I looked at the calendar. A kaleidoscope of childhood memories flooded my mind. December fifth, the Eve of Saint Nicholas had meant so much to me and the children in my class during the late 1950’s. Not only did the mystery surrounding our celebrations excite us, but we looked forward to receiving candy and the satisfaction of letting Santa know what we wanted for Christmas.
Saint Nicholas visited everyone at home while we slept, but for some of my classmates, he left goodies in socks, for others, in their shoes. At my home, Saint Nicholas left our treats in a cereal bowl left on the dinner table.
Before going to bed on the fifth of December, Mom had us write a letter to Santa, detailing what we wished for. My big sisters helped me before I knew how to write. After our letters were put in an empty bowl placed where we usually sat at the table, we were sent to bed.
While we were sleeping, the Saint came by and collected the letters for Santa. Then the Holy Man would fill our dishes with a handful of peanuts in the shell, a few vanilla-chocolate drops, chocolate covered raisins and several hard candies. My favorites were the raspberry-filled and peanut butter filled ones. A big, bright orange topped off the dish.
Candy wasn’t an everyday treat in my childhood, but we knew even more candy would come our way that day. Saint Nicholas also visited our school! We never saw him, but while we were on the playground during the third recess, Saint Nicholas would come and put a small brown paper sack on everyone’s desk. Even the naughty children were given a sack containing more peanuts in the shell, a candy cane, chewy red, white, green colored taffy and a popcorn ball.
As a child, I loved to listen to a program on the local radio station where someone read letters addressed to Santa during December. Outside from hearing jingle bells once in a while and helping Mom frost hundreds of Christmas cookies, we didn’t have the house cleaned, decorated or a Christmas tree up until the 24th. None of this dampened my fever-pitch anticipation, then or now, as an adult.
While in town earlier in the day, I had someone I knew. We stopped to talk. She asked if I had finished Christmas shopping. I shook my head. She prompted, “You have your tree up, don’t you? You need presents to put under it.”
I protested, “It’s too early to put up my tree.”
Giving me a look that clearly said, “I feel so sorry for you.” she began to proselytize her version of Christmas, “I put up my tree before Thanksgiving so our guests can enjoy it. I also finished my cleaning and shopping at the same time. If you wait too long, the holiday will be over before you know it!”
I murmured, fully aware that people like me are in the minority these days, “I leave my tree up through most of January. For my family, that’s Christmas time.”
Before returning home, I ran into someone else I knew. She had a beautifully wrapped present in her arms. Eyeing it, I commented, “That present looks like a work of art! I’ve never seen a present more beautifully wrapped and decorated.”
My friend gushed, “I just love wrapping presents!” Straightening an already perfect bow and spray of evergreen, she explained, “This gift is for my sister-in-law who’s in the hospital.”
I nodded at her, saying, “It’s beautiful. Your sister-in-law will love it. You have an artistic gift when it comes to wrapping paper and bows.”
Mentally returning to my examination of the calendar, I thought about how much I hated wrapping presents. My one and only goal is to merely cover them. They look rumpled, lumpy and none of the creases are crisp.
Putting down my shopping bag on the dining room table, I went into the kitchen to get a cereal bowl. Placing it on the table where I usually sit, I lifted an orange from my shopping bag and put it into the bowl along with some chocolates, peanuts and a sausage stick. Shrugging, I said, “Just because I’m a grown-up, doesn’t mean Saint Nicholas can’t visit me.”