When we were growing up, I simply was too excited to sleep on Christmas Eve. Mama and Daddy quickly realized this and in their infinite wisdom decided that Santa would visit early Christmas Eve night. Mary and I were in bed by 9 o’clock and up by 10 o’clock. We continued this tradition until Mary and I were well into our 20s.
We had some memorable Christmases, beginning with the blue bicycle. After that year, a tradition of the Christmas surprise was born. Just when we thought Santa was over, Daddy remembered a gift that Santa hid. One year Daddy announced that Santa left something in the trunk of the car for us. A few minutes later he came in with a second television for the house.
Other years there were notes in our stocking telling us to look in the oven. There we would find another note instructing us to look behind the sofa. The notes continued as we followed clue after clue until the gift was discovered. One year Santa hid a string behind the tree and once it was discovered we followed it from room-to-room throughout the house until we found matching rings made from Mama’s wedding band and engagement ring. Those surprise gifts hold special memories. Some of my readers shared their own favorite memories.
Virginia Westlake grew up in during the ’50s and ’60s with four siblings. On Christmas morning each child dressed in matching footed pajamas and posed for a photograph on the staircase before opening the first present. Her favorite memory was when Grandfather put the star on top of the tree and the 20-foot ladder fell into the tree. Chaos broke loose as he tumbled to the floor with the tree — Christmas bulbs exploded, frightening the dog and sending Mama into a tizzy.
Nancy Hannon remembers helping her dad with the Lions Club Toy drive each Christmas Eve. As a 7-year-old, she went to the junior high gymnasium and using a family’s wish list, selected the “perfect” gift for children who otherwise would have no Christmas. Each needy family received an abundance of toys and food delivered by the Lions Club. When she was about 13, Nancy told me, “I got to ride along on the deliveries and see the true spirit of Christmas as trucks were unloaded to families who were so appreciative that someone cared enough about them to make sure their children would have a Christmas. I will never forget, seeing tears in the eyes of grown men as they returned to their truck, already planning to make the next Christmas even more special.” To this day, Nancy is compelled to help any family who has a need at Christmas.
Fred Richards dresses as Santa every year and entertains and listens to the wishes of children during the holiday season. Like many of us, Fred had his heart broken wide open with the news from Newtown, Conn. He talked about the joy and the sorrows of this year’s holiday — how we celebrate and how we suffer – especially when loss has occurred during the year. When that happens, families and individuals need to know that they are not alone. In the spirit of Santa, Fred created a YouTube video with the help of Diana Head (owner of Studio D Photography). It was for the children and families in Newtown. For an inspiring message, go to YouTube and search: Santa Sends Love to Newtown. You will be glad you did.
This year family gathered at home on Christmas Eve. The pickle on the tree was quickly found, dinner was served and gifts were opened. Friends and relatives called, posted messages on Facebook and e-mailed from all corners of the world – and before I knew it the celebration was over and the house was almost empty. I stoked the fire, made a hot chocolate, turned the lights down low and dressed in my Christmas pj’s to watch holiday specials on television.
A couple of hours later I awakened and before heading to bed started to plug in my cell phone. I noticed a text message from Santa, informing me that he had left me a surprise gift. I followed the instructions and lo and behold, found a basket full of Christmas gifts secretly hidden outside.
The joy and memories this gesture brought meant more to me than Santa will ever know. I am reminded that some traditions often live on even when we think they are a thing of the past. I like that.
Garrett, a Carroll County resident, writes a weekly column for the Times-Georgian.