I was 9 the night of two Christmases.
Not two, gotta go to both grandma’s house Christmases. Or two open presents Christmas Eve and Christmas Day Christmases.
Two Christmases, in one place on the very same night.
It was the clocks fault.
The mantel clock with the Westminster chimes my Nana got as a wedding present.
It sat on her mantel, then on my mothers, and now it is on mine.
It was hurry, hurry go to sleep.
‘Cause sleep was like magic.
Magic sleep is the kid kinda sleep.
The kind when you close your eyes for a moment, and when you open them again, its morning.
Magic sleep won’t come with wishing or squeezing your eyes closed real tight.
The sooner you sleep , the sooner it comes.
When you wake, it will be Christmas.
The magic isn’t working.
I am thinking about my stocking.
Stocking are Bonnie Bell Lip Smackers in Black Cherry and Tangerine.
Stockings are Loves Baby Soft, lavender soaps, licorice whips, Life Savers books, and the little rose flavored candies that come in a metal tin so pretty you can’t ever throw them away.
Stockings are new crayons, trace the outline first then fill in the color new coloring books.
They are new tooth brushes, socks and undies.
But mostly stockings are chocolate.
Chocolate only appeared three times a year in my house.
Easter, Halloween and Christmas.
Solid chocolate Santa’s, in milk and white, gold coins and candy canes filled with M&M’s.
That was the American kind.
Then there was the other kind.
The British kind. Cadbury’s and Fry’s Turkish Delight, Flakey Bars, Roses Assorted, and Black Magic. There was Terries All Gold with creamy orange or strawberry filling. The best part was, you could eat as much as you wanted. Chocolate for breakfast, chocolate for lunch, and chocolate for dinner. It doesn’t get any better, even now.
You could open no presents on fear of death before my mother woke up with her instamatic little light cube flash camera.
Before parents were up, presents were piled by recipient, mounded and counted always equal, always.
But sorting piles and seeing stockings will not come, not until I sleep and wake.
Stop thinking about the chocolate, count things instead.
One minute my feet are seeking cold spots in the sheets and the next magic happens, and I am asleep.
Then it is jump out of bed, gotta be first, round the corner see the tree…
see the stockings are slack and nothing is wrapped.
The clock, it says 6. I skip a beat, feel it stop.. sink a bit…. then start again.
I see the yellow Caterpillar dump truck with the real shovel and bed that dumps, Baby Tender Love, Barbie dolls with the bendable knees, click click see her sit… a pile of books, crayons and coloring books, packages of undies, socks and toothbrushes…
I see and know.
I see then what my parents said, saw the lists and letters I wrote to Santa. The folded letters I had thrown into the blazing fire…. that is how you reach Sanata..they said.
I see the letters dissolve into ashes; they rise and fly up the chimney and across the world to Santa’s workshop.
No more would I wonder why Santa used the same wrapping paper as my parents, why his writing looked like the notes I took to my teachers and why Santa always seem to know exactly what I wanted.
See the wrapping paper, tape and ribbon and just start. Start to wrap.
I know but the others should not.
I wrap and guess who get’s what until there is nothing left sit back and see, the piles and packages of the first Christmas after, knowing.
The door opened, parents laughing, next door for a drink, they laughed at my worry laughed and shoo-fly my tears, go to sleep, back to your room, back to bed, back…but I can’t really go back , not all the way.
The kids will be up soon I say, look to the clock, it no longer says 6, but 1230 instead.
The magic sleep comes quickly the second time around.
My second Christmas I do not bound, I do not want to be- the- first- to- see just what is underneath the Christmas tree.
I have already seen.
My second Christmas, the packages are piled, and the stockings are full the others are laughing, and counting, and the chocolate is just a little less sweet.
Christmas is here Hogmanay yet to come. My father has the giant green Hefty bag at the ready for the boxes, the wrapping he tosses into the fireplace with glee.
The time to ready, the time to clean, the time when the house must be, what it will be for the coming year.
Every Scottish housewife knows, the house will be, what ever it is when the New Year comes.
If it is dirty, dirty it will be.
If it is tidy at the New Year, then tidy it will be.
New Year. Hogmanay.
The way you end the year, will tell you how you will be in the next.
The dressers are cleaned, the clothes folded, the trash taken out.
The laundry is done, and baskets are empty. The fridge is full, the rooms are cleaned, toilets scrubbed, closets cleared, and garbage out, and no stuffing anything under the bed.
The way you enter the New Year, is the way it will be.
Hogmanay meant cleaning, and hassle and hiding out till the work was done.
When the sun went down on New Years Eve, the feast began, the friends came, the scotch flowed, and Hogmanay really happened.
It was ceilidhs…Kailey’s… dancing and laughter.
Hogmanay was meat pies, and dark-haired first footed strangers after midnight at your door.
The darker the hair the stranger, the better the luck.
A hold over from the days of unlucky light-haired Nordic Viking blondes who raped and pillaged; the darker the stranger the better the luck.
Mom always looked for a dark-haired man enter the door first after the New Year. First foot was not to be ignored.
It meant the best of luck, the best of things to come, even now 40 years after the year of the two Christmases, and the clock who told the wrong time, I look for a dark-haired stranger to cross my threshold at the New year, and bring the best of things; it means the best is yet to come, in the New Year.
Slainte! (Slan-ja) To your Health, all you dark- first- footed- strangers, imaginary or not.