The magic of Christmas was a major thing for me when I was a small child. It was a feeling that never really went away during the year but hibernated for periods until I would get a comment from my GrandDaddy about how being good was important and that Santa Claus was always watching.
My GrandDaddy was the sheriff of our county for many years until he passed away. He used to pick one of us (between my brother, sister, and I) each week to take to work with him at the courthouse for a day. I think he took my sister more than my brother and I, but that was okay. Whenever you were with him, he made you feel like the most important person on the face of the planet. My mother commented many times after he passed away that you would always see him running around the county with someone's child, if not with his own grandchildren. He even had extra diapers in his car and back pocket...that's how much he loved children.
Now...about that most vivid memory. On Christmas Eve, my parents would aways host a dinner for both sides of their family. My mother's side would come every single time...Grams and GrandDaddy were always there, no matter the situation. My father's side would be there for either Christmas Eve or Christmas Day, but not both. Ma'maw and Papaw weren't as outwardly loving. The dinner was always our favorite goodies...nothing elaborate at all. Finger foods, snacks, and sweets as the next day we'd go all out with the big meal. We'd start serving and talk while we mingled throughout the kitchen, dining room, and living room. The Christmas tree always was put in the corner of the living room where it met the hallway that led to my parent's and my bedroom. I'd sit down on the floor by the tree to consume my goodies, anticipating what surprises were in store for me after we were finished eating.
You see, our family always opened their gifts to each other on Christmas Eve. My parents did this because both of their parents did, but, amazingly enough for the same reason...to emphasize a line of demarcation as to what gifts came from family and what gifts came from Santa Claus. After opening the gifts, the adults would watch us kids act out being the models from the Price Is Right with our gifts. Once the living room was mostly clean, my father would then read Twas The Night Before Christmas and Grams would read the passage on the birth of Christ. Then, we'd say our "Good night!" and get ushered off to bed. All 3 of us were required to sleep in the same room together that night. Every other day, my brother and I shared a bedroom which was on the west wall of the living room and my sister had her bedroom on the east wall. How could they accomplish the magic of Santa Claus with having to worry about threats from both directions?
Okay...really...on to my most vivid memory.
It is the sound of bells shortly after being tucked in bed and the door shut, and from what sounded like the rooftop to all 3 of us. At first, it was most certainly Santa Claus waiting for us to be fast asleep. Later, when the doubts started happening, we all agreed it sounded like the bells on decoration my mother would always affix to the bathroom door. At that point, one of us would crack the bedroom door to peek at the bathroom door. NO! The door decoration was there and as still as it could be! It must be Santa Claus...for real! We would slam our eyes shut so he wouldn't see us awake. Somehow, we were all able to get to sleep reasonably quick after the jingling of the bells. We'd awake the next morning, throw open the door and run down the long hall, into the kitchen, through the dining room, and finally into the living room where the Christmas tree seemed to glow with magic. The stockings were full of all sorts of goodies from Santa...mixed nuts, fruit, wax lips, Life Savers, chocolate candies, along with a few small toys like MatchBox cars. There was always one or two gifts under the tree from Santa for each of us. We'd play with our gifts from Santa, pick up the trash, and then off to get ready for company and that scrumptious meal.
WOW! What an annual experience!
After discovering that it was my parents acting on Santa's behalf, the bells were silent after going to bed. I'm not sure why, but I never asked about their source. Not until 3 years ago. We surprised my mother on Christmas Eve. My sister and me (and my family) were the only ones who knew about our coming for Christmas. We drove all day on Christmas Eve to get there just perfectly at dark. Talk about being flabbergasted! She couldn't speak at first (which has never happened before...obviously a red letter day). What brought her to the door to see us was the ringing of my sleigh bells from my Santa ensemble. After we came in, she told me that chill ran up her spine when she heard them. She explained that all those years, before his passing, it was my GrandDaddy who got up on a ladder across on the south side of the house, above my parents bedroom, and rang bells each Christmas Eve. Grams and him would leave and he would take Grams home each Christmas Eve and then drive the 4 miles back to our house to jingle on queue. She thought she was about to have an Ebenezer Scrooge moment. We both got a good chuckle out of that!