I should have know life would get in the way of having a consecutive countdown. Oh well.
For me, Christmas Eve at Grandma and Grandpa's was the highlight of the holiday. No matter what Santa brought us the next day.
After a candlelight service we made our way, often through treacherous snow and ice, to the toasty warm goodness of the BB (AKA Grandma's basement).
Did I say toasty warm...make that the outskirts of hell's dominion. The wood burning stove would be cranking so hot by the time we got there, you would have thought we were on an undiscovered island smack in the middle of the equator. Uncle John would be down to his undershirt in minutes.
Grandpa would always try to put fear into us grand kids by letting us know Santa wasn't coming because he shot the fat man's reindeer the week before, or maybe even Santa himself. But we never believed he could do a thing like that. (Plus, he made the same threat about the Easter Bunny, so it was very suspect.)
As we got older, we could hear the tell-tale porch door open and knew Uncle David had just snuck out the front in a hopelessly worn costume with pillows shoved in wherever possible. But when were in the throws of oblivion, we impatiently waited for one of the aunts or uncles to say, "Do you hear that? I think I hear sleigh bells," or something equally cheesy.
We'd run to the windows and wait until his face appeared, waving and carrying his sack of toys (unwrapped, of course) before we started acting like even bigger idiots than we had been.
In later years, when we knew it was only Uncle David dressed as Santa, not the real Santa, we would take turns making sure that everyone could see the pillow poking out from the back of his pants. This would be caught on the behemoth VHS video camera and played back later that evening, in case it wasn't funny enough the first time around.
The funny things is, there really weren't that many presents opened on Christmas Eve. One from each Aunt & Uncle, one from Great Aunt Evie and Uncle Speed, one from the Sivinski's, who were honorary Kirschner's for the night, and one from Grandma and Grandpa, which later turned into envelopes.
As in, "Charlie, time to pass out those envelopes." Which we each got to open, but then immediately had to hand over to our parents.
And yet, as soon as that night was over and we were making our way back through the snow storm to home, I always felt like Christmas was over too. I knew when I woke up, I'd have more presents to open, but the big show was over. And that was okay. I could wait until next year.
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