The longest day that I’m referring to isn’t the 1962 movie about the WWII Normandy landings nor the first day of the summer solstice, I’m referring to….Christmas Eve day. It’s when, as a kid in the 1970’s and early 80’s, I’d get up with no school to attend and try in vain to make the daylight hours of December 24th pass as quickly as possible. In 1970’s rural Iowa there just weren’t a lot of “entertainment options”, and it usually didn’t snow until the week after Christmas (usually a blizzard) so there wasn’t any snow to play in. Four TV channels, a few miscellaneous chores and, God-willing, a couplea board games with my brother, would pass a few hours from the clock into the past….but time crawled soooo slowly. The Christmas tree, a real one that we had to water, lit up with multi-colored hot-to-the-touch lights zigzagging back and forth across the tree….stood in the corner of our living room….mocking me with a few presents under it.
Now…as a child still believing in Santa the day would be spent surveying our rooftop for an adequate amount of snow for Santa to land upon and if I decided that, like most years, there wasn’t any snow to land on Santa would just deploy his specially equipped landing gear on his sled that he would typically use in southern states and tropical islands (I had a pretty good imagination back then too). The real gifts didn’t come out until I was long in bed, fitfully sleeping until Christmas morn….but until then….it was Christmas Eve day.
I recently helped out with my wife’s second grade class. I had a few moments with them where I didn’t have anything planned so I casually asked them “who’s ready for Christmas?” Each kid had at least one arm instantly into the air (like it was a contest of if you were the last kid with their arm up you wouldn’t get any presents). So with a captive audience I followed up with “…okay…who’s still on the naughty list?” and every arm went down just as fast as it had gone up. One kid chimed “you gotta be careful cause Santa has elves out with facial recognition computers that can tell who’s naughty so you just gotta be good all of the time…” I’m not making this up…the kid said that….priceless!! (I didn’t deny it either cause maybe Santa’s upped his game since 1973 is all I’m sayin’…) There are NO ATHEISTS when it comes to second graders and Santa Claus. Your feet are either firmly entrenched in the “I BELIEVE IN SANTA” camp or you’re a third grade thug.
Dad would be off of work from his city job and he and I would drive over to a little grocery store in Big Rock. The store was so small that they still candled eggs in their stock room. I’d get the choice assignment of picking out the “flavored” pop for the Christmas holiday. Normally we’d only get to drink Pepsi or Teem soda, and maybe one bottle of that a week…but on Christmas Eve we got the flavors!! Glass bottles of orange, grape, root beer and cream soda…WHO KNEW THESE FLAVORS EVEN EXISTED AFTER DECEMBER 24TH?! Why…we even got our old beagle George canned dog food for Christmas Eve!!
Christmas was thee day in our house. Mom cooked and baked, dear Lord the house smelled good….but those treats couldn’t be had until Christmas Eve when my brothers arrived back onto the farm from college or the city that they lived in. Sometimes they wouldn’t make it home until after dark…then their headlights would run across the garage and hog house and Dad would announce “Brian’s here!! or “Dan just pulled in!!” I’ll tell you something…that meant that the fun was just beginning. Mom would put out a buffet spread like no other….a feast fit for kings. It only happened on Christmas Eve night and New Year’s Eve night. When we got up on Christmas morn we’d open gifts then get into the family car and drive to Illinois to celebrate Christmas with our aunts, uncles, grandparents and most of all….those fun-loving cousins of ours. After spending the morning with one side of the family we’d drive to the other side of the family to repeat the process. It was Christmas X 3 that all happened in approximately fourteen hours on Christmas Day. While Christmas Day was wall to wall fun and excitement….Christmas Eve Day was….the longest day of the year with not much going on….except that you knew that TOMORROW WAS GONNA BE AWESOME!!!
Laughter. Love. Light. Warmth. It was a wonder-filled and wonderful childhood…that I remember lovingly and longingly. The angel atop our tree symbolizing the angels announcing the birth of mankind’s Savior to the shepherds in the field. The manger scene positioned on top of our buffet cabinet and even the Burl Ives and Ray Coniff Christmas albums all reminding us of the reason that we assembled on the 24th of December, was for the remembrance of Christ coming to this world as God’s gift to us….to save us.
May your Christmas Eve be the right amount of time for you to enjoy, and remember the Love that came into this world for you.
Merry Christmas to you and yours,