Which is better, Christmas Eve or Christmas Day?
When I was little, the answer seemed obvious. It was Christmas Day of course. Christmas Day was the prize, the blessed goal, the breaking of a fever that had lasted for weeks. It didn’t make sense to prefer the day before.
But now it’s more the Christmas Eves that I think about. Waking up in the joyful hush of soon, to a world transformed by expectation. My sisters and I wrapping our presents and hanging our stockings, squabbling amongst ourselves and then stopping, pulled up sharp by joy, remembering again what day it was.
In the evening, my Dad read to us. He always read the same thing, T.S. Eliot’s The Journey of the Magi. I can hear his voice, measured, grave, almost sad; A cold coming we had of it, just the worst time of the year for a journey…
We wrote our letters to Santa. My older sister optimistic in her requests, but ever practical, my little sister too young to produce more than a scribble and a wobbly line of kisses. My own messages invariably began on a pious note; Dear Santa, Please give me whatever you think is best…quickly degenerating into desperate fantasy; Also, I really, really, really want a pony.
The nights were almost more than we could bear. Whispering to each other in the darkness. Are you asleep yet? Are you? What about now?
It didn’t seem fair, the next day, how quickly the world turned back to being ordinary. The Christmas tree robbed of its secrets; the wrapping paper stuffed into bin bags, my mum already talking about gravy and Brussels sprouts. If you’d asked me then, I would’ve have insisted that Christmas Day was the best, but in my heart I knew it wasn’t.
For me, just as for the Magi, the journey was the thing.