Growing up Santa always came on Christmas Eve; I don’t really know why, he just did! There was no waiting around for Christmas morning to open gifts in my family of six children. Maybe it was because often the tree was not cut and decorated until that day with homemade ornaments. Maybe Mother and Daddy knew they could not restrain us until the next morning. Maybe it was because the following day meant a trip over the rivers and through the woods to Grandma’s house we’d go. Little did I know in 1960, the year I became a member of the Hemperley family, that they too opened their gifts on Christmas Eve, but the Christmas Eve gift had a twist and was a tradition in their family.
As Don and I entered his parent’s home that year, his dad greeted us with a boisterous, “Christmas Eve Gift!” to which Don replied, “Oh, you got me again!” His mom entered the room and her greeting was the same. I looked at Don quizzically and wondered what was going on.
Knowing full well we were to have our gift exchange after supper that night my reply was that it was not time to open gifts. Don’s dad questioned me; didn’t I know about the Christmas Eve Gift? No, apparently I did not.
He explained that in days of old when all the crops were laid by and the bills paid, the plantation owners would give a gift to the first farm hand that greeted him with that phrase on Christmas Eve. And since “Pop” had grown up on a farm and was a farmer, the tradition continued. But I soon learned that the gift didn’t come with a bow but was more like a game of tag. You try to catch someone off guard, unsuspecting, or naïve to lay the words on and reap pleasure of being the first to greet someone you love on Christmas Eve. The result is usually “Oh darn, you got me” followed by the gift of a hug and a kiss. Through the years my family, the Stanleys, became players in the game and love it as much as those who taught me how to play.
Some Hemperleys will go to any length to tag you first. Like the year Don, who was an early to bed and early to rise person, set his biological clock for 12:01 AM to wake me from a deep slumber with his obnoxious greeting. Sometimes they will wait until you are deeply involved in making a Christmas dessert or some other chore that would distract you and you are caught again. Or there will be a knock on the door and when you open it you are greeted by a chorus of the phrase by relatives bearing gifts and food who have arrived early hoping to catch you off guard.
In the days before caller ID the phone would ring and on the other end of the line you would hear the greeting before you could even say Ho Ho Ho. In today’s world when we can’t all be together or you want to tag someone before you are tagged, you wait until 6:00 AM, as I did this morning, and text the phrase . Some say I’m cheating; I say welcome to the world of electronics as I see that the same as a chat, one on one. And who got caught tagged first today? Not me!
Traditions are unique to each family and they often are changed from one generation to another. Silly as this game is, it’s a Christmas tradition that has been passed down for years. There is no last minute shopping, no fighting crowds nor it’s not monetary. It’s just a warm greeting filled with love.
And yes I do know ultimately the true Christmas Eve Gift was the Star of Bethlehem that led to a manger. May you have a Merry Christmas and remember the reason for the season.
In closing I would like to say “CHRISTMAS EVE GIFT”! Consider yourself tagged!