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Sick On Christmas: Or When Do Your Children Open Their Presents?

Updated on March 13, 2012
No Tinsel, Please
No Tinsel, Please | Source

Ah Christmas! 'Tis the day, in the words of the late radio humorist, Jean Shepherd, "around which the entire kid year" revolves. It is the day when at long last, after a month of mechanized, electronic deprivation, the children are allowed to open the tantalizing presents under a special conifer twinkling with colorful little lights and gayly festooned with sparkling, metallic tinsel and formerly pretty glass and ceramic ornaments mysteriously broken after a long hibernation in the family basement (or attic crawlspaces in newer homes situated on more southerly parallels)...

Insomnia Or No Insomnia?

But when do the pretty-faced, darling children receive the greatest gift of all: your permission for them to open their pretty gifts and transform the living room into a disaster area that is relatively easy to clean? Traditionally, meaning in an ideal sense, the children must wait, must sleep through Christmas Eve in order to enjoy the thrill of shiny new toys, so as to endow Santa Claus with the time he needs to descend the chimney, take his milk and cookies, and lay the presents at the base of the tree. Then, just as Hollywood depicts the scene, the children wake and in a well-behaved fashion (meaning, of course, that the parents have been blessed with a restful sleep and rise quite refreshed from their slumber before the kids), set to opening the gifts by turns.

Then there are those families who celebrate on Christmas Eve. These people take no chances; the children's appetite is sated quickly, and they can only look forward to more from the relatives come the morrow. Mother and Father may sleep late, Santa having visited these families first.

My family followed the traditional course.

As a result, Christmas Eve was a torture to my childhood self, for I could not sleep, and there was nothing to do, not when there were heaps of presents containing shiny new everything-I-did-not-have-already; It took the thrill out of the worn, scuffed stuff at my disposal. And so for hours I would lie awake, tossing and turning about my bed the while. At intervals I would give up and walk about the house (a fairly new one without a basement), always gravitating to the living room and the pile of presents under the tree, and I would gaze wistfully at the colorful boxes and maybe shake a few. Then when I tired of waiting, I returned to my bed for some more insomnia, and so on.

I speak of my Yuletide insomnia merely because I write as an older and largely wiser person longing to return to those past nights of sleeplessness with some better perspective on ways and means to combat the excruciating boredom my young self endured during those dark hours. However, it seems the price of perspective is the loss of those times when it is most invaluable, and in this case what little I have learnt in the past few months about sleep might have prevented much suffering.

At Last! Now For Some Consequences

Finally dawn arrived, as it always had been bound to do eventually and always would do to the bitter end of time. I was typically the first to commence pestering my parents to rise; my two sisters rose naturally. As I suspect is the general case with families who celebrate Christmas on Christmas morning, my parents, but especially my mother, were keen to sleep just a few minutes more. Yes it was Christmas, but what good is a holiday to an adult when sleeping in is no option?

But, like the dawn, my parents' rising was inevitable, grudging, but inevitable. The family would make the motions of Christmas; my parents would sit upon the sofa and watch with glassy eyes as the children tore open one package after another, tossing away clothes and making quick glances at the more interesting stuff before attacking the next gift, all the while popping a piece of candy into their mouths, saving nothing for later...

Before anybody knew it, there were no more presents to unwrap and no more sweetmeats to eat. The shredded paper would be cleared, and I and my sisters would retire to play with our new shiny toys.

It was usually about now that my annual Christmas cold set in.

At the time I had no idea why I was so wont to fall ill on Christmas Day; all I knew was that I had contracted the chicken pox on that day, and I recalled with ease my misery then. But colds were just as uncomfortable, and with me, they lