I remember Christmas Eve from childhood...perhaps I've romanticized it, tossed out those memories that don't fit in my mental photo album; after all, mine was not a childhood to write home (or a blog) about. Be that as it may, I remember Christmas Eve as a day of anticipation and pleasure, and can flick through the images like a slideshow: the tree lit with those big, bright C7 bulbs that still make me smile when I see them; the small cones of balsam incense that filled the air with the scent of piney woods; my father's many cryptic comments and teasings about Santa; dressing up and heading out in bitter cold at 11:00 at night to sing at midnight Mass; the heat and incense in the church, everyone scrubbed, shiny inside and out, singing our hearts out in the choir (fortunately there were enough voices to hide my own terrible one), the glory-ous ritual of midnight Mass; coming home and heading straight to bed, tired but too excited to fall right to sleep; that wee-hours-of-the-morning waking up and stretching out a foot to feel if the Christmas stocking laid out on the bed had any weight, then the racing of anticipation as I felt its stuffed roundness in the dark; waking up my sister so we could turn on the light and explore our treasures (we seemed to call a truce every Christmas Eve and I look back at my memory of those nights and wish we could have held onto those giggles and intimacy the rest of the year....and years to come); falling back asleep even while convinced it wasn't possible; and on Christmas morning proper the bated-breath excitement as dad went downstairs to check to be sure Santa had in fact arrived...the teasing that oops, maybe he had skipped us, then the gleeful go-ahead to send us tumbling down the stairs and into the livingroom.
As an adult it seems like that anticipation was the high point, that all-is-right-with-the-world-and-anything-is-possible magic at the cusp of Christmas. Maybe it wasn't like that at all, maybe the mind and age have air-brushed the memories, done a little digital magic, inserting and removing images that don't accurately portray what I want to remember. But since it does no harm and feels good, why not?
That anticipation still survives...there's still magic, still anticipation, even if it's tempered now, more subdued. I still can't wait to watch the Grinch find the strength of "ten Grinches...plus two", watch my sons taunt me as they see how long they can take to open their presents, listen to my sister's laugh, catch my beloved's eye from across the room, breathe in the lights and balsam, feel the peace and contentment. And maybe that's the best gift of all...I may not feel that can't-sit-still-wake-up-in-the-wee-hours giddiness anymore, but the multi-colored peace and satin ornament contentment are soul-felt gifts.