I saw an honest-to-goodness elf one Christmas morning hours before sunrise. It took place sometime during the mid-70’s, but no my elf sighting was not the result of partaking in that decade’s culture of “accepted” drug use. I was only around eleven years old, for goodness’ sake, when I had the extraordinary pleasure of spying one of Santa’s helpers wandering throughout my childhood home. I was cozily tucked away in bed, but I was fully alert. I remember I was anticipating the day’s expected abundance of presents, cherished time with family, and our traditional Christmas breakfast (but mostly the presents), so I’m sure I had all my faculties, and there were no sugar plum fairies dancing in my head. I know what I saw.
The elf just suddenly appeared before my eyes. He was your average, as seen on TV elf, but encountering one in person was beyond thrilling nevertheless. Admittedly, it was also a bit eerie having the North Pole employee, fully upright but at eyelevel, staring at me from only a few inches away from my face. Looking back, I wish I would have initiated a conversation with the portly, thirty-something year old (I’m guessing) donned in green velvet, but instead I laid there motionless and somewhat frightened. I was quite perplexed by the unique experience.
Santa’s helper vanished as quickly as he had appeared. A mere few seconds later I heard the distinct sound of one jingling bell coming from the nearby living room. My Christmas stocking was intentionally equipped with a single bell in hopes of catching St. Nick in the act. Santa’s capture would simply have to wait, at least another year, because I certainly wasn’t about to leave the safety of my bed to investigate the matter. I realize my elf sighting may seem unbelievable to some, but my older (and wiser) sister actually saw Santa Claus – in the same house – standing outside her bedroom door – during the month of June! So, how does my spying an elf on Christmas morning sound now? It really doesn’t matter what anyone thinks, about me or the remarkable vision I had when I was a child, because regardless that was my best Christmas.
Many years later, in 1987 to be exact, I celebrated Christmas as a husband for the first time. My lovely wife and I had married in June, and after our weekend honeymoon we moved into a stucco, one bedroom home. The house did possess a certain charm even if it was about the only rental home in town we could afford. At least none of the floors inside the house were slanted: unlike the only other option we had at the time that also fell within the confines of our limited budget. It is not an exaggeration to say that when placing a marble next to one of the bedroom walls it would immediately roll across the floor to the opposite wall. We tried it, and that’s how we know! Anyway, our first Christmas immersed in wedded bliss brought with it new and joyous experiences such as finding that perfect Christmas tree together and giving others gifts as a couple.
Our collection of Christmas decorations, as young newlyweds just getting started, was pretty scarce. With time (and numerous after Christmas sales) our holiday décor would one day become an extensive collection of ornaments, seasonal knickknacks, and currently full-blown holiday displays, but not in 1987. That year the missus crafted a fireplace, out of a large, empty McDonald’s box that once contained frozen french fries, to liven up our place for the glorious holiday season. The box was painted a deep shade of red and featured a brick pattern meticulously outlined in black. The homemade fireplace was perfectly cheesy and served its purpose as the best place to hang our new Christmas stockings. I swear there were times I could actually feel a hint of warmth radiating from the manufactured flames. I’m sure wherever we landed, that first year as husband and wife, really did not matter since it’s absolutely true what they say…”Home is where the heart is.” That was my best Christmas.
Two Christmases later I found myself very blessed to be one third of a threesome. My lovely wife had given birth to our precious son, back in August, so we were no longer just a couple. Obviously, our lives were forever changed from then on especially at Christmastime. Our main focus was now on our little one and how we could make his Christmas extra special. Of course, at his age (just shy of 5 months old) I’m sure our son was less interested in what Santa brought him than we were. Many times he was captivated by the packaging more so than the costly contents inside. In fact, we eventually noticed if we gave our boy a box, a piece of string, and maybe some tape then he was a happy camper, and he could entertain himself for hours at a time if we’d let him.
It would take many more years before our son was truly interested in what was in Santa’s bag of goodies. Oh, the money my wife and I could’ve saved during his early years if only we had known. That’s alright though because Christmas isn’t about the money one spends. It’s about fondly remembering how my newborn child looked, dressed up as Santa (stocking cap included), and how fascinated he was with all of the sights and sounds of December 25th. Seeing the wonderment of Christmas through your child’s eyes and sharing the holiday season with your offspring, for the first time, is downright incredible. That was my best Christmas.
Christmas isn’t just for the little ones as my wife and I were reminded several years later. We were finishing our Christmas shopping when I spotted a 1998 Mitsubishi Eclipse, shimmering like a diamond, parked in a car dealership’s lot. I spontaneously veered into the lot, as if under some sort of spell, and pulled up alongside the shiny gem. The sports car’s exterior finish was a shade of grey, like no other, and the body style was identical to that of the lime-green colored Eclipse featured in the original Fast & Furious movie. Our teenage son had previously mentioned how awesome he thought that specific vehicle was and his desire to own one some day. Did we dare?
