Growing up, my family opened gifts on Christmas Eve, including Santa gifts. This meant that the night before the night before Christmas, Santa came to our house.
Defying logic (like there is anything logical about Santa), our parents told us that Santa started his trip at our house before heading to where it was already Christmas Eve: the International Date Line. Of course I believed them. Magic and logic were all the same back then. Santa, the Tooth Fairy, the Jolly Green Giant… They all seemed perfectly real to me, until I was 10. That’s when I cracked the whole Santa mystery. More on that in a minute.
Every Christmas Eve, Dad read the Christmas story from the book of Luke before we opened gifts. I always felt sad for Baby Jesus, getting gifts like gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Maybe back then those were considered awesome gifts. But to me they were the equivalent of socks and underwear. Not that socks and underwear aren’t good and often necessary gifts, but I was fortunate that there were usually a few things from my Sears catalog wish list under the tree, too.
Of all the gifts I’ve received over the years – gold, frankincense, and myrrh not withstanding – one gift from 1980 is still the best. And most mysterious.
I was a senior in high school and was a waitress at Country Kitchen. A week before Christmas, I came home after the dinner shift, and there was a 12-inch red and green can on the front stoop. On top was a note: “To Lynn, From Santa.” I brought it inside and asked if anyone knew who left it. My dad said it wasn’t there when he came home from work, and no one remembered hearing a car pull up in the driveway.
Whatever was inside was sealed like a can of peas and could only be opened with a can opener. I brought it to the kitchen. My mom yelled from the family room, “You can’t open that until Christmas!”
“But why? We don’t even know who it’s from!”
That didn’t matter. Haraldson Christmas Rule No. 1: No gift shall be opened until Christmas Eve. No exceptions.
Perplexed (and ticked about Rule No. 1), I spent a few hours analyzing the handwriting on the lid. I was no stranger to handwriting analysis. Nancy Drew and Trixie Belden were my literary idols.
The Christmas when I was 10, I noticed that the thank you note Santa left was written on the same notepaper my mom kept in the cupboard. The handwriting was just like my dad’s. Being a wary and somewhat nervous child, I was relieved!! to know the truth about Santa; to know that on the night before the night before Christmas, no old guy wandered around our house looking for paper and a pen while we all slept. It was my dad all along! Whew…
Seven years later, though…
I couldn’t figure it out. The handwriting on the can wasn’t obvious. Was it a boy’s handwriting? A girl’s? I couldn’t tell. There were a few strange customers at Country Kitchen who might leave me gifts outside my house, but that was too creepy to consider. I wasn’t dating anyone seriously, and definitely not anyone of mystery or intrigue.
Out of guesses, there was nothing more I could do but let the can sit under the tree for seven torturous days.
On Christmas Eve, I sat on the couch with a can opener in my hand. Dad read the Christmas story. Then my little sister opened her first gift. Then my little brother opened his first gift. (Haraldson Christmas Rule No. 2: Gifts are always opened in order of age.) When it was finally my turn, I cranked open the can as fast as I could. Inside was a teddy bear and a note: “Merry Christmas. Love, Dad.”
Best gift ever.
Wishing you all a very merry night before night before Christmas!