My father climbed into the attic and brought down the large Pampers box where he stored our artificial tree. Dusty corrugated boxes with the tops held together by masking tape followed. Decorating the house kicked off the holiday season for our family.
When it came to presents, my room was Gift Wrap Central. Wrapping paper, bows and bags of gifts covered the floor. I drew the line on wrapping my own gifts. So, I could always spot those; they were the ones in the store gift box dressed sparsely in a bow.
My brother played carols on the upright piano while Mom cooked. She roasted a chicken and prepared her special giblet gravy and dressing. When she wasn’t looking, I’d open the oven door and pick at the stuffing.
We sipped Swiss Miss hot cocoa at bedtime as the snow fell. Pressing my face against the cold window pane, I looked out onto the lawn at the white layers and dark shadows.
I remember lots of waiting: waiting for it to get dark to turn on the Christmas lights, staring at the tree and presents, tossing in bed trying to sleep on Christmas Eve. To a young kid, December was the longest month of the year.
Christmas morning moved even slower since we were up before sunrise and our parents told us not to wake them before seven.
When the grandfather clock chimed the hour, we pounced on our parents’ bed jumping up and down till they got up. It seemed like eternity by the time they woke, had breakfast and sat down in the family room by the tree. We opened our toys. Paper and trash piled high around the room.
I barely recall now the gifts I received, maybe a latch-hook rug kit and some board games. No gift really stands out.
What stands out these 30 years later are the traditions: trimming the tree, shopping, the magic of giving, being together, the food, the stories and the anticipation.
It wasn’t really the presents under the tree that bewitched this once small child, it was the love bundled neatly there.