Driving to a 9 p.m. Christmas Eve service and seeing the steady stream of cars along the streets, I was struck by how incredulous I would have been to see such a scene when I was a small child. Surely, no one worked Christmas Eve night. No one had places to go or things to do. Christmas Eve was a magical evening when a jolly old elf would fly through the sky and drop in at every house around the world to leave gifts. This annual miracle would defy laws of physics and economics, which only served to prove just how magical this night was.
We were always in bed early and up long before dawn the next morning. The morning dark was always cold and almost always clear and bright, the heavens reflecting the magical nature of the night. A fire would roar in the fireplace in a living room redolent with the smells of cedar and citrus and chocolate. An excitement that was too much to bear filled the house and its five children who had awaited this moment breathlessly for months. We would all pile into a car and travel through the still-dark morning to my grandparents for breakfast, where cousins and aunts and uncles would greet us and share our excitement and joy.
A living room filled with toys and treats for five children could only be achieved by magic, a magic mixed with religion and love, so the entire night and following morning, it seemed to me, was a magical moment, the most magical time of my childhood. Everyone I knew celebrated Christmas, and it seemed beyond comprehension that some children somewhere might not awaken Christmas morning to treats and toys. We lived a homogeneous life and were all white Protestants, and most of the people we knew were devout church members. All of us participated in church Christmas pageants and hung lights on Christmas trees and wrapped presents and sat down to Christmas feasts, and we were sure that life had been this way since 1 A.D., or at least since St. Nicholas filled his first stocking.
A world where there are gifts enough for every child and time enough to deliver them to every home around the globe was a magical world. And we never doubted the magic, for we had seen it happen. So this year, when I went to bed about the time Santa should have been finishing his Eastern Time Zone deliveries and arose just at dawn, I missed the wonder and the magic of a simpler, more trusting time.