I was too old, I suppose ‑‑ especially by today's standards. Still, I believed. I ignored the other kids' claims about Santa Claus. I thought putting up the Christmas tree was a pleasure, not a chore. When I did have chores, I sang Christmas carols to pass the time. I refused to think of the holidays as anything less than magical.
On Christmas Eve, a sprinkling of snow dusted everything, proving me right. Snow for Christmas! Not so much that Grandma couldn't come over for Christmas dinner tomorrow ‑‑ just enough. Everything sparkled when the streetlights came on. Just before I went to bed, a flock of birds flew away north to give Santa one last report on good boys and girls.
That Christmas Eve, I wore my watch to bed, eager for it to read six o'clock, the earliest time we were allowed to get up. Long after my little sister fell asleep, I lay awake, dreaming. For a while, I knelt in my bed and looked out the window, hoping to catch a glimpse of reindeer in the sky. Then when it seemed it must be nearly morning, I pulled up my pajama sleeve and looked at my watch in the glow from the streetlights.
It would be hours and hours till morning!
The watch was still ticking, so I decided it must be running slow. I set it ahead fifteen minutes to compensate, then tried to sleep again.
The next time I checked, it was only nine‑thirty! Obviously, something was seriously wrong with that watch. Again I set it ahead a bit to make up for its slowness.
I don't know how many times I reset my watch that night. Now and then, between my attempts to control time and make Christmas come faster, I nodded off. Once I woke to the sound of what I was sure had been prancing hooves. Another time, as I drifted out of sleep, I thought I caught a whiff of pipe smoke.
Finally, my watch read six o'clock. I slipped out of bed and into my robe and crept out to the living room to turn on the Christmas tree. The mounds of colorful packages, the sparkle of the tree, the quiet magic of the morning made the torture of waiting seem worthwhile.
My parents found me snuggled on the couch, just taking it all in. Of course, they shooed me back to bed since it was only three o'clock in the morning!
It didn't matter. I slept well till my sister pounced on my bed and shook me awake. She was right to be excited, I thought: something beautiful awaited her.
I think that was the last of the real Christmases: the Christmases where the tree was like something out of a fairy tale and the wrapping paper covered happiness and hints of magic were everywhere. Eventually, I could no longer deny the truths and practicalities of the holidays.
Still ‑‑ I love a Christmas tree, the secrets of packages, the gathering of family. There's still a bit of magic in every Christmas.
And I don't have to turn back the clock to capture it.