I wanna be five years old. . .

. . . so that I can believe in Santa.

Do you remember being five years old?  I do, a little.  In particular, I remember that there is no better time to be five than on Christmas.  Well, except maybe Halloween.

At Christmas, when you’re five, everything is magical:  The lights on the trees and houses nestled in reflective beds of snow*, filling the night with color.  The ornaments on the tree—angels, Santas, snowflakes, and especially the heavy, lead-based tinsel that was so much fun to scatter over the branches by the handful.  (They don’t make tinsel like they used to.)

And there’s the food.  Stuff you don’t get to eat in normal life. When I was a kid we had delicate Scandinavian cookies that crumbled to powder in small, clumsy hands.  Peanut butter blossoms, sugar cookies, gingerbread men that you made yourself, with the yummy egg-white icing you’re afraid to make anymore because of salmonella.  (They don’t make eggs like they used to, either.) Eggnog, unnaturally thick and strange, but which I drank anyway because it was a Christmas “treat.“ Mom’s prime rib—the only beef I really liked at that age, mostly because of the Yorkshire pudding that came with it.

And the presents.  At our house, Santa brought the bulk of the presents overnight on Christmas Eve. Only presents bought by us kids for each other lived under the tree before that. We’d open them after our Christmas Eve prime rib dinner to play along with my parents’ delusional belief that this would take the edge off of our anticipation. We’d play with those dollar toys and eye the empty tree, thinking of the bigger things tomorrow would bring.

Before bed, I’d always take a last look at the tree, its colored lights and tinsel shining like a beacon to draw Santa to our house.  (We placed the tree in a corner, in the angle of perpendicular windows, with the theory that Santa could see it no matter which way he came down the street.)  And beneath the tree was a void, waiting to be filled. But Santa wouldn’t come if I was still awake.

I’d crawl under the covers and lay in the dark, wondering: will Santa actually visit our house this year?  And how come he always brings the presents from Mom and Dad, too?  Do they special order them from the North Pole? And if so, how come the writing on the labels looks like Mom’s? Does she moonlight as an elf, or something?  And if so, how does she make the commute?

Restless, I’d lift the window shade, chip off a patch of ice from the glass, and peer into the sky for a glimpse of a red glow that wasn’t a star. Nothing. Will this be the year Santa runs out of time and skips our house?

Christmas morning came earlier than any other morning of the year, though the night seemed eons long.  Sometime before 7:00am—not usually before 6:00—one of us kids would wake up and steal into our siblings’ room.  Those still a-slumber would wake instantly, one thought in all of our minds: The stockings!

First, a quick look at the tree.  Fully loaded! Hallelujah! Santa came!  But the presents were as yet untouchable. So we’d sneak downstairs, where our stockings waited on the floor before the fireplace, too heavy to hang from the hooks drilled into the mantel.

Hand-knit by Grandma and big enough for both of my five-year-old legs to fit comfortably, the stockings would be stuffed with goodies. Small toys and books and personal grooming items.  Giant oranges and bananas.  (One year, a pomegranate—exotic in those days.  I had to ask Mom what it was, later. It kept me busy for hours, which was probably the idea.) There were nuts in the shell that we pulverized with a hammer on the tile floor (or sent shooting, unscathed, under my brother’s bed if our aim wasn’t quite on). Foil-wrapped chocolate Santas and chocolate balls. Colorful, spice-flavored hard candy covered with lint from the inside of the stocking. (For some reason, my own kids don’t like this special treat.) Those nummy, chewy peppermints, now hard to find. Giant candy canes that would be left partly eaten on a nightstand, damp and sticky and sucked to a deadly point.

Enough loot to keep us quiet until at least 8:00.

And then breakfast, which seemed to take forever to make and eat.  (I love your pancakes, Mom, but really. Today?)

And finally, the presents, which we’d open in turns with ritualistic slowness and exclamation. The books, sweaters, and underwear. The stocking cap with the googly-eyed pom pom that showed up in unexpected places, year after year. And the toys, oh the toys, toys, toys, toys. The doll with the long, pretty black hair. The Strawberry Patch doll that smelled like real artificial strawberries. The stuffed Snoopy that I still keep in a place of honor on my nightstand. (One year, much later, a 20 lb lead brick with a check taped to it to pay for a new car stereo.  My parents have a thing for lead, I guess.)

