By Jane Thurgood Sagal

Columbia Valley Arts Council Memoir Group

He quietly creeps down the stairs in his flannel pyjamas and, noticing me seated on the living room floor, expectantly asks, “Has Santa come yet?” 

I disappoint my first-born by saying “No, not yet” and encourage my six-year-old son to go back upstairs to bed. I am surrounded by thin pieces of balsa wood in various shapes and sizes, holding a bottle of glue behind my back, while re-positioning my body to hide the partially-built three-storey doll house under construction that his little sister will receive from Santa in the morning. 

That was at 10 p.m. Around 11:15 p.m., he again quietly tiptoes downstairs excitedly hoping that Santa has arrived. Again, I reiterate that Santa has not yet appeared and that he should head back upstairs to bed.

My oldest son could not wait to be born, arriving two weeks early. He continued to demonstrate this eagerness throughout his life. Even as an adult, he could not wait for Christmas Day to arrive. He called me one Christmas morning from his home in Edmonton to thank me for his gift. He then admitted that he had opened the gift when it arrived in the mail and then re-wrapped it so he could open it again six days later on Christmas Day. How wonderful when childhood excitement extends into your 40s.

Thank goodness, on that fateful Christmas Eve in 1978 when he came creeping downstairs, I had not yet eaten the two homemade whole wheat chocolate chip cookies or drunk the half glass of milk that we left for Santa prior to bedtime. 

Only when my children were snugly tucked in bed were gifts from Santa retrieved from their hiding places and wrapped or, in my daughter’s case that year, built.

When Santa’s gifts were safely stowed by the tree, Christmas stockings were filled to leave by my children’s bedsides as a way to keep them busy in the morning so I could sleep a little longer. The stocking always held something to play with, something to read, and something to eat – usually a mandarin orange still tightly wrapped in its bright green protective paper along with a small bag of mixed nuts. 

As a young mother, I often felt sleep-deprived so I developed various strategies to extend my sleep time. The adult males in my family continue to receive The Farmer’s Almanac in their Christmas stockings.

When my children were young, they opened one gift each day the week of Christmas so they could enjoy the gift all day and be thankful to the person who had sent it. By the time Christmas Day arrived, there would only be the gift from Santa to open. 

I found this to be a manageable and thoughtful way of dealing with the surfeit of gifts that appeared each Christmas for my children.

I adopted this strategy after the Christmas when my sons were busily opening their gifts, the oldest having organized them into groups by name as gifts arrived, while I helped their baby sister open her presents. 

As I “oohed” and “aahed” over individual gifts as they were separated from their temporary wrapping, I was slowly engulfed by mounds of colourful Christmas paper, red and green ribbons and bows, and name tags no longer connected to any gift. 

I had no idea who had received what from whom! The following Christmas, I introduced the week-long gift-opening extravaganza.