Christmas Eve – the most magical night of the year for kids of all ages! Anticipating and imagining what Santa might leave under the Christmas tree are the most fun parts of the holiday; waiting until Christmas morning to open Santa’s gifts is the hardest part. Childhood anticipation, impatient waiting, and a good-natured practical joke were the ingredients for one of our family’s favorite Christmas memories.
That Christmas Eve night long ago, my sons, Scott and Todd, whispered and giggled beneath the Christmas tree. The house was quiet. Everyone was asleep. The Christmas tree lights twinkled to welcome Santa’s arrival. Their eyes sparkled with the promise of fun from their new toys. Our family tradition is to wait until Christmas morning to check out what Santa had left under the tree. But, their excitement and anticipation were so great, they slipped out of bed and tiptoed down the hall and into the living room, waking no one – or so they thought.
Yes! There really was a Santa – no matter what some of their know-it-all friends claimed. There was the proof parked under the Christmas tree: their dream toys, a Green Machine for eight-year-old Scott and a Big Wheel for four-year-old Todd. Just what they had asked for! Excitedly they touched their new toys and whispered about where and how fast they would ride their new vehicles.
As much as they wanted to, they didn’t dare sit on them or drive them. They just might wake someone up, like their Uncle Dave, who was stretched out on the sofa, his bed for the night. The boys believed he was asleep, so they whispered and tiptoed around the presents stacked under the tree, shushing each other to make sure they didn’t wake Uncle Dave.
But Uncle Dave was only pretending to be asleep. He heard their excited whispers and stifled giggles. He saw their wide-eyed wonder and delight.
When the elfin “intruders” tiptoed back to their beds, Uncle Dave stood up. The moment and the opportunity were just too good to pass up for a friendly Christmas gift exchange and practical joke. As quietly as his nervous nephews had been, he moved the Green Machine and Big Wheel out to the garage. Living in Oklahoma, coal, the dreaded “gift” of naughty children everywhere according to Christmas legends and lore, was scarce. So he improvised using charcoal, a makeshift but effective substitute.
Uncle Dave replaced the Green Machine and the Big Wheel with two lumps of charcoal, one for Scott and one for Todd. The pretend Santa then wrote a note: “Dear Scott and Todd, You peeked! Signed: Santa.” Uncle Dave took a sip of milk, munched a few cookies, and then chuckling to himself, went back to bed.
Our house was unusually quiet on Christmas morning. The midnight wanderers slept late, confident in knowing that Santa had left the gifts at the top of their lists. Uncle Dave let the rest of the family in on the boys’ midnight visit under the Christmas tree and his temporary exchange of their gifts.
Eventually, the two brothers toddled into the living room, rumpled and tousled from a good night’s sleep, rubbing leftover dreams out of their eyes. Their sleepy eyes scanned the room - the presents under the tree, Mom, Dad, Grandma, Grandpa, and Uncle Dave. Then they noticed the wonderful Green Machine and Big Wheel were missing! Surely they hadn’t dreamed or imagined those gifts from Santa. Why they had actually seen and touched them. They couldn’t have been so naughty that Santa would take back their gifts!
What was going on? What had happened? Speechless, wide-eyed, and confused, Scott and Todd approached the tree. They didn’t want anyone to know they had broken the family tradition and peeked at their gifts while everyone was sleeping.
Santa had indeed visited. The cookies and most of the milk they had left for him were gone. There was even a personal note with their names on it from Santa letting them know he knew they had peeked.
Oops! They had been discovered. They didn’t think Santa would come back to double check the gifts. How did he have that kind of time?
Before their tears could begin, Uncle Dave laughed and confessed he had witnessed their meeting under the tree. He just couldn’t resist playing a practical joke on his favorite nephews. He retrieved their magical toys from the garage and their almost-tears turned into delighted smiles and giggles.
Years later, Scott and Todd, no longer little boys, but older and wiser adults, received another tin of coal from Uncle Dave in their stockings – a not-so-subtle reminder of that Christmas joke long ago. The memory still brings laughter to our family when we remember how two lumps of charcoal mysteriously appeared under our family Christmas tree. Our tradition of humor and charcoal continues when two lumps of charcoal often mysteriously appear under our tree, when least expected.