‘Twas the Night Before the Night Before Christmas

Growing up, my family opened gifts on Christmas Eve, which meant that Santa came to our house the night before the night before Christmas. Mom and Dad convinced us that Santa started his trip at our house before heading to the International Date Line, where it was already the next day. It made total sense to me, until I cracked the whole Santa thing when I was ten. More on that in a minute.

I didn’t play with the tea set as much as I used the lid lifters as razors and pretended to shave with Dad.

Each Christmas Eve, before opening gifts, Dad would read the Christmas story from the Bible. I always felt sad for Baby Jesus. What was a kid supposed to do with gold, frankincense, and myrrh? Sure, I got boring things like socks and underwear for Christmas, but there were usually a few things from my Sears catalog wish list, too.

One gift in particular remains the most mysterious I’ve ever received.

The week before Christmas, 1980, I came home after working the dinner shift at Country Kitchen and found a large tin can on the front stoop. On top was written, “To Lynn From Santa.” I brought it inside and asked if anyone knew who left it. Dad said it wasn’t there when he came home from work, and no one had heard a car pull up in the drive.

The can was about twelve inches tall and decorated with a holiday scene. Whatever was inside had been sealed like a can of peas and could only be opened with a can opener. I brought it to the kitchen and dug around in the utensil drawer. Mom called out from the family room, “You can’t open that until Christmas!”

“But why?” I asked. “We don’t even know who it’s from!”

That didn’t matter. Haraldson Christmas Rule Number One: No gift shall be opened until Christmas Eve. No exceptions. So I spent a few hours analyzing the handwriting on the lid, the same way I did when I cracked the mystery of Santa.

Santa always left a thank you note for the cookies and milk, and when I got old enough to notice, I realized he used the notepaper Mom kept in the cupboard. It disturbed me to think of some old guy wandering around our house looking for paper and a pen. It was bad enough that we didn’t have a fireplace and had to leave the front door unlocked so Santa could get in, but imagining him turning on lights and sifting through the cupboard worried me. (That’s how I spent much of my childhood: worried.)

I was relieved the year I realized Santa had the same handwriting as Dad, only I had to keep it under wraps because my little brother was too young to figure it out. I felt superior with this knowledge and was quite smug the following year when he learned who Santa was.

“I’ve known a long time,” I told him.

“Well la-di-da,” he said, and stuck his tongue out at me.

This time, the handwriting wasn’t so obvious. Was it a boy’s writing? A girl’s? I couldn’t tell. There were a few strange regulars at the restaurant who might leave me gifts outside my house, but that was too creepy to think about for very long. I wasn’t dating anyone seriously, especially no one who would go to the trouble of, let alone be clever enough to think of putting a gift in a can. 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 Number Two: Gifts are opened in order, according to age, and everyone has to watch and comment. And comment. And comment. Seriously, it took FOREVER to open presents, especially since the adults always had to assemble or try on or search for batteries and then, of course, take a photo. Examples below.)

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.”

Dad, circa 1968, posing in his new jacket.
Mom, circa 1967, posing with her new vacuum… Hmmm…
My dad made me a dollhouse for Christmas 1970. Photos slowed down the gift-opening process, but I love that someone captured my expression when he and my older brother brought it up from the basement. I can still recall how excited I was.

2 thoughts on “‘Twas the Night Before the Night Before Christmas

    1. There’s another surprised Me photo from the Christmas I got a parakeet. I was around 11 years old, I think. While photos seemed annoying at the time, I’m sure glad I have them! Merry Christmas, Vickie!

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