“Mama, when will Santa come?” I set a pan of potatoes on the stove and looked down at my six-year-old daughter. The plaintive tone of Niki’s voice made my heart ache for her. This was Christmas Eve, the day she’d looked forward to for the past month, but nothing was happening. Like every other evening, Mama was making supper with little sister Tammie sitting quietly nearby playing with a small toy. Daddy wasn’t home yet.
I hugged Niki. Her cheeks were warm and pink, flushed with anticipation and excitement. The kitchen window looked dark, as though it was midnight instead of only five o’clock. Kissing her, I said, “Do you remember what I told you this afternoon? Santa will come while we’re at church tonight. Daddy will be home any minute. After we eat supper, we’ll get ready to leave for church.”
Right on cue, we heard the back door open. Arnie was home and stamping snow from his feet. Niki shrieked, “Daddy!” and tore away to greet him. Tammie toddled along after her big sister.
I loved Christmas, but how excited the children were went beyond what I thought was good. What were my children going to remember about their childhood Christmases? The painful tension of waiting for it to all happen? The stress of wishing that Santa would come? I hoped not.
Arnie and I had put up our Christmas tree a few days earlier. Before bedtime each night, Niki and Tammie looked forward to turning out all of the lights in the house except the ones on the tree. Then, in the magical glimmer cast by small blue, green, yellow and red bulbs, they pranced and danced in the center of the living room. I thought, “I want them to remember doing that. I know I will always remember how enchanting it is to watch them!”
An hour later we were all dressed in our Sunday best and ready to leave the house for church. Arnie pulled up close to the back door and we bundled the children into the car. After I slid into the front seat and slammed the door, I exclaimed, “Arnie! I’m missing one of my gloves. It must have fallen out of my coat pocket in the house. I’m going to go find it. I’ll be right back.”
The children weren’t old enough to realize that I always missed a glove each Christmas Eve when we were just about ready to leave for Mass. The missing glove was my way of returning to the house without the children knowing what I was doing. While in the house, supposedly looking for my glove, I was racing around putting out dishes of nuts and candy, piling gift-wrapped presents under the Christmas tree, and placing the baby Jesus figure in the empty manager of our crèche.
Then, finished with Santa duties, I would casually stroll out to the car pulling on my gloves.
When we returned to the house after Mass that night, Niki and Tammie were excited and happy to discover that Santa had come while we were gone. They were so busy looking everything over, they didn’t mind waiting for their Daddy to finish stoking the wood furnace before they began opening their presents.
The pressure cooker tension of waiting for Christmas to come affected me as much as the children. Once the presents were all excitedly opened, I leaned against Arnie and sighed with relief and contentment. He dipped his hand into the goodie jar and chose a chocolate-covered-caramel-nut candy for me. Taking it, I said, “This is the part of Christmas I like. All the work preparing for it is done, the girls aren’t tied in knots over Santa’s arrival anymore and we get to sleep in tomorrow!”
Smiling, Arnie corrected me, “You mean today! It’s after midnight. Look at Niki and Tammie, they’ve fallen asleep on the floor playing with their toys. Let’s carry them up to their beds.”