Of all my memories of Christmas past, the most magical was a personal and very private moment in time. It was 1978 and I was an independent-minded eight-year old boy, who’d already seen much of the country. My family recently made another unexpected move, taking me away from yet another school and another set of friends, before settling in the town of Vegreville, Alberta. Vegreville was where my sister eventually joined the family and is best known for having the world’s largest Ukrainian egg. A traditional hand-painted egg referred to as a psyanka, it stands nearly thirty feet tall and at one time was even visited by the Queen of England.
We moved to what the locals called Veg after my father went from small town bartender, to small town pawn shop operator, and specialized in selling the cheapest cigarettes in town. We lived in what was no less than a mansion compared to the one room shack the four of us were crammed into back in Two Hills and once again, I had my own room. I actually had my own floor, as my bedroom was in the partially finished basement. It was an older home, but was well kept. At the bottom of the wooden staircase sat a washer and dryer, and on the opposite side of the basement was my bedroom. With no central heating downstairs, my room had its own little gas heater and above my bed was a small rectangular window that looked out onto the backyard. I always did my best to keep my feet inside the square black and white tiles of my bedroom floor and the walls were painted gray. The area between the washer and dryer and the door to my bedroom was carpeted with gray indoor / outdoor carpeting, but the walls were still concrete, which made the place feel chilly most of the time.
Christmas Eve that year was especially exciting, as not only we were in a new house, it felt like the family was in our first real home since Dawson City, Yukon in 76′ – the site of my mother and father’s second of four separations, before finally divorcing in 1992. The one room shoebox we reunited in following my parents’ second separation was a transitory domicile at best, and was the smallest place we ever lived in as a family. Now we all enjoyed the luxury of our own rooms, a big living room with a fire place, a large bay window looking out over our street, a good-sized garage, and a nice backyard. We even had a dining room, which I believe was a family first. We were happy and while in the midst of the rush that always came with yet another move to a new home, all of us basked in the artistic possibilities of our latest canvas of life.
A Christmas Carol that year was wonderful indeed. By 1978, I’d already committed several scenes to memory. More than anything, I waited with the greatest anticipation for the third and most frightening ghost to arrive. The sight of Ebenezer Scrooge being shown his own headstone frightened me every time, as my parents sat with my brother on the sofa and I lay stretched out on the floor. The way everyone spoke of Ebenezer after his passing had a profound effect on me and from the youngest of ages, I became enamored with the concepts of legacy and remembrance, as well as the stories of our lives and the telling record they leave behind.
My sister had still yet to make her appearance in the family, so upon the conclusion of another great viewing of my all-time favorite Christmas movie, my mother carried my little brother to his room, said good night, and went off to bed. My father and I chatted and watched TV for a while. Movies and special programs aside, another part of the Holiday Season I always loved was that it didn’t mater if it was a sitcom, an hour long drama, the movie of the week, or even the commercials in between – everything teemed with all things Christmas.
My father eventually fell asleep in front of the television. Not long after, I quietly said good night and made my way down to the basement. This was the first in a series of rooms that also offered me an entire floor of my own, culminating ten years later in a two room loft just before leaving home. I became quite partial to feeling like somewhat of a separate entity from that of my own family. In some ways, I felt as though I was forever the lone spectator in an empty Victorian theatre, watching my family’s tragic comedy unfold. This particular house was the first step towards such a feeling and as I closed the door to my bedroom and turned up the gas heater, all I could think about was waking up the next morning. My parents only put out a small handful of the gifts before Christmas Day. The night before, as we slept contentedly in our rooms, my mother and father quietly brought out all the presents.
The most enchanting moment of every Christmas morning was when first seeing all the gifts beneath the tree, wrapped in colorful paper and bows, waiting to be opened. As I got ready for bed, I wondered what would be waiting for me tomorrow.
Before I climbed under the covers, I stood atop my bed and pulled back the curtain of my tiny window to see if it was snowing outside. The sky looked clear and full of stars. The moon coated the snow covered backyard with a comforting glow. For a moment, I thought of Dawson City. I always liked the idea of a fresh snowfall on Christmas Eve and hoped more would fall through the night. I pulled the blankets up under my chin and felt a contented kind of excitement I only ever felt the night before Christmas.
Up until the age of eight, I was always able sleep through the night on Christmas Eve. This year, however, was different. I rubbed my blurry eyes and looked at the old clock radio on my night stand. It said 3:00 AM. It was strange to wake up only half way through the night and I wondered if I could get back to sleep. Not long afterwards, I felt a sudden urge to use the bathroom. With no place to go in the semi-finished basement, I got out of bed and made my way towards the staircase. Still half asleep, I slowly walked through the darkness and climbed the stairs, one tired step at a time. I slid my hand across the smooth surface of the basement door, finally turning the handle. I cautiously stepped onto the cool tiles of the kitchen and scuffed my feet along the floor. Soon after, I noticed the comforting sheen of soft light coming from around the corner. I realized it was the lights of the Christmas tree. Suddenly, I felt my heart flutter.
Now wide awake, I worried about drawing attention to myself and crept through the kitchen, doing my best to avoid the creaky spots in the floor. As I made my way to the living room, I wondered if my parents already delivered the presents to their rightful place. I reached the doorway and slowly stuck my head around the corner. When I saw the magical vision before me, I let out a silent gasp. There, under the beautifully decorated tree, loomed the biggest stack of presents I’d ever seen. The red, blue, green, and silver packages purposefully piled, one on top of the other, and each and every one sparkled under the colorful lights of the picturesque evergreen. I quietly moved towards the tree and my mouth hung open in awe.
I then noticed that even the jumbo-sized stockings hanging over the fire place overflowed with treats and trinkets, and felt the look of astonishment upon my face growing with every second. For a moment, I wanted to kneel down and inspect some of the packages. Just as I began to reach out towards the tree, I stopped myself. I didn’t want to take the chance of any noise waking my parents, but more than that, I didn’t want to step inside the beautiful picture I saw before me. Instead, I simply sat down cross-legged on the hard wood floor, only two or three feet from the tree, and took it all in.
The pulsating lights danced across my face, as I looked over all the presents and wondered what they might be. The glittering tinsel hung like gossamer and my eyes scanned over each decorative ornament that hung from the branches. The entire time I felt as though I was seeing something I shouldn’t, like I somehow stepped behind the red velvety curtain of a grandiose stage, and was privy to the goings on of another dimension. The mysterious black hole of time between going to sleep Christmas Eve and waking up early Christmas morning had always been unknown. On this particular year, I sat at its very center.
I’m not sure how long I stayed there, but I remember my legs falling asleep and having to tear myself away from the miraculous vision before me. I slowly climbed to my feet and made my way back towards the kitchen, but stopped upon reaching the doorway. Turning around, I took in one final reflection of what would become one of my life’s truly immortal moments in time. Soon after, I climbed down the darkened staircase and back into the real world. With every step towards my room, my feet moved faster and faster. Eventually, I nearly lept through the door and jumped into the sanctuary of my cozy bed. I pulled the blankets up around my neck and held my pillow over my face, letting out an uncontrollable laugh. I couldn’t believe I’d just seen what I saw. Surprisingly, I fell asleep rather quickly that night, as visions of Christmas morning swiftly carried me into my dreams. I never did tell my parents, or anyone else for that matter, about my time alone in front of the tree. In fact, this is the first time I’ve ever mentioned it.
To this day, the wonderful picture of my time alone in front my family’s Christmas tree lives on as bright as ever. More than anything, the amazing experience of one extraordinary Christmas Eve is as close as I’ve ever come to experiencing true magic.
Merry Christmas Everyone…