I was like James Bond, if 007 had one primary mission a year, and it was reconnaissance. My dad was like a combination of Dr. No and Scrooge before he found the spirit of Christmas. Only, unfairly, in this particular Bond movie, Dr. No won. He always won.
The mission? View the wonder that was the Christmas tree on Christmas morning before breakfast.
Until that morning, the tree was brightly lit, hung to within an inch of its life with every single ornament we could fit on it, all dolled up and sparkly and beautiful. And, until that morning, it had nothing under its boughs.
Between the time we went to bed (Christmas will come sooner the sooner you go to sleep – how hard is it to fall asleep after a statement like that?!) and the time we awoke in the morning, the magic happened. Presents – set out Oh So carefully and beautifully, arranged around the Christmas tree, reflecting the twinkle of the lights out into the room off their brightly coloured paper. Stockings that, the night before, had been merely cartoonish socks draped over a chair were stuffed with possibilities – chocolate, candy canes, coloured pencils, animal shaped erasers, and other small supplies(one time, I got a measuring tape!), and at least one Clementine.
The house rule was that no-one gets to go into the living room until after breakfast. And, of course, the whole family had to be finished breakfast.
Soft boiled eggs, lots of bread for dipping in the eggs – we all loved Christmas breakfast (still do!), but that was the longest meal of my life! First, waiting for my mum to finally emerge from upstairs hours and hours after the rest of the family had gotten up (or, looking back, around 8:30, unnaturally early for my mom), and then, waiting through an entire breakfast, knowing that the magic was just down the hall.
I tried everything to get an early glimpse of the living room. No matter how early I woke up, or how quietly I crept down the stairs (sticking to the edges to avoid making them squeak), there he was. Dr. No. Sitting quietly in the dark kitchen, and refusing me entry to Christmas morning, coffee in hand.
My creeping skills and rising early skills were no match for his cheerful “Good morning!”
Diabolical, I tell you.
Switching from creeping to cunning, I would casually announce that I had to go pee. Ever so innocently, I would stroll towards the hall – the hall leading to the washroom… and the holy grail of conifers!
Dr. No was too sharp, though, and just as cheerfully as he mocked me with good morning, he suggested I use the upstairs washroom.
I left my book in the living room? Oh, I noticed that last night, and brought it out here for you!
I want to go see the tree? Nope.
Can we eat breakfast now? Not until your mother and sisters wake up.
I’ll go wake them up! No.
I’m going to go get something upstairs… something that has nothing to do with waking mom up. No.
Curses, foiled again!
When we finally emerged from the kitchen, stuffed and happy, and finally got to see the tree, glorious tree, it was as a family. And, sitting comfortably around the tree, faces shining with reflected lights, we finally got to find out what Santa brought us. In the other family tradition of passing out one present to each person and waiting as each person opened their card, then their gift, and admired it.
In the end, though, it wasn’t the flurry of paper as presents got ripped open, and it wasn’t finding out what we got. It wasn’t even the fact that we were allowed candy canes or pieces of chocolate orange right after breakfast (along with a Clementine or two). Christmas morning was seeing the tree all lit up and in its full glory, with the mystery of the newly arrived packages still intact. And, for a long time, it was also the challenge of trying to be the first to do so.