I've never really understood why everyone goes to bed early on Christmas Eve, just so they can get up early on Christmas Day to see if Santa has arrived.
When I think of Christmas, I think of Christmas Eve. Christmas Eve was always our Christmas. It was centered around Grandma's house as far back as I can remember and until she left us to spend Christmases with Jesus.
I grew up on a block where all the houses were very close, in the Norwood section of Stowe. Gram's house was at the end of the block, and her mother, brother and many of their children and grandchildren occupied most of the homes to the left and right. There were a few other residents, but we seemed to adopt them as family, too, respectfully referring to them as "aunt" and "uncle."
I was an only child, but I never really noticed because I was surrounded by all my cousins. I was the only granddaughter on the block in my age group, so I had a special relationship with Gram. I was blessed to share time with her every day, and it was just natural to be with her on Christmas, too.
It was a given that all of the family would gather at her house on Christmas Eve. However, we were a little unorthodox as far as time was concerned, and this probably marked the beginning of my lifelong nocturnal tendencies. When my friends were going to sleep, I was just preparing to celebrate.
Most of our parents either went to Midnight Mass or used that time to finalize decorations or assemble toys and gifts. I was usually dropped off at Grandma's about 10 p.m., and then Mom and Dad would return for me after Mass. We'd go home to see if Santa had arrived -- he always did! My parents explained his early arrival by saying it was probably because I had been a good girl and was special.
Mom and Dad gave me a little time to discover and savor all of my treasures. Then I would select one or two things I could show off and play with after we'd return to Gram's. By the time we got there, all the rest of the family had arrived, or was right behind, and the party was on! By this time, it was already close to 2 a.m. I was eager to find out if Santa had also been to my cousins' homes and what gifts they had received.
The house was wall-to-wall people, and the big round oak table in the dining room took center stage. Tantalizing aromas drifted from her tiny kitchen, our moms delivered plates of homemade cookies and other seasonal delicacies, and soon there were all kinds of goodies.
Uncle Dom played the harmonica, and the sing-a-long with impromptu requests of individual favorites went on for hours. I learned all the words to those great old songs: "Good Night Irene," "You Are My Sunshine," "By the Light of the Silvery Moon," "Let Me Call You Sweetheart" and many more. Others told stories and jokes, remembered good times, teased each other and had a great time just because we were together.
Gram had nine children, and of course the number of grandchildren grew as the years progressed. She was a very unassuming woman and family was her world. She almost always wore a very simple black dress, with a head scarf either around her neck or over her gray hair pulled back in a little bun. Her simplicity, warmth and love made her glow, as she enjoyed having us all around her in her home.
It was usually almost daylight by the time the festivities were over. Gram would walk us to the door to say her goodbyes and, inevitably, she'd force money into my little palm.
Because they knew her pattern, Mom and Dad instructed me every year not to take the money. She tried to sneak it without my parents realizing, but since my parents had put the fear of God in me, I resisted, and then it became a battle. Gram always won -- she was strong, and she held my closed fist so tight I almost cried "Uncle!"
I'd finally get to bed -- spent, but totally content. Santa always said, "Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night." It was a good night! Christmas Day was always rather quiet, but I couldn't ask for more.
Christmas Eve is an enduring gift among many gifts that Gram and our parents gave us. Every year, in my heart and mind, I reopen that gift again with care, love and gratitude, and I will forever miss their presence.
Anna Marie Edmunds of Moon, a human resources and communications consultant, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. The PG Portfolio welcomes "Holiday Herald" submissions and other reader essays. Send your writing to email@example.com; or by mail to Portfolio, Post-Gazette, 34 Blvd. of the Allies, Pittsburgh PA 15222. Portfolio editor Gary Rotstein may be reached at 412-263-1255.