The most enduring Christmas tradition in my family is our annual race—a race against time. It is the same every year, the result of a combination of procrastination and high expectations. Every year I swear it will be different but it never is. I start making my list early and even buy some gifts to stash in my gift closet. Then I find something else I like better and the shuffle begins. “Hmmm. I was going to give this to Kim but now I think I’ll give it to Linda and the thing I got for Linda I’ll give to Sally because it suits her better.” Or, “Maybe I’ll make all my gifts this year.” And on and on it goes.
How I got this way is no mystery because it runs in my family. When I was a young single living in Houston, I could expect a call from my sister, Jackie, a week before Christmas. “I’ve looked all over town” she always began, “and all the stores are sold out of ___________ (fill in the desired gift) for ____________ (fill in the name of the child.) He (or she) will be so disappointed! Will you see if you can find it there?” I always dutifully obliged and forgave her because I knew she had no comprehension of the true meaning of Christmas shopping crowds. Seeing the look of delight on the face of my niece or nephew when they saw Santa had delivered once again made it worth it.
Of course, those gifts had to be assembled and wrapped and since I didn’t arrive at my parents’ house in Waco until Christmas Eve, that was usually a marathon. The conversation with my mother was also predictable. “I’m so sorry, honey. I meant to get all these wrapped before you came but I just didn’t make it this year (like she had made it any other year). Do you mind? Oh, and this one is for you so don’t open the box before you wrap it.”
When Kim and Buddy, my niece and nephew were kids, everyone would spend the night at my parent’s house on Christmas Eve. My brother-in-law’s family gets together on Christmas Eve, so they often arrived very late. When the kids, who were already hyped up from eating Christmas goodies and being with all their cousins, were finally put to bed, the adults would begin their shift as Santa’s elves. I will never forget the Barbie Doll swing Jackie and I finally finished at 3 a.m. We had worked silently for over an hour and had just congratulated ourselves on assembling the little beast when the paper carrier hurled the morning news against the metal storm door at maximum velocity. WHAM!!! I jumped like a bomb had gone off and my hand came down solidly on that swing. We stared at the pile of tiny, plastic pieces in disbelief for a long minute, and then started laughing. Maybe it was the absurdity of the situation or perhaps the eggnog, but we found it hilarious. With perseverance and some Super Glue, we put it back together before Kim awoke at the crack of dawn.
One year, by a miracle, we were in bed before midnight. At 2 a.m. I felt little fingers prying my eyelids apart. “Aunt Janet,” Kim whispered in a worried tone. “How will Santa know we’re here instead of at our house?” “Your daddy left him a note,” I responded groggily, “Now go back to sleep.” In what seemed like seconds she was back. “How will he get down the chimney? The fire is still burning.” I sat up, looked her straight in the eye and said, “His suit is fireproof but he won’t stop here if you’re not asleep!” She scurried back to bed.
After I married things got even more complicated. My husband and I always had Christmas Eve in Houston with his family before setting out on the 200 mile drive to Waco to spend Christmas Day with mine. It often seemed like we had just gone to bed when everyone was ready to get up. Today the kids are grown, our parents are gone and we all shop online. We enjoy a leisurely breakfast and open gifts at noon instead of at daybreak. Christmas has become a more relaxed affair but still, some traditions never die. So if you’ll excuse me, today is December 18 and I still have some last minute shopping, the wrapping to do, two packages to ship, six necklaces to make…