First I would like to tell you about a long standing tradition on my dad's side of the family. Every Christmas Eve, my dad's entire family (now, when I say entire, I mean entire...aunts, uncles, great-aunts, great-uncles, cousins, 2nd cousins, 3rd cousins..well you get the idea) would get together and celebrate. It was just like a family reunion, just on Christmas Eve. There would be pot-luck style grub, Christmas carols, a Christmas play, and even a visit from Santa Claus! Now, the Christmas play was all the youngin's dressed in various robes and white trash bags, acting out the birth of Christ and Santa would be some unlucky uncle dressed in a Santa suit. But we all had fun and everyone looked forward to the festivities each year.
This tradition dates back as far as my dad can remember and it has continued to happen every year since. Although this tradition in and of itself provides a wonderful and lasting memory, it's not the actual event I remember, as much as the ride home. Almost every year we spent the night at my Grandma Louise and Grandpa Offey's house on Christmas Eve. After the get together, we would head to their farmhouse.
Now, you have to keep in mind, that at the get-together we had just had the privilege of seeing Santa with our own eyes. We didn't know he wasn't the real deal. He showed up with presents in a bag, with OUR names on them! I mean, it had to really be the Big Guy. Our parents were very good about reminding us that he was "in the area" and that we better get ourselves home quickly and in to bed, so as to avoid the inevitable "kids who are awake get skipped over by Santa" conundrum.
So even though seeing family, acting out a play, and sitting on Santa's lap was more than exciting for this little girl, it was always the ride home that lulled me into the proverbial sugar plums and candy canes trance. I remember sitting in the back seat of the car, my head tilted against the cool window, gazing out at the stars, hoping for a quick glimpse of Santa's sleigh. I know there is a pretty good chance my parent's encouraged this behavior as to further their plans to get us in bed soon after crossing the threshold of the farmhouse. But, alas I found myself mesmerized by the stars.
The years we did not stay at the farmhouse, we took the hour long journey back to our house. I still remember the same feeling of wonder while searching the skies for Santa. Now, I would like to say that this behavior slowly waned as the years passed, but that is simply not true. I remember one year, as an adult, I was riding back from the get together with my parents. I was sitting in the backseat of the car with my Grandma Louise. I remember leaning my head against the window and seeing the stars twinkling in the sky. Of course, I was not looking for Santa that night (I swear I wasn't!). But that night, as the stars rushed by and we headed home, I found myself in a kid-like trance, dreaming of what joy Christmas Day would bring.