people’s lives flicker forth into shadows and light.
Somewhere within this reverie, a veil of peace had been pulled over my eyes. The dreams had come at last.
Sleep. Blessed sleep.
But not for long.
I woke to a sliver of light peeking from beneath the edges of the curtain.
Tip-toeing out of bed, I pulled back the shades to look upon my Christmas morning.
It was indescribably beautiful. Perfect in every way.
But more importantly, it meant it was time to get up!
So why weren’t we up yet?
I sat up in the bed listening to the sounds of the house, wondering if anyone else was awake yet.
Surely the daylight had woken up the girls? Why weren’t Mom and Dad up yet?
I looked at the clock again. Sure, six o’clock was a little earlier than normal, but, by God, the sun was up!
If the sun was up, then Santa had come! If Santa had come, then it was time to get up!
Excitement swept logic aside, casually brushing aside the concept of sleep as an unnecessary luxury.
WHY, IN THE NAME OF HEAVEN, WAS EVERYONE STILL ASLEEP!?!
Having enough, I got out of bed and crept into the girl’s room and gently nudged them both awake.
“It’s Christmas,” I said, nudging their shoulders none to softly. “It’s time to get up!”
Next was Mom and Dad, who required a more significant amount of shoving for some reason or another.
Adults are weird like that.
Then, at last, I made my way to the stairs once again, and took another furtive glance into the living room.
And there, beneath the tree, was an image I could never manage summon to life in a dream.
Presents. Lots and lots of presents that hadn’t been there the night before.
Somehow, in that three hour period of fitful sleep, Santa Claus had snuck in and delivered the goods.
How he did it without waking me remains a mystery to this very day. I heard EVERYTHING in that house.
At least, I’m pretty sure I did.
At least, I thought I did.
Maybe I didn’t after all…
For there, within the tinsel, lie two items that should have merited some hint of nocturnal activity.
Two things that signaled a seismic shift in parental respect and trust.
Two beings that heralded the dawn of a new life of responsibility and love.
Two of the best Christmas gifts of all time:
Two gifts that made this sleepless Christmas, the Greatest Christmas of All Time.
Even Mr. Sprinkles was amused.
~~ THE END