Sleigh bells ring, are you listening,
In the lane, snow is glistening
A beautiful sight,
We’re happy tonight.
Walking in a winter wonderland. – Diana Krall
Once upon a time, in a small mobile home, on a small bit of land up in the Ozarks, in the early winter, five brothers and sisters eyed the overflowing pile of presents under their humble Christmas tree. The tumultuous anticipation of opening all the bright paper to discover the toys within trembled through them almost constantly.
Each gift had been mapped out.
Each sibling knew in exact detail which gifts were theirs, what shape they took, and what noise they did or did not make when shook.
The high-hopes they had for that pile had been gnawing away at them for several days. Never had then been so many presents. The older three assured the younger two that they’d never seen the presents spill out to this point of the living room. The sat in a comfortable clump of arms and legs discussing and comparing previous Christmases with the loot gleaming before them.
See, these five children and their two dear parents had very little. The children had no allowances. There was no extra spending money. Many birthdays consisted of one small toy and necessary things like socks. The children, being children didn’t notice these things. They had goats, chickens, ducks, rubber boots, friends nearby, and lots of exciting places to explore. The lack of money went unnoticed even when they had to hike their Grandma’s land to chop down a cedar tree to bring home and decorate, with gloves, for Christmas. For the five siblings, all was right in the world because they were together.
But the gifts? The overflowing pile of gifts, you ask? If the parents bought socks for birthdays and stuffed underwear in stockings for Christmas, where did the gifts come from?
I will tell you. The gifts came from a very loving and very dear Auntie and Uncle, with no children of their own just yet, who thought it best to lavish their five nieces and nephews with every cool thing they could find. This left only the burden of the stockings for the children’s parents, so all was right with the world as far as the children were concerned.
Now! On this particular Christmas, the Auntie and Uncle had outdone themselves. The gifts swept out into the living room. The children were overcome with excitement.
One more day.
It was Christmas Eve.
Tomorrow all the gifts could be opened and the anticipation relieved.
One more day.
The sun shone brightly across the table as they gathered for a lunch of grilled cheese and tomato soup, unaware of the fact that their family would never be the same after this Christmas Eve.
“I have an announcement,” Daddy said. He liked to make announcements. “But there will be no noises made after I make my announcement. Not a scream. Not a peep. Nothing. Not a sound.”
The five children shared a glance. No noise? That was an odd requirement. What could Daddy possible have to say that made it necessary to demand their silence? Where they moving? Where they having another baby? Was it going to be a good announcement? Or a bad one?
“Agreed?” Daddy asked. “Not a sound?”
“Yes. Okay.” The five agreed. How could they not? They wanted to know what Daddy was going to say.
“After lunch, your Mother and I will go take a nap while you do the dishes, and afterwards we will open the presents.”
Open presents? Those presents? The ones spilling out under the tree?
Five mouths opened.
Five sets of lungs expanded, taking in air for a most joyous shout.
“Not a sound,” Daddy said.
Five mouths snapped shut.
Oh the delicious horror of attempting to hold back the scream of delight that so wanted an opportunity to express itself. It waited through the rest of a very quiet lunch. It waited through Daddy and Mommy slowly slowly retreating to their room for a mid-afternoon nap.
The door shut.
A tremendous shout went up.
Dancing and singing ensued.
Hushing from the three older kids. Hush. Hush. They’ll hear us and make us wait. Hush.
Never before, nor after, was the table cleared, the food put away, and the dishes done in such a magnanimous manner. Everyone wanted to help. The more who helped, the quicker things would be done. And the quicker things were done, the sooner they could open presents.
The joy and fun of that surprise change to the normal holiday schedule changed Christmas forever. Daddy changed Christmas forever. From that day forward, all Vincents, and the men who married the Vincent girls, and the women who married Vincent boys, and all the little children that came from those marriages, celebrate Christmas together on Christmas Eve. And it is never, ever, a quiet affair. Daddy only got quiet for a few minutes after his announcement and never again after that.