I’m not sure why and I can’t remember specifically when, but ever since my childhood, after the noise and happy chaos of a full Christmas Day, after everyone has gone to bed, I have had my own tradition of sitting alone in front of the Christmas tree. 

The silence of Christmas quiet is somehow different.  Alone in the dark save for the beautiful lights of our Christmas tree, I always marvel at another spectacular Christmas and my undeserved blessings. I was a lucky little girl who grew to be a fortunate woman but not for the gifts under our tree.  

In my long ago childhood, we wished for certain things and hoped that we would find our longed-for presents, but our expectations for a bike or special doll were tempered by the knowledge that nothing was a certainty. “Maybe” was the operative word and as I look back, there was more magic without the certainty. No child would dare to pronounce their laundry list of wants with the confidence I see today. Santa didn’t have an I-phone so contact with the North Pole was a little iffy and texting did not exist.  You got what you got and if I am to rely on the Kodak moments that still survive in a drawer in my mother’s house, well then we were very happy.

Somehow my parents were able to sustain the myth of Santa a lot longer than I suspect parents are able to do today. There were only a few television stations back then and nothing aired before 9pm that would have been unsuitable for children.  Adult conversation only happened with adults and children were routinely told when and where they were allowed to join in.  The line of demarcation between children and adults was clearly drawn and as I was reminded on so many occasions it was simply a case of international law — biggest (adults) would always go first.  

We were always — and I mean always — scrubbed and pressed appropriately.  We dressed for church, we dressed to visit our relatives and to go to “town.”  My mother recounted with horror the one time she went to the grocery store and was caught wearing ankle socks with her sneakers by someone she barely knew. Not really the stuff of scandal but in that world, at least for a while, you dressed and acted for the occasion. 

Shirley Temple 

Every year you were given a new “good” winter coat with velvet buttons with a matching hat that you were expected to wear without complaint to all command performances.  You were never, ever to appear in the words of my mother, “…like a little urchin from the Home for Little Wanderers!” The Home was for orphan children and if you had spent too many hours as I did watching old Shirley Temple movies, you didn’t quite understand what was so bad about being an orphan. Shirley Temple was always turned out beautifully.

Each Christmas my parents would take us to “Dinner with Santa” where I would urgently whisper to the jolly store employee all of my heart’s desires, believing always that Santa would remember everything that I told him. So engrossed with Santa and too young to know, I would fail to see that along with the Polaroid memory of our visit, a discreet note had been passed to my parents so that they would know exactly what to put under the tree.  

On Christmas Eve we pretended to sleep and waited until we could hear my father’s distinctive snoring before creeping out of bed to see if Santa had visited.  We knew every crack in the floors in that old house and tried to match our steps so that we wouldn’t wake our sleeping parents. It rarely worked and we would be scolded back to bed.

This Christmas I will board a plane in a rush to be with my daughters. It will be the first time in our lives that we haven’t woken up in the same house together on Christmas morning. Until I touch their faces and hold them so close that I can practically inhale them I won’t feel right. This Christmas more than anything, I want them to stay with me to the very last moment and experience Christmas quiet. 

Merry Christmas.