The night before Christmas
Each year, Christmas Eve reminds me of my favorite holiday song, “Silent Night, Holy Night.” The origins of this song go back to Austria. Joseph Mohr wrote it in 1816. Its popularity spread around the world on Christmas Day in 1839.
It was then that the singing Rainer family, while on tour in the United States for four years, sang it in front of New York City’s Alexander Hamilton Memorial in the Trinity Church’s cemetery on Wall Street. While not quite old enough to have known the author personally, “Silent Night” is perhaps my favorite song, always reminding me of special past Christmas Eves.
Every young child loves going to bed on Christmas Eve, believing that Santa will come during the night to leave presents for them the following morning. They dutifully leave cookies and milk on the fireplace for Santa’s enjoyment. Oh how, over the years, I gained weight making sure those cookies disappeared. I especially recall, that even as a young child, my older sister Jeannie and I would go out on Christmas Eve, caroling with others.
Years later, when my sons were old enough, they too went caroling, sometimes in a hay filled truck; but at times in a horse drawn wagon, much as I had done years before.
Early in the 1950s, my first husband Don and I lived in Roslyn, Pa. We often stayed up very late Christmas Eve assembling toys for Don Jr. and Doug. Little Don had a bike, but Doug hadn’t yet.
On Christmas 1955 Don we bought Doug, age nine, his first bike. We brought in Don’s bike, placing it on one side of the tree, and Doug’s new bike, with its shinny chrome rims, on the other. That Christmas morning Doug exclaimed, “What’s Donald’s old bike doing in the house?” Only then did he notice that shinny new bike with his name on it. That Christmas Day, there was about a foot of snow outside.
It wasn’t until spring that Doug got to enjoy that 26-inch bike. He had pedal extensions to ride it, and he swayed from side to side as his then short legs strained to push the bike forward. Believe it or not, Doug used that bike clear through his teen years right until the time he graduated high school in 1964, leaving it behind when we left for the West.
We often went to “Grandma Hill’s small row-house in the Logan section of Philadelphia on Christmas Eve. It was then that the “Hill Clan,” consisting of about 15 people, would crowd around to hang bubble lights, ornaments and tinsel on the Christmas tree. Doug reminded me how, each year, Grandma Hill always reused the tinsel. Back then it was made of “lead.” Each year it would break into ever-shorter pieces.
Despite that, Grandma insisted that it was still good enough to reuse the following year. Great-grandma Wells lived with Don’s parents. God bless her, she had what we now know as Alzheimer’s. They took care of her from the age of 65 until her death in 1958 when she was about 100 years old. How I wish I had kept some of the lovely patchwork quilts Grandma Wells made.
As my two older sons Don and Doug grew up, we got jobs working in the Blue Bell Inn in, yes, Blue Bell, Pa. We often worked there on Christmas Eve, leaving Don Sr. to get things done for the younger boys, David, Dean and Dan. The owners of the Inn were German. With my maiden name being Hoffman, we got along well. The boys worked their tails off.
They began by working in the kitchen, then as bus boy, sometimes as waiters on Sundays when no liquor was sold. One Christmas Eve, a snowstorm raged outside; but the restaurant was still packed. When we finally got to leave at almost midnight, our heavy 1955 Chrysler couldn’t get out of the parking lot. We lived about 10 miles away. Another waiter drove us home in his Volkswagen.
Christmas Eve 1983 is my fondest. I was remarried to my loving, gentle retired Marine Van. We lived in Lowman, Idaho. Dressed as Santa, he rode up our snow-covered road to our log cabin a horse-drawn sleigh filled with toys. Neighbor’s children gathered in our home, pressing their tiny faces to the window to get a glimpse of Santa. Sadly, Van passed away in March 1984. Although many years have passed, precious memories will never fade.
Edna Van Leuven is a Churchill County writer and columnist. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org