Growing up with two brothers and two sisters under one little roof was chaotic to say the least. If we weren't bickering about who sits in the floorboard of the cramped car then we were arguing over who dipped their finger in the pudding meant for dessert. However, we have all grown older, moved away and now have children of our own. Since then, I've learned that on at least one occasion, the chaos is what makes it fun. I couldn't imagine our Christmas Eve any other way. From the time the guests arrive, through dinner and Santa's visit, pandemonium is expected the whole day through.
On December 24th, the look of peace and tranquility can be deceiving in the grey and brick two story house on Carlisle Road. Large red velvet bows decorate each front window and bright white lights shimmer in the naked dogwood trees like stars in the black sky.
Inside, the distinct smell of honey baked ham covered with pineapples fills your nose and leaves your mouth watering. The faint sounds of Christmas carols play continuously in the background. The 7 foot Douglas Fur tree stands tall in front of the huge bay window in the living room. Tiny white lights nestled within the tree illuminate the gold garland that swoops from limb to limb. Small red bows trimmed in gold are at the tip of almost every branch with either gold or glass ornaments dangling perfectly beneath. At the top, sits an angel wearing a white satin gown with sparkling gold wings representing the true meaning of Christmas. Finally, with every detail flawlessly in its place, the Christmas Eve frenzy is ready for its guests.
It always amuses me to watch my closest relatives arrive for this annual event. In the driveway and along the street, several pick-up trucks and several cars look like they were parked by drunk drivers. Aunts, uncles, nieces and nephews multiply by the minute. The stomping footsteps and the screeching laughs of children sound like a stampede of hyenas as they enter the house. Many of them struggle to carry the stacks of presents inside to the tree. Some clumsy, careless ones don't even mind dropping them on the pavement or tearing the wrapping off along the way. On their mind is the sweet ham scent coming from the oven.
Dinner is finally served. The mayhem at this time would make most parents extremely aggravated, but almost anything is tolerated here on Christmas Eve. Too many guests for one table caused us to separate our feast onto two. Both tables festively decorated with red lace place mats and fine holiday china. The elegant cherry wood table in the dining room was set for fourteen adults. Mom sat at one end and dad sat at the other. Simple conversations turn into heated debates and the one who could speak the loudest was the winner. The kitchen table was set for the ten children and could hardly be seen by the adults. Before dinner is finished, a blood hurdling scream comes from the dinette that could probably wake up the dead. Samantha explained it as an involuntary reflex when her cousin CJ splashed cold, wet apple cider in her lap. The teams at this table consist of eight girls against two boys; a match that doesn't seem very fair. All hostility leaves between them when they hear someone shout, "Santa's here!" Leaving dishes on the table and chairs in disarray, they dash toward the living room for the best spot on the floor.
Santa's visit is the highlight of the evening and by far the most anticipated. All twenty four people are stuffed into corners into the only clean room left in the house. The familiar voice of my father echoes down the hallway "Ho Ho HoÃ¢ÂÂ¦ Meeerry Christmas!" In the doorway, stands Santa Claus as only our family knows him. He has a pillow shaped belly and an oversized red Santa suit and his reading glasses stay perched on his nose. Hiding behind him is the large green sack full of toys that is waiting to be delivered. The children squeal with delight, camera flashes light up the room and the well known beat to Jingle Bell Rock vibrates through the speakers that hang from the wooden walls. Santa calls name after name and passes out gift after gift until every last present has been opened. Ripping open boxes and installing batteries is the last task on the list. . Then, Santa's job is complete.
The evidence of the commotion was obvious. The floor couldn't be seen through the mountains of ripped wrapping paper and getting tangled in the long strands of ribbon was inevitable if you tried to move. The tree was now lopsided, the angel was gone and broken ornaments were scattered under the tree. The beeps and buzzes of the boys' electronic games were no match for the cheerful girls that danced wildly from room to room. The painted on grins of these innocent faces is etched in my memory forever. Although unruliness and mess aren't thought to be much fun, Christmas Eve in our family wouldn't be a celebration without it.