by Kerri Davidson
White dots of snow twirled outside the window pane as my sister and I, clad in our matching pink-footed pajamas, crouched on my bed and whispered our plans for Christmas morning. “Whoever wakes up first wakes the other one, right?” she’d whisper. I’d nod my curly head and squeeze Wrinkles, my stuffed brown dog, as she went on, “Then we’ll turn on the hall light, go downstairs, and look at the presents under the tree.” Turning on the light was a crucial detail—my parents were afraid we’d fall down the steps in the dark, so they’d always remind us to turn on the hall light, emphasizing that it wouldn’t wake them up. Plus, intruders don’t turn on the lights, so if my dad heard a noise, he wouldn’t run out and conk us on the head with a baseball bat, thinking we’d broken in.
I knew the next part by heart, “Then we’ll go to mom and dad’s room and wake them up!”
“Yeah!” my sister would whisper, as if we hadn’t done this every year since birth. “Ok, deal!” I’d yell, forgetting we were being secretive. My sister would sneak back to her room and I would giggle with excitement under my Care Bear comforter, eager for the next morning to arrive.
Christmas was always magical. My sister and I would wake up according to plan (usually before dawn since we were so excited), turn on the hall light, and tiptoe downstairs. The lights of our tree glowed, filling the family room with soft light as Bing Crosby gently sang a carol from the record player nearby. In unison we would exclaim, “Ohmygosh!!” and would run to the tree, our curls bouncing up and down. We’d crawl on hands and knees examining all the presents, wrapped in red and green Santa paper or covered with bright blue snowflakes. The multicolored light of the star at the top of the tree made patterns on the ceiling as it constantly changed formations.
In the weeks before Christmas my sister and I would lie on our backs, wriggle into the plush blue shag carpet, and watch the lights dance on the ceiling in the dark. We’d lay awestruck at the blinking shapes playing in the darkness. After examining the tree we’d run up the stairs and jump on our parents’ bed and wake them up, yelling, “Santa came!” My dad would ask incredulously, “He did?!”, even though he knew already, he could never sleep on Christmas Eve and instead waited anxiously until my sister and I woke up and pounced on their bed. They’d put on their bathrobes and slippers as we yelled, “Yeah, he did, come look!” and we’d rush down the stairs, pulling on their bathrobes to come with us.
We’d go down as a family and rip through the wrappings, shouting what we received—a Barbie! A game! After all the gifts were uncovered, and we sat surrounded by torn colored wrappings, my dad would ask, “Did you have a good Christmas?”
“Yes!” we’d squeal. It felt like those mornings were ours alone, when we sat laughing in the pre-dawn warmth of love and the lights.
The day was spent examining our new toys, with dad carefully applying decals to our Barbie’s new digs and mom helping us to dress our new dolls. Then we’d go to our linen closet, where apparently most families store towels, but ours was stacked with games—Stop Thief, every version of Clue (our family favorite), and Bonkers…to name a few. We loved games and played them until the sun went down again. It was always the best day ever, and as I went to bed that night, I’d thank God for Christmas and for my family that made it so special.
We’ve continued our tradition throughout childhood and even now as adults. It’s changed a bit as we’ve grown older, but the essence is still the same, the feeling of a world outside of snowy white and a warmth inside of being lucky enough to be with the people who matter most to us. When we were kids, my parents were sure to save their vacation time so they could spend it with me and my sister at Christmas. As adults, my sister and I do the same, and even though we live in different cities than my parents, we always make sure we’re home for Christmas.
Last Christmas, as I sat next to my sister (in thankfully un-matching pajamas), holding my last gift, I looked up at the tree, its lights casting shadowed memories on the white plaster ceiling. Instead of tearing through the gift, I slowly opened it, careful not to let the surprise happen too soon, holding on to a moment that I knew wouldn’t be ours forever.
A few months later, a crisp spring night found my sister and me in socked feet, huddled under blankets, whispering our plans for the next morning—her wedding day. We were both too anxious to sleep. In the darkness just before dawn, she crept into the living room, crouched next to the couch and whispered, “Wake up Kerri! It’s my wedding day!” I opened my eyes and saw the sparkle, the same as Christmas morning, in her face. “Happy Wedding Day!” I whispered back.
I feared we would lose that, that closeness and excitement and unabashed joy, but through the years as our lives expand, we experience it even more. And though the years have inevitably changed us, the love we found each December, still glows inside of us, as warm and comforting as the lights at Christmas time.
Image by Tim Mossholder via pexels.com