10. The Time I Met Santa. For Real.
Ok, well, it was really my grandma's boss who'd been playing the Jolly Old Elf at a party, and thought it would be fun to drop in--in costume--on Christmas Eve. I remember him asking me if there was anything else I wanted to add to my list before he started doing his rounds, and I said that, yes, actually, there was this doll I saw on TV.... Naturally, every adult in the room cringed, and the next morning, beside the empty plate of cookies, "Santa" left a note--in handwriting mysteriously similar to my dad's--saying that he was glad Toys 'R' Us was open late.
9. The First Time I Got Freaked Out by the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come
I was about seven, and we were doing Christmas Eve at my great-aunt's. Because the conversation on that side of the family could be ever-so-scintillating (not), I was watching the George C. Scott version of A Christmas Carol in another room. When that final Ghost came on the screen accompanied by that weird, electronic music, my cousin Laura and I both screamed and jumped into her dad's lap. (Trust me, there was plenty of room for us both.) Even to this day, that part of the movie still scares me just a little bit.
8. The Cats Waste No Time Moving In
When I was six, my mom built me this huge wooden dollhouse. It was waiting for me under the tree on Christmas morning. However, by the time everyone got up on the 26th, the cats had knocked the widows out to give themselves easy access, thus beginning their takeover.
7. The Santa Files
It was third grade, and the debate over whether or not Santa was real was hot. I'd gone over to my friend Nicole's house so that our new American Girl dolls could play, and we started comparing notes. The evidence in St. Nick's favor didn't look to good, so we decided to confront our parents. So that evening I asked my mom, and got the truth. Did I cry? Get angry? No, I immediately went to the phone and called Nicole to report.
6. Yet Another Game We Don't Play Anymore
It's been a long-standing truth in my family that my father is unbeatable at Scrabble, and nearly unbeatable at Trivial Pursuit. (Only three people, myself included, have been able to do it.) So the after dinner games have, in recent years, tended more toward the likes of Monopoly or Uno. But one year, my aunt decided that we should try out Taboo. Dad and I teamed up and proceeded to wipe the floor with the rest of the family. Needless to say, we've since stuck to dominoes.
5. Kitty's First Christmas
My cat Fern died shortly after Thanksgiving, so we went to the shelter and brought Lucy home just a week or two before Christmas. The house was already decorated, and the first thing she did when we let her out of the carrier was run over to and start climbing the tree. And, for an encore, she "helped" unwrap the package that held my mom's new coat with a fur-lined hood.
4. RJ Says What, Well, No One Was Thinking
Christmas Eve, my cousin RJ's in first grade. It's just him, his mom, dad, sister, and me, and we're in the overflow overflow mass service in the school gym. Presents have yet to be opened, and he's acting up. So my aunt whispers to him, "If you don't settle down I'll call Santa on my portable phone (this was back in the 90s, before there was a clear distinction between portable and cellular) and tell him to take back your presents." Perhaps he didn't hear her properly over the din, or perhaps he was just being perverse (my money's on the latter), but anyway RJ proceeded to shout, so that all could hear, "Santa works off a Port-a-Potty? SANTA WORKS OFF A PORT-A-POTTY!!!!!"
3. Toboggan Championship
The house my grandparents owned up on Lake Wisconsin holds a lot of heart-warming memories, holiday and otherwise. The one that makes the list, however, is from the first Christmas after they bought it. There was this ridiculously steep hill in the backyard that dropped off sharply to the lake. My aunt and uncle had given them a toboggan that year, so one night, either Christmas Day or the day after, the two of them, my dad, step-mom, grandpa, and I decided to try it out. On most trips down the hill, we landed on the ice no further than the end of the pier. But on the last run, the sled soared through the air, eventually crashing us into the brambles that lined the tiny island in the middle of the bay.
2. Even on Christmas, Irony Can Bite You in the Ass
My aunt and uncle moved into their mini-mansion a few weeks before Christmas, and were using the holiday as an excuse to show it off. On Christmas Eve, my aunt went to preheat the several thousand dollar professional oven to cook the ham, when it exploded. Oh, the delicious irony. Of course, it would have been funnier if we hadn't had to wait forever for my grandmother to take it to her house to cook it. I think there was a new family record for amount of pepperoni consumed that year.
1. The Best Christmas Surprise Ever
One year, my dad, for various reasons--including a huge ice storm, said that he wasn't going to be able to come home for Christmas. That Christmas Eve, as we were all seated for dinner, a car pulled up in the driveway. My aunt opened the door, and in walked Dad, carrying a sack of presents he picked up for everyone at a truck stop somewhere in Kentucky. (They were gag gifts. He'd already mailed the real ones.) He was really missing the family, so that morning he decided--weather be damned--that he was going home anyway. It was probably the best present everyone got that year.
Wow! What a list! And there's so many flaming turkeys, trees, and neighbor's roofs that didn't make the cut. Whatever you celebrate, have a happy holiday season, and go out there and make some priceless memories.