Column - The agony, joy of Christmas
There was a time in my life when I never would have believed that Christmas could sneak up on a person.
As a child, portions of every day after Thanksgiving were used to figure out the perfect Christmas list. It was important to list each gift into its appropriate category - Must Have - Sega Genesis, Madden 1995; Wouldn't Mind Having - cowboy hat, chaps, cap pistols and a holster for use while riding horse; Only Get If You Hate Me - sweaters, thermal underwear.
And that was just the list for Mom and Dad. Figuring out what to get from Santa required some serious thought. He couldn't fit anything big down our chimney. Plus, it led straight down into the fireplace in our basement that could only be opened from the outside. It required some serious thought on Santa's part to get out of that one alive.
Those barriers left me with limited choices. I was pretty content ending up with a stocking full of candy and smaller gifts that would keep me warm while sitting in the deer stand with my dad.
The torment of the wait reached its pinnacle on Christmas Eve. We had to wait for Mom and Dad to get off work around noon.
Then came church. The hours that slogged by before the 5 p.m. service were torture - those presents under the tree staring me in the face. I could have gotten in 10 games of Madden.
Church finally began to signal the beginning of the end. The sound of familiar Christmas hymns only heightened the anticipation of what was to come. My patience would grow thin by the end of the hour-long service before my older sister whispered in my ear, "Eric, this is the last song." That is all it took to get me to my feet and sing every word of Joy to the World with great gusto.
There was only one more obstacle to pass. Dinner served as the final hurdle standing between me and crushing the Packers in Madden 95 for the rest of the night. It was the one day of the year Mom could get my sisters and me to jump at the opportunity to help her with dishes.
Finally, the moment would arrive. The Sega, the game - everything on my "Must Have List" was usually there without the disappointment of the thermal underwear.
Santa's arrival was still there to look forward to. I slept on my sisters' bedroom floor on Christmas Eve so we could wake up and check out our stockings together. The chance of catching Santa in the act woke me from my sleep about every three hours.
I thought I heard him walking through our house one year. I slipped to the top of the stairs to find that I had just missed him and my mom was now sabotaging us by going through our stockings before we woke.
Christmas morning was spent living in euphoria after all my dreams had come true the day before. Then it was on to Grandma's for a great meal and more gifts with the family.
The agony of the wait has now been replaced with the anxiety of getting everything done before Christmas gets here. It is December 22 and I still have more than half of my shopping to do. Finding the perfect gifts for people has become as rewarding as getting everything on my list.
The wait may not seem as long, but the excitement of the day remains the same. We will still meet with my Grandma and the rest of my extended family on Christmas Day. I still look forward to that like I did when I was a child. Only the reasons for that excitement and the time it takes to get here have changed.