By APRIL DIODATO
OBSERVER Lifestyles Editor
After putting on our Christmas pajamas, leaving cookies for Santa Claus and reluctantly tucking into bed, it was nearly impossible to get a wink of sleep. Straining to hear the sound of reindeer paws, the minutes inched by so slowly, it felt as if daylight would never come.
Careful not to interrupt Santa's visit, I would wait until about 6 a.m. before I would creep quietly down the stairs and peer at the glittering tree, illuminating the dark, eerily silent living room in soft red, blue and green. With breathless excitement, I spotted the gifts piled under the tree, which had miraculously appeared overnight. After confirming Santa's arrival, I would go gingerly back up the stairs, returning to my bed for another hour before it was time for the day to officially begin.
Christmastime is filled with special childhood memories for me. A tradition for as long as I can remember, I still make sure that I get in an annual viewing of "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer," which my mom remembers watching the first time it aired on NBC in 1964. We would bake and decorate Christmas cookies, as well as special Christmas chocolates, making rocky road, Rice Krispie and peanut varieties; we created Christmas ornaments, many of which we still hang on the tree each year; my sister and I would wildly dance around the living room to our official family Christmas soundrtrack, "Christmas With Conniff."
Even now, at age 27, the holiday still hasn't lost its magic. It is a time when anything seems possible. I look forward to the arrival of December, filled with the same guileless glee and anticipation that I felt when I was little. My parents worked so hard to make it feel special for my sister, Hilary, and I. As I get older, I have a more profound appreciation for the Christmases we've shared and the effort they put in, especially now that I fully understand just how difficult it is to make ends meet. I feel increasingly fortunate for the time we spend together more with each passing year.
Now that we've cracked the code to making our family celebrations run much more smoothly, Christmas is quite peaceful. The majority of my immediate family members are not morning people, with the exception of my father and my dog, who now operate on the same schedule; she started to arise along with him in the wee hours, which she has designated "breakfast time." This early-hour asperity was an issue every Christmas morning, and we were on a deadline as soon as the unwrapping was completed, we had to get ready for the journey to Grandma's for our gathering with the extended family. It was a delicate balance with my sister and I, often at odds with each other in our younger years; Christmas could go easily go from an armistice to all-out war in a matter of seconds.
Even if we made it through the unwrapping unscathed, there was always the hour-long trek to Grandma's house, made tense many times by blizzards we encountered on the way there or back. The lyrics to that old song "Over the river and through the woods, to grandmother's house we go" don't quite capture the tribulation of traveling on the Thruway during white-out conditions as "Christmas with the Beach Boys" plays on the tape deck, my sister and I likely ripping each other's hair out.
It wasn't until a few years ago that we finally decided to reschedule Christmas to a time more amenable for us night owls: Christmas Eve. Our first Dec. 24 fete was one of the most delightful family Christmases on record. We shared a turkey dinner, followed by gift exchanging, a highly competitive game of Scrabble accompanied by white zinfandel, rolling golumpki for the next day's gathering together, and a viewing of "A Christmas Story." It was a stress-free evening, with no arguing over which sister received what color sweater or who knocked over the Christmas tree one fateful morning in 1994. (The perpetrator is still unknown).
Instead of bickering over trivial matters like we did as children, my sister and I will get together to craft ornaments, shop for decorations, make gingerbread houses and create special holiday cocktails. I start shopping for her gifts before anyone else on my Christmas list; whenever I'm out, I spot something special that I know she will love.
Hilary is the ultimate gift-wrapper I suspect that she was an elf in another life. She has a special kit that contains all of her professional-quality wrapping paper, ribbon and homemade gift tags, which she calls her "wrapping emergency kit." She not-so-secretly hopes that someone will call her with a wrapping emergency, so that she can rush over, armed with her kit, and save the day. (If you have one, I'll put you in touch with her). I often ask her to wrap my gifts, since I am completely inept; my wrap-job looks like it was done by a 7-year-old child with poor motor skills. With her high wrapping standards, I take great care in wrapping my gifts for her, measuring the paper and meticulously tying the ribbon.
Some people may consider Christmas a holiday for children, but I disagree. It's just as special as an adult, if not more so; growing up has a way of putting things into perspective. I think back to the way the minutes felt like hours as I tried to fall asleep on Christmas Eve, waiting for Santa Claus now, a day, a week and a month is gone in the blink of an eye. Why does the passage of time seem to accelerate as we get older?
There's nothing more important than the time we have to spend together. That's what Christmas is about for me being with those you love most and making memories that will last a lifetime. Merry Christmas to my family.
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