When I was little, my family and I had Christmas rituals. After Thanksgiving, we drove to the neighboring redwood forests, where a Christmas tree farm lay nestled in the foothills. My dad carried the axe, and we walked through the rows and rows of trees, searching for the perfect Douglas fir. Not too tall, not too short, bushy, not too many holes, just the right shape. After we had chopped it down, we often had a picnic on a stump in a grove created by the giant redwoods. We would decorate the tree together, and after I would fall asleep on Christmas Eve, my dad worked late into the night, bringing out all the big presents for me to discover the next morning--a new bike, a giant teddy bear, a swingset. He was my Santa Claus.
After I grew up and moved away, I stopped celebrating Christmas. I returned home, year after year, to spend Christmas with my family, which was peaceful and relaxing, but the magic of my youth was no longer there. Since I was always traveling out-of-town for Christmas, I never bothered with a Christmas tree in my own apartment. Then, Brent came along with Alec (he's 6) in tow, and all of a sudden, I had an instant family. Alec gave me a reason to celebrate Christmas again. To create my own Christmas.
I insisted on a real Christmas tree. A Douglas Fir, just like we used to have. We all picked it out together. It's the most beautiful, bushy, green tree I've ever had. And even though the needles get all over the floor, the fresh scent of pine is wonderful. Alec helped me decorate. I went nuts on ornaments--lights, little animals, glass berries and icicles, sleighs, reindeer, little Santas, and I even turned my seashells collected on the beaches of San Diego over the years into ornaments, giving the tree a very SoCal touch. I hung stockings by the fireplace. I even sewed Alec's name on his--and I don't sew!
We took Alec to see Santa, the Festival of Lights on the Del Mar racetrack, taking lots of pictures the whole time. Meanwhile, stacks and stacks of wrapped presents accumulated under the tree and in the stockings. After I ran out of wrapping paper, more piled up in our unused bedroom, waiting to be wrapped. Since Brent and I are going to be up in NorCal on Christmas Day and Alec with his mom, I explained to Alec that I called Santa's office to make special arrangements and have him come early.
"Did you really?"
"Yes, I called his workshop at the north pole and explained that you are having two Christmases this year."
"Did you speak to Santa?"
"No, I couldn't get through to him. He was busy so I spoke to his secretary but the secretary was an elf!"
"Oh, my God!" Alec exclaimed, clapping his hands to his mouth.
The next morning, Alec swore that he had flown in Santa's sleigh and seen Paris and Italy. He asked if I believed him.
"Of course," I replied.
"Have you ever flown on his sleigh?" he asked.
"No. I wish. I once heard the reindeer's hooves on the roof though."
I got a pad of paper and pen, and Alec dictated his adventurous sleigh ride to me. Then, Alec colored pictures to go along with the story as I typed it up. We made a bedtime story out of Alec's Midnight Sleigh Ride.
Saturday night was our Christmas Eve. Brent played Christmas music as we cooked a special dinner together. We made chicken with gravy and cranberry sauce, yams sauteed in honey and brown sugar, stuffing, green beans and carrots, and lightly toasted sourdough rolls. Afterwards, with stuffed bellies, all 3 of us made Christmas cookies for Santa. Even though it was December 20th, it felt like the real Christmas Eve. We had created the magic, just the three of us, in our little kitchen. I made the cookie dough, rolled it out, and Alec helped cut out the different shapes and decorate them: snowmen, snowflakes, reindeer, sleighs, mittens, ice skates, and penguins. After they had cooled, we sampled them to make sure they were good enough for Santa. We left the cookies for him with a glass of milk. We also left out a bowl of carrots for the reindeer, upon Alec's insistence.
We put Alec to bed, and I read The Night Before Christmas, just like my father had read to me every Christmas Eve when I was little. After Alec had fallen asleep, Brent and I went to work. I filled our stockings with green, red and silver Hershey kisses and candy canes. I put the final presents from Santa under the tree. Then, for the finale, Brent attached Alec's new tandem bike to his mountain bike, and we stood it up by the Christmas tree. I adorned it with bows. I ate some cookies, and drank the milk. I even crunched down some carrots. Then, I wrote Alec a note from Santa. Exhausted, Brent and I went to bed.
I was too excited to sleep that night. We had created Christmas. I had no idea how much fun playing Santa could be. Christmas had been wonderful when I was little, and now, as an adult, a child had brought that magic back for me. All night, I tossed and turned. When I did dream, I dreamt of wrapping paper and silver, gold, and red Christmas bows.
We all popped out of bed the next morning at 6:30 am. Alec ran downstairs to see what Santa had brought him. His eyes lit up when he saw the note (which he read all by himself) and remaining crumbs on the cookie plate.
"Did you drink the milk?" he asked.
"No, I was asleep."
"Did you put these presents under the tree?"
"Did you write the note?"
"No. I think that was Santa."
"Oh, my God!"
I know we don't have that many Christmases left for Alec to believe in Santa. I want to enjoy the it for as long as I can. Creating Christmas for Alec definitely reinstated my belief in the magic of Christmas. As I fell asleep on our Christmas Eve, I caught myself listening for reindeer hooves on the roof and smiled.
Watching his face light up with excitment as he unwrapped his gifts was all the thanks I needed. I was especially touched by the presents he had wrapped up for me--various Christmas scene drawings and colorings (which I date and save in a box). After we had all opened our gifts, we went for a bike ride together. Brent pulled Alec on the new tandem, and I rode beside on my commuter bike. All 3 of us had a blast. After we had gone 6 miles, we returned home for a quick shower before going out for muffins and hot chocolate at Pannikin. Alec pleaded with us to ride our bikes there, even though it was 10 miles of hills each way. "Not today," we told him. He looked very disappointed. Hmm. He sounds like us!