All the magic is on Christmas Eve

Last night, I was snuggled up under a blanket, reading my new book by the glow of the Christmas tree. It was the first time all season I started to feel excited for the upcoming holiday.

I had just finished the last of my Christmas crafts and all of my gifts were finally wrapped. Mom and I had spent the afternoon baking and the aroma of cookies and bread still lingered in the air.

Yes, I was finally excited, but not as much for Christmas Day, but for Christmas Eve. Thanksgiving has notoriously always been my favorite holiday, due in part to the abundance of savory foods and the focus being on family instead of presents, but Christmas Eve is a close second.

As a child, my parents would let my siblings and I open one present on Christmas Eve. Typically, it was a pair of new pajamas. Mom or my older sister would help me into my new set of fleecy footie-pajamas and then we?d gather in the living room near the tree. Mom and Jenny, my sister, would sit on the couch and I?d stretch across both of their laps, squirming around, making myself comfortable. Dad would turn off the TV and take his place in his overstuffed recliner with two books resting on his knees, the Bible and ?T?was the Night Before Christmas.? Dad?s voice was lively and quick, much like how the red clad elf is described, as he read the poem. Then he?d settle into a more subdued pitch as he read Bible verses describing the first Christmas and then, it was bedtime.

When I was five, the tradition changed slightly. Instead of opening my present before bedtime, Mom and Dad sat me down in front of the tree while the sunlight still touched the frostbitten Earth and slid a large box into my hands. The box was too heavy to simply contain pajamas and I ripped the paper off at an incredible speed unable to control my anticipation to see what was inside. That year, I received my first pair of ice-skates.

The winter before, I had watched the winter Olympics and became enthralled with everything figure skating, so much so that I would make up routines and practice my triple Salchows and double toe loops in the living room. Instead of helping me into my pajamas, Mom layered me up and stuffed me into my snowsuit, and tossed me into the cab of Dad?s two-toned Chevy. It was a quick drive out of town and to the Fox River; there was an overflow area, which was like a small lake tacked onto the river, which had frozen over, where Dad would teach me to skate.

He lumbered over to the passenger side, sliding my skates onto my dainty feet. I was only in kindergarten and tying my own laces was still a difficult task. In fact, if you ask my mom, I still tie them backwards. It was a battle to get them tied just right and would take three tries, with mild whining on my part and some fatherly, ?if you don?t stop, I?ll take the skates back? from Dad. I remember he had to tie them a fourth time once we got on the ice because they still weren?t right, but this time I was too excited to whine, I was about to let my inner Nancy Kerrigan out.

Unfortunately, I was about as ungraceful on the ice as I was spinning about in our living room. My knees buckled and my Spory ankles were as weak as ever, jaunting this way and that, threatening to break, or at least roll.

But as always, Daddy had thought ahead. He glided off the ice and hiked up the short, frozen bank to the bed of the truck. Just as quickly as he?d left the ice, he returned, this time with a folding chair in hand. He sat me down in the chair and told me to hang on tight. I did as he spun me round and round, one giggle rolling into another, even after he gently dumped me out onto the ice.

?Now me,? he said, a twinkle of playfulness in his eye as he sat down in the chair. I continued to giggle, ?silly, Daddy,? I sputtered out. But even at five, I could hear the seriousness in his voice; he was about to teach me something.

I pulled myself up, off of the ice and around the chair. My little, mitten clad hands squeezed the metal folds of the chair and I grunted as I dug my toe pick into the frozen water to give me some leverage. Slowly, I began moving the chair, which was occupied by my six-foot-two father. And that?s how my dad taught me how to ice-skate, which is still one of my favorite activities.

I knew every couple of years, as my feet would continue to grow, I?d get a new pair of skates. My junior year of high school, I received my final pair.

Tonight, the present I open will probably hold the pair of slippers I?ve been hinting at for months now, but those ice-skates are tucked away in my car, just waiting for it to stay cold long enough for the water to freeze over.