One of my favorite Christmas memories was the Christmas 1996. This was the first Christmas with Jacob in our home.
We don’t know much about the first four and half years of Jacob’s life and I am not sure how much he remembers of the time before he came to our home first and a foster child then later as an adopted son. But my best guess is that he had very few fond memories.
As usual in our house, the Christmas decorations started going up just after Thanksgiving and it all started with the tree. During the weeks before Christmas, more and more presents appeared under the tree and Jacob would check each morning to see if any new presents had arrived. He couldn't read at this time so he didn't care if the presents were for him. He just wanted to see if there are any new ones there.
After dinner, on Christmas Eve, we had our standard FHE. I read from Luke 2 and we may have acted out the Nativity, but we were not consistent doing that as typically someone would end up crying as they did not want to be the donkey.
After Luke 2, I usually read either the Grinch or The Night before Christmas. When the readings were all done, each child would pick a place in the living room where Santa would deliver their gifts. Then off the kids went to bed.
They had strict instructions not to go into the living room until Mom and Dad let them in. To help remind them of this Christmas rule (which I think Sarah ignored on more than one occasion) we hung sheets over both entrance to the living room. Clearly those sheets communicated “Stay Out!”
As there may be some reading this blog who are Santa believers, let’s just say that about midnight, all the stockings were removed from the fireplace and all the presents Santa delivered were likewise properly placed. Any gift from Santa that was for the family was placed in the center of the room.
If we remembered to put some out, Santa ate most of the treats left on the fireplace and drank most of the milk. But it is not a good idea to put that milk out too early as it could make Santa sick later on. Some years, Santa left a hand written note to each Heiss child highlighting some of the good things they had done since last Christmas.
By about 7:00 a.m., most of the kids were awake. I say most because nothing, not even Christmas, could wake up Andrew. Before I left my bedroom, I was showered and dressed. All others were in their PJs as they were slackers and I was not.
Mom would slip into the living room behind the curtain to make sure Santa did a good job organizing and distributing gifts. While she was in there, I had assembled the Heiss Christmas train. All kids, and I can’t remember if were in age order or not, hung on to each other with one hand and the one closest to me hung on to my bathrobe as we walked around the house in preparation to enter the living room.
Depending on how much work Mom had to do rearranging what Santa had left or on my mood in wanting to extend the children’s frustrations (as if I would ever do such a thing), I would take this Heiss train downstairs, upstairs, into each room and even outside. Eventually one of the kids would be close to tears so we eventually made it behind the sheet and into the living room.
Then the Christmas magic began.
Each child would quickly make their way to their designated area to see what Santa had brought them. Of course, none of Santa’s presents were wrapped, as the wrapping paper would have ripped in the sleigh or coming down the chimney. This was taught to me by Mom.
After they all looked at their Santa presents, the kids then poured through the Christmas stockings to see what small gifts or Christmas treats Santa had left them.
By this time Mom and I had taken all the pictures for that phase of the morning and we were now ready for breakfast. Sometimes we had a full cooked breakfast. Sometimes we just had cereal. But breakfast was a time for Mom to shower and get ready for the kids to start playing with their Santa gifts. Besides, after eating all their Hershey Kisses, Peppermint Patties, Rolos, and most of their chocolate oranges, breakfast was really not that important.
When Mom was ready, we all reassembled into the living room and it was my job to get all the presents out from under the tree and to distribute them to the correct person. This is where Sarah would start her annual counting and compare process. She knew exactly how many presents each of her siblings had and how her stack rated compared to others. She constantly complained that she came up short. This was mostly by design. Torment is what I do best…
Once distributed, we started with the youngest child and he or she would open all his or her presents as we all watched. About half way through this process, most the Gillespie family had made it up from their house and they watched as well.
This year, Jacob was the youngest. Each time he opened a present, not matter what was in the box, he would yell out: “That is just what I wanted!” He has the biggest grin on his face and was happy just to get anything.
After opening a present, however, he would sit down and just look at us. We explained to him that each present in his pile was for him. But he didn't grasp the concept. When he opened the next present he would exclaim: “That is just with I wanted!“ and then sit down and look at us.
Our theory was that Jacob may have never had a Christmas present before and definitely never had more than one. So he figured that one present was enough and he was so grateful for whatever he got. I never saw a child so excited about new socks, underwear, and whatever was found in each present.
That was one of my favorite Christmas memories.