Best day of the year arrives

Best day of the year arrives
Another Look by Joe Dennis
Originally published in The Walton Tribune
Dec. 25, 2002

As a child, Christmas was the best day of the year, and it started as soon as the clock turned to midnight.

Growing up in a Catholic household, midnight mass was the cornerstone of any Christmas celebration. Admittedly, I never looked forward to the extended service, but what kept me from drifting off in church was the hope that something would be waiting for me under the tree as soon as we arrived back home.

Surely Santa wouldn’t let me down. I would help my father make his specialty — molasses cookies — for the special event, and my mother would help me fill up a glass of milk and we’d leave it right next to a couple of cookies on a table in front of the tree. Every year, my mother assured me that even though we didn’t have a fireplace and a real chimney, Santa would find a way to get into the house. I wasn’t really sure how, because even though I insisted, my parents would not leave the door unlocked for Saint Nick. My biggest fear was that he would be making his stops on the south side of Chicago, and would not be able to get into the Dennis home.

But I was a lucky kid; Santa never failed to hit our house very early in the morning. We would stroll in from midnight mass around 1:30 a.m. — well beyond my bedtime — and I would scamper to the tree as soon as my father pushed open the back door. The milk glass was only half full, and the cookies were half-eaten; Bingo! Now, where are the gifts?

They were always there. Whether it be a Dukes of Hazard car, Star Wars action figure or Dennis the Menace books, Santa managed to come through. My euphoria would be short-lived though, as my young brain would catch up with the rest of my body and inform me it was bedtime. I would be back to the toys in the morning.

When I would wake up late Christmas morning, I would look out our front window for any signs of Santa’s visit. Since there was usually snow on the ground, this was pretty easy to do, and sure enough, I always saw reindeer tracks across the front lawn (though I failed to realize animal tracks were almost always visible on our front-lawn snow).

I would then retreat to the tree, putting my new toys to work, reveling in the best day of the year.

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Author: Joe Dennis

Journalist. Teacher. Announcer. Coach.