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Thursday, December 22, 2011

The Night Before

We have a holiday tradition that takes place only on certain, magical years the grand confluence of Hanukkah and Christmas Eve. Early in the evening, as darkness falls, we light the Menorah. No one wants to be the one not to give the blessing, so we sing it all together. We seem to have varying natural pitches, but that’s part of the charm, right? We proceed to a light supper, then, YAY, it’s Christmas Eve!

The stack of books has grown pretty big over the years. At one time, I limited my voice to reading two per child, but once they became readers, the sky was the limit. Next to the stack is the tray overflowing with cookies: chocolate chip cookies, iced gingerbread men and women, and sugar cookies shaped like dreidles, Santas, stockings and, you know, dinosaurs.There won’t be many left by the end of the night, but we’ve gotta keep our strength up while we read.

“Dibbs on Mr. Willloughby’s Christmas Tree!” the older one shouts, diving for her favorite.

“I get Tosca’s Christmas,” exclaims the younger.

“Oh, I want Frosty.”

“I’ve got Morris’ Disappearing Bag and Max’s Chocolate Chicken!” The last is an Easter story that has become inextricably entangled with our Christmas fare, Max and Morris being virtually the same little boy -- our little boy. From this standpoint, he nabs Max’s Dragon Shirt, too

My children are grown and flown, but one time we all gathered on Christmas Eve, I remonstrated, “You’re in your 20s. We don’t really have to spend all night reading all the stories.” I was met with stony looks.

The Berinstein Bears Meet Santa Bear, Merry Christmas, Mom and Dad, the tall stack becomes two shorter yet not inconsiderable stacks.

By now, we’ve grown to more than immediate family. Spouses, having turned down the high treat of selecting a book to read aloud (or not risking the flying elbows), look on mesmerized by amazement or disbelief as their adult partners regress a good 15 years.

Then the reading begins, the glorious Christmas stories of sweet surprises and love and happiness. This year, while everyone leans to hear, two Perfect Grandchildren will snuggle close when I close the evening with our 1942, Everett Shinn illustrated copy of Clement Clarke Moore and begin, “’Twas the night before Christmas . . . .”


  1. What a wonderful post! We happened on Morris' Disappearing Bag by accident, and what a wonderful tradition it has become! Not to mention Maisy's Christmas (the mouse is still cool) and The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus. This year the kid is getting Tolkien's Letters from Father Christmas. Can't wait to add that one to the repetoire!

    Thanks so much for the lovely column!

  2. Ooh, I don't know Tolkien's Letters. I wonder if it's too late to ask Santa for them this year? :)