Like most kids, Christmas was for me the universal clock by which all time revolved; it was the zero hour. Other important markers on the calendar, primarily birthdays and summer vacations, came only once for each Christmas. This universal clock ticked not in minutes, not in hours, not days, weeks or even months, but in eternities; the countdown until Christmas morning.
Those eternities were measured with different methods. The most obvious and the most used was the counting of Christmas Eve’s eves, Christmas Eve’s eve’s eve’s eve, would always be followed by Christmas Eve’s eve’s eve, and so on. But this method was only useful after the beginning of Christmas vacation from school, which typically began about one week before Christmas. Counting Christmas Eve’s eves months in advance was too daunting a task for someone still struggling with basic arithmetic.
That seemingly endless singular eternity that begins the day after Christmas was, and still is, too depressing a void to try to count, though it is, and was, only one. I could have surmised that the reason we received such wondrous toys for Christmas was to help us deal with that emotional Christmas absence that stretches 12 months long.
But the longest of eternities came for me, not in eves, months or even the long year before Christmas, they came the moment my brother and I were sent to bed on Christmas Eve.
I confess that I believed in Santa Clause until a very late age. I remember the fierce pressure, threats of torture and worse, from those other, older kids who tried to force me to deny my beliefs.
Santa was without any doubt a miracle worker, visiting every Christmas tree and every stocking in a single night, even in houses without chimneys, and in bad weather; which fortunately for me were things I did not have to worry about living in a house with an un-needed fireplace in Southern California.
My belief in Santa had produced great dividends and the only downside was a reduced status among a few other grammar school intellectuals.
Why would I deny the greatest giver of Christmas gifts and put my entire Christmas universe at risk? My belief in Santa had produced great dividends and the only downside was a reduced status among a few other grammar school intellectuals. In the end, I could also surmise that it was my late belief in Santa Claus that helped create the neural pathways in my brain that now make it easier for me to believe in an even greater giver of gifts, the One whose birthday Christmas is celebrated to mark.
On Christmas Eve, after I was sent to bed, the Grandfather Clock that had overseen every Christmas that I can remember chimed the quarter hours with an increasing intensity. After waiting an eternity for my parents to go to bed, and the house to become very quiet, the clock would begin to slow, lengthening each quarter-hour into its own eternity. My first predicament was to determine how many chimes from the ticking wood guardian should I count, to make sure my parents were asleep, before I risk what would be the first of many great, but brief, late-night adventures into the living room, to peak into the darkness at what Santa had done.
As Christmas Eve deepened, and as the eternities between chimes spanned greater and greater, I was drawn into an uncontrollable curiosity, almost a madness that would not be comforted until morning, until my mother and father would wake and allow me and my brother the joy that I had endured so many, many, eternities, all the night long.
Now that I am a father and a husband, the eternities seem to have slipped away. The Christmas Eves’ eves pass so quickly that my first thought the day after Christmas is how wise it would be for me to start shopping right away for next Christmas. Preparation for next Christmas now begins the day after the last. I have made a special place for the decorations so that they will be ready and easy get to. I am more careful not to tangle the strings of Christmas lights. And most importantly, a budget is set aside for Santa.
The very Grandfather Clock that had tormented me for so many Christmas Eves now ticks away the eternities in my living room, overseeing the next generations of Christmas. My hope is that my children, and maybe even grandchildren, will be tormented by the same chimes, marking the same eternities that so embedded the memories of my childhood Christmas.