A Weekly Column
By Joseph Walker


I don’t know why I had such a hard time sleeping on Christmas Eve.

Sleep was usually something I did very well.  I loved to sleep, and I did it as much as I could – whenever I could.  I could sleep on the floor in front of our old black and white TV.  I could sleep in the back of our Impala as we drove hundreds of miles to visit loved ones for the holidays.  I could sleep sitting up during church (unlike my father, whose headed nodded and bobbed as he drifted off, and whose snores often provided gravely sermon accompaniment).

I was a natural born sleeper.  Except on Christmas Eve.

Maybe I was nervous.  Maybe I was worried (you know, the whole lump of coal thing).  Or maybe I was concerned at the prospect of an elderly gentleman of undetermined background wandering around our house in the middle of the night.

Oh, who am I trying to kid?  I was crazy, out of my bed excited.  No doubt about it.

The first time I remember this happening I just lay in my bed, tossing and turning and – if memory serves – crying a little at 2 a.m.  At 3 I went in to Mom and Dad’s room to see if we could open presents.  They said it wasn’t time to get up yet (or words to that effect) and suggested (in their own inimitable way) that I should go back to bed.  I kept bugging them every 30 minutes or so until they finally relented at 5:30.  I opened presents and fell asleep under the tree, where I remained most of Christmas Day.

The next year I began psyching myself up to sleep Christmas Eve about Thanksgiving time.  Everyone in the family remembered my experience of the previous year, and they were anxious to not have a repeat performance – especially Mom and Dad.  Dad got me up early on Christmas Eve and had me help him chop wood for the fireplace in order to tire me out.  Mom gave me a Santa mug of hot milk before I went to bed.  My sister Kathy volunteered to put me to sleep with a pillow over my face.  Kathy was always helpful about stuff like that.

And it was all working.  I was just beginning to drift off to sleep when my big brother Bud came downstairs and flipped on the light.

“Look what I’ve got!” he said, teasingly, flashing something colorful in his hand.

“What?” I asked sleepily.  “What is it?”

“Santa has been here already,” he said, “and I took a Polaroid picture of your presents!”

He flashed the photo in front of my face long enough that I could see bright colors, but not long enough for my eyes to be able to focus on anything.  Then he started back upstairs.

“No . . . wait!” I said.  “I didn’t see anything!”

“Oh, you’ll see it all . . . in the morning,” Bud said, laughing.  “Now get to sleep!”

Yeah, right.  Like that was going to happen now.

So I spent another sleepless Christmas Eve, only this time Mom and Dad made me wait until 7 before getting up the rest of the family.  But I did get a chance to get back at Bud when the lack of sleep and too much candy before breakfast moved me to throw up in his new slippers.

The next year I was apprehensive as Christmas approached.  I wasn’t looking forward to another long night, and I missed out on a lot of fun by sleeping through Christmas Day.  So I asked Mom if I could have a pill or something to help me sleep.

“I have a better idea,” she said.  She took me by the hand and led me down to my room.  We knelt down by the side of my bed and had a little prayer together, during which she asked God to help me sleep.  Then she tucked me in bed and sat there for a moment gently stroking my hair and speaking soothingly.  The last thing I remember was her soft kiss on my forehead.

I woke up to a bright, beautiful Christmas morning and went running upstairs, refreshed. I poked my head into Mom and Dad’s room, where they were still trying to get some rest with Kathy – bright-eyed and anxious – in their bed between them.

Turns out I wasn’t the only one who had a hard time sleeping on Christmas Eve.

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— © Joseph Walker

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