It was only by chance, and after receiving my wife’s hesitant approval, we were even considering purchasing a car for our son at that time. He was still 7 months shy from being able to obtain his driver’s license; however, randomly driving by that particular car dealership and spotting my one and only child’s dream car sure seemed like a sign to me. I think we attempted to rationalize our impending, expensive purchase by acknowledging our child was a responsible, straight-A student and all-around good kid. After the dreaded (but mandatory) negotiations, with the salesman and his curiously unseen boss, we bought the Fast & Furious replica. I drove the vehicle to my mother-in-law’s house where we stored the “sweet ride” in her garage until the “big day.”
Christmas morning, around 4:00am, I bundled up and set out on foot to retrieve my son’s Christmas present. I certainly could’ve used a pair of cross-country skis or at least some snowshoes, while traipsing through the fresh fallen snow, but somehow I managed the 2 mile trek wearing my old pair of snow boots. It was cold, and it was dark although the moon’s reflection against the white snow lit the frozen ground just enough for me to stay on course. The long-sleeved, thermal shirt I was wearing underneath my winter coat was soaked with sweat, from the challenging excursion, but I wasn’t about to complain. Here I was walking in a winter wonderland whilst beaming with excitement at the thought of my son receiving his special gift. What more could I have asked for on this joyous occasion?
I ultimately reached my destination, opened the garage door, and inserted the key in the Mitsubishi’s ignition. The powerful purr of the engine only added to my jubilation. I then drove the Fast & Furious replica to the nearest carwash, for a thorough cleaning, before racing home and parking the vehicle in our driveway. I placed a giant, green bow on top of the car’s hood and retreated from the winter elements to the warmth and comfort of my home. I was relieved to find my son still nestled in his bed since I feared the rumble of the engine might have wakened him. I closed all of the window shades in our living room so the lavish gift would have a better chance of not being detected before its time. I wrapped the car key in a small box, placed the decorated package underneath the Christmas tree, and then waited patiently (sort of) for the day’s festivities to begin.
A couple of anxious filled hours passed before the highly anticipated moment had finally arrived. Our son’s initial look of confusion, when discovering the key between two layers of wrapping tissue, was promptly replaced with a magnificent expression of epic proportions. He dashed over to the bay window and peered through the slits in the closed blinds. There was no dramatically dropping to the ground and fervently kicking his legs as was typically the case whenever our son would receive a present he deemed beyond awesome. He may not have given us a show this time, but our teenager did display an enormous grin that would put even Julia Robert’s smile to shame. That was my best Christmas.
I cannot reflect on this time of year without recalling the two times I gave my wife expensive (at least to us) jewelry for Christmas. I suppose I thought buying her a couple of elegant diamond rings along the way was the least I could do for her continually putting up with me. I totally surprised the missus, in 2003, when I presented her with the Past, Present & Future three-stone diamond ring. Buying her a diamond ring for Christmas that year was the furthest thing from my mind until one day I felt compelled to at least consider the possibility. I had seen the commercial promoting the fine piece of jewelry numerous times, but it wasn’t until after seeing the sentimental scene on the television screen for the umpteenth time that I truly appreciated the significance of the Past, Present & Future concept. I suddenly knew not buying my wife the ring was not an option. That was my best Christmas.
In 2010, I gave my wife a new wedding ring (not a total surprise) to replace the original one she had faithfully worn for over 23 years to that point. My lovely bride still appreciates her old wedding ring (she’s told me so) even though the differences between the two symbols of eternity are like night and day. I vividly remember how my wife’s left hand shook uncontrollably, for several minutes, immediately after I gently slid the sparkling, new ring onto her finger. She constantly gazed at the exquisite gift, with utter amazement, for the rest of the day. That was my best Christmas.
I realize my best Christmas has occurred numerous times throughout my life. The year I received my first “big boy” bicycle was my best Christmas. My best Christmas was also when Santa left me a green pogo stick one year and a pair of orange stilts the next. I’ll never forget waking up on December 25th to find an Atari gaming system, already hooked up to the television, for my siblings and I to share. That was my best Christmas. It appears as though my best Christmas is always about either giving or receiving gifts, and that would partially be true, but there’s certainly more to the story. It’s more about the privilege of witnessing a loved one’s astonishing appreciation for an unexpected gift, but most-importantly it’s about spending Christmas with your family. Therefore, I wouldn’t be surprised if this Christmas is my best Christmas.