I love this specific time of year. 2 o’clock in the morning, Christmas day. This is when things happen.
This is the magic time when bikes get assembled, game systems get quietly hooked up, surprise presents make their appearance from carefully concealed locations, and a few cookies get eaten.
Everyone in the house is asleep. I feel like I should be doing something. Finished up a last-minute gift for Teres she’s not expecting, but it’s not a big deal (new homemade bumper stickers to replace the ones she’s worn out, a match set of “I LOVE BON JOVI” and ‘AND MY HUBBY TOO, PROBABLY”). I’m used to extravagant surprises. Our Christmas mornings used to involve a fair amount of showmanship.
One morning many years back, my oldest (only, at the time) son woke abruptly at six in the morning to see Santa Claus, white beard,, red suit, hat and all, leaning over him. Santa told him “Merry Christmas, Tony,” smiled, and ran for it. By the time he struggled out of his carefully-tucked-in sheets and came after me, I was in my own bed, unKringled and snoring better than Gielgud. The rest of the day his presents were almost untouched; he was still raving about his visitor.
We decided to go the Lilliputian route with James once. We spent weeks driving around, buying up all the stormtrooper Star Wars figures we could find by laborious store-by-store search (this was before the heyday of eBay). When James awoke there were thirty of them, all aiming weapons at him, under the command of Darth Vader and Grand Toff Muffin or whatever his name is. There was also a 6-foot inflated Godzilla leaning over him. (I’m sure it was canon.) It was definitely worth the hassle, though, watching him test his potty training skills to the max. They say his bladder grew three sizes that day…
I’ve spent the early hours of Christmas building kits, inflating castles, hooking up electronics, setting up computers, redecorating rooms, composing panoramas of themed toys in meticulous detail, all for that one look of pure joy in a child’s face before the greed sets in and packages start flying.
I came by it honestly. My mom was a demon at Christmas surprises. Anything I thought I was getting would come in odd sized packages so I couldn’t guess, or she’d take it apart and give it to me in seven different packages. One year she didn’t label anything so I couldn’t figure out which ones to peek at (on Christmas morning she told me the green ones were mine). I’d fight back with presents containing sand, bricks, stoppered bottles of water, whatever would confound her guessing ability. Christmas was not only a family holiday, it was a battle of wits with my presents on the line.
We don’t have as much of that this year. Kids are grown, they’re starting to get in on the behind-the-scenes part themselves. But we did have a late-night run; three of the presents we ordered for James didn’t arrive in time, despite plenty of lead time, so we ducked out to the only place open at midnight on Christmas Eve (Walgreens) and joined the panicked throngs ton find a few more silly gifts to pad out his currently meager pile. He’ll be happy, especially when the other items arrive and he ends up with more than anybody.
This is the time when everything is still, the tricks are carefully laid in place, the traps are set, the evidence is thrown away, and anticipation is all that’s left.
2 a.m. on Christmas is my present to myself.