It’s been this way for as long as I can remember.
I don’t know if it was because my parents really had to make sure Santa was gone, or if they had to wrap some last-minute presents, or needed to caffeinate before dealing with three small children, or just wanted some peace and quiet to makeout like teenagers in front of the tree for a while.
Whatever the reason, there is a Christmas Morning Ritual in my family.
My brothers and I were always forbidden to leave our rooms on Christmas morning before we got the “ok” from the parentals. We were every bit as stereotypical as you may expect for three middle-class suburban kids on Christmas morning, complete with the excited waking up at about 4am and wanting to see if Santa had been, and had he eaten the milk and cookies and can we open presents NOW?
Looking through the Wiederick family Christmas photo archives, there are pictures every year, for at least two decades, with three kids sitting at the top of the stairs, looking every bit as angelic as the very Nicest children on Santa’s Nice list. This is because photographs lie, and we had only paused for a brief moment from elbowing eachother, vying for the pole position from which to race down the stairs and around the corner to the tree.
Belief in Santa came and went, but for the sake of nostalgia, the rule stayed the same. Flying elbows and tiny feet were replaced by teenaged yawns and stumbling limbs – but every year we dutifully stayed in or near our bedrooms, and paused for the requisite “top of the stairs” photo.
Except this year. This year it was different.
In what seems like a gigantic tumultuous move which was really not much more than the passing of time and changing of seasons, and carrying on of life as it insists on doing, what were once five in one home has turned into three homes with girlfriends and a fiancÃ©. It has brought the exchange of the familial home for a townhouse in a gated community that has the benefit of having someone else to mow the lawn and can be locked up for extended vacations without much worry, but not enough spare bedrooms to hold all of the offspring, and thus no anticipatory rush of three wee bodies as they hurled themselves down the stairs first thing Christmas morning.
And I did miss it. But that twinge was rapidly doused by the immense pleasure of what Christmas was this year.
Christmas was the one I love getting up at 3am to share one of his own traditions – to play Santa, placing a stocking at the end of my bed, where my sleeping feet would discover it full of goodies when I awoke in the morning.
It was hanging out for a couple hours with my own, tiny, new family as we did what we do every day – coffee and waking up in bed – with the addition of stockings and eggnog.
It was heading out to spend time with a family that embodies the fact that home is wherever you choose to make it. It was a turkey dinner in that new, impersonal townhouse, exactly the same as all those in line with it exactly the same as all the gated communities peppering suburban North America, which was the brightest, shiniest spot in the world that day, bursting at the seams with a family larger than ever before, and the happiness that only comes with an immense love – not only for everyone in the room that day, but for the extended family that’s sure to increase and visit over the coming years.
And when I wandered up the stairs in that townhouse alone later that day, I thought about how very, very lucky I am. And how, though time is relentless in its moving on, traditions don’t die – they only fade away if you let them. And I vowed that when the time comes, I will always place stockings at my own children’s feet, and subject them to the small purgatory of waiting at the top of the stairs until I give the OK – and hope that the memories I create will enrich their lives as the memories I’ve had created for me enrich mine.