When I was a child, Christmas Eve was magical...like Disney Princess magical, not just normal people 'Christmas spirit' magical! Our family would go over to my grandmas house along with my aunts, uncles,cousins and some second cousins. Grandma would start the evening off with a fabulous meal. Turkey, ham, her special layered cranberry-apple jello salad, potatoes, rolls, teeny tiny little sweet pickles and enough olives we could each have our own set. (Ya know...a "set" of olives- one for each finger!) A plethora of cookies, pies and candy followed dinner. Frequently, dinner was followed by a visit from Santa or one of his elves- who of course came bearing gifts for each of us. After the initial excitement of Santa wore off, the adults would sit around visiting, while us kids sat squirming, wiggling, and frequently asking "When are they leaving?"
The "they" in question were all the extended family. It's not that we didn't like them- in fact my cousins Jodi and Janna and I spent a fair part of the evening trying to catch our slightly older second cousin, Kyle, under the mistletoe so we could kiss him. However, the truly fantastic part of the evening didn't begin until it was down to just my siblings, my 2 cousins, and our parents. Eventually, the other families would head out to enjoy the rest of the evening at home. That's when the magic happened.
Like dutiful little elves we would all march down the hall to the "pink room" (Grandmas guest room which bore a cherry blossom pink quilt and rose covered carpets) and start carrying out the brightly wrapped packages. We would deposit each of the gifts in a segregated pile marked with our name. Then while Grandpa roamed around with his huge camcorder balanced on his shoulder, it was finally time! You know those Christmas movies where civilized families go around in a circle and take turns opening their gifts? They take time to admire and oooh and aaahhh over each item...we didn't do that. Someone would count down and then like greedy little imps we would tear into our mountain of gifts.
Inevitably there was a set of new Christmas pajamas- lacy frilly nightgowns for the girls, superhero pj's with capes for the boys. While the grown ups picked up our wrappings (I told you we were greedy little imps) we'd all go change into our new pajamas, then hurry back to play with our new treasures. Eventually, our parents would insist that if we didn't go home Santa wouldn't be able to come. (Like we needed more toys!) So we'd pack all our new stuff into the trunk, climb into the car and head home- happy as little clams. The magic would carry home with us as we tried to listen for sleigh bells on the roof and eventually drifted off to sleep with visions of sugar plums dancing through our heads.
Years later, when I was in my late teens, and had long since given up on Santa and elves, I was once again caught up in the magic of Christmas Eve at Grandmas house. Her large family room was surrounded by windows on 3 sides. As I looked out over the amazing view of the sparkling lights of the city and the glistening lake below, I was stunned to see a tiny sleigh being pulled by reindeer off in the distant sky. It truly took my breath away in disbelief. Only a moment passed before I realized I was seeing a reflection of a Santa picture hanging in the opposite window behind me...but for just a moment... I believed!