It doesn't matter how old I get: my first thought on Christmas Eve is always of just how long this day always seemed back when I was still young and waiting on Santa. It just seemed absolutely endless, like a week somehow compressed and rolled up into one day. All of the distractions in the world wouldn't turn my mind away from it, either: no Christmas specials, no decorations, no going to the mall to see Santa, no cookies and fudge would work for any appreciable length of time. Santa was coming, presents were coming, magic was coming - and time was not cooperating.
In my teenage years, I took a common defense of that age: hide any cheesy anticipation behind a wall of sneering sarcasm. Beneath it all, I was of course nearly as excited as my younger counterpart, but like so many 13-16 year olds, I was simply TOO OLD FOR SUCH NONSENSE. Which was all well and good, but I still needed a way to make Christmas Eve pass into the main event, whether or not I would exactly have copped to that need at the time. So I'd meet my other snotty friends down at the mall, where we'd walk around and feel hormonally, smugly superior to all of those dolts rushing around doing their stupid last minute shopping. Whadda buncha idiots! Which, to be fair to my teenaged self and his friends, they probably were - but really, so were we. The fact that I spent years later on in my life working at Borders serving said idiots on Christmas Eve? Yeah, probably some kind of karmic justice, I suppose.
In my later teenage and college years, I became a participant. Through my father's job at a local recreation and parks department, I came to be Santa, at least for a night or five each season, generally culminating on Christmas Eve. It was great fun and highly gratifying; should any of you ever have the opportunity to don the big red suit, I'd heartily recommend that you do it. For the big town tree lighting, they used to ride Santa in on a fire truck, lights and sirens blaring and a spotlight on yours truly. This remains the closest I've ever come to feeling like a rock star; amazing, thrilling stuff.
These days, I've finally found a way to beat the waiting. For the last few years, Rhea and I have made it a tradition to exchange gifts on Christmas Eve. Just us, with no worries about what ever-changing plans her family or mine might spring on us at the last minute on the Big Day Itself. With this fantastic new tradition, Christmas Eve has gone from the most anticipatory day of the year to one of its most anticipated. Little me would be thrilled beyond expression, not to mention now highly antsy on the 23rd instead.