And then it’s over. The Christmas room is a litter of rumpled Christmas paper and foam peanuts, the opened gifts in neat little piles, looking smaller than they ever looked under the tree in their pretty boxes.  Dad would sigh with relief and head downstairs to catch whatever bowl game was on.  Mom would get to work on the breakfast dishes. My brothers would hole up in their room to play with their new erector set or bundle up for a little sub-zero ice-skating on the pond next-door.  And I would grab my giant candy cane and a book and head for my room, feeling a little empty, a little sad, and a little scared of the long, colorless winter ahead.

*I grew up in Minnesota.

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About Marie Loughin

I love reading, writing, and editing speculative fiction of all sorts. My current focus is on writing contemporary fantasy, where I get to play god with characters from myth and legend. My Norse-based urban fantasy, Valknut: The Binding, is available at Kindle Books and other e-book retailers. You can find me at my blog (marieloughin.com) and on Twitter (@mmloughin).
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14 Responses to I wanna be five years old. . .

  1. Marie, what a lovely post. But “inside” aren’t you still five years old when you look at the tree and when you watch the excited faces around you? The only difference is that YOU are now the man behind the curtain pulling the strings and making such wonderful memories for others. I’m still in the midst of decorating – as usual doing too much – but my grandsons are coming and I want them to be able to recall Christmas at Grandma’s many years down the road of life.

    Merry

    • I have an easier time feeling 5 years old if there are five-year-olds around. Guess I’ll have to wait for my own grandkids. (Hopefully several years.) But I do like all the pretty lights 🙂

  2. This was a great post Marie. In fact, I think its inspired me to write about my own Christmas experiance. Thank you for sharing, it really was a lovely walk down memory lane 🙂

  3. Kim Lenters says:

    We really are related, aren’t we?? So much fun to see how family traditions played out across a family geographically destined to separate Christmas celebrations. So many of your five year old moments sound just like mine. We can call it the sociocultural cognate of dna replication! But I think I have messed up the natural order of things: my thoroughly modern children utterly rejected the giant navel oranges, the fancy red delicious apples, Martin took the walnuts for juggling practice. I had no way to convince them that what the week before had been a sandwich companion was now a Christmas treat ….. and I caved. Wonder if it’s too late to try again now that twenty years have gone by?!?

    • No, now we–I mean Santa just needs to find more exotic fruit. Like dragon fruit or star fruit. I never liked red delicious, anyway, though giant navels can be amusing. That didn’t come out how I meant it to.

      Santa never even tried the nuts in the shell for my kids. We always had carpeting and now we have hardwood.

  4. Pingback: Holiday Greetings 2010 « A Librarian’s Life

  5. I love this post so much I’ve ‘borrowed’ the idea for my own Christmas letter. You are a magical storyteller, my friend, of both fiction and non-fiction. This was an absolute delight to read. You take us in to watch, stir our own memories – some so similar it’s almost scary! Thank you for sharing these special moments with all of us!

  6. Buzz Loughin (other Dad) says:

    I remember in North Carolina when we first met you, (the time you left your hand bag in a bar), that evening I spoke with Tom and said,” She is a dream, you marry her or we will adopt her”. We still feel the same and you continue to prove what a great person, and writer you are. Other Dad

  7. Jules Loughin says:

    Is my life, like, a clone of yours? Seriously, this is how every Christmas goes for me (though I don’t feel all empty alone in my room with a book and a candy cane. I sit and stare, drooling at my gifts, looking forward to the possibilities of fun to come). You may have missed one bit, though. The long, sleepless Christmas eve night that leaves you staring at the clock for eleven hours straight until it strikes 7:00 (at which point you run to your sisters room and leap onto her bed yelling “it’s Christmas it’s Christmas!”)

  8. Cathy says:

    Dear Marie,
    I lenjoyed reading this so much! I still miss the tinsel and still hate the Christmas candies with the gooey centers. They just seemed so wrong…like someone spit on the inside, but it was cold. UGH!
    The one thing I didn’t see this year that I loved were the really pretty hard candies that are a flower-like design in a littlle tube broken into short bits. They have their own sweetness, like roses.
    Thanks for the memories and good writing!
    Love,
    Cathy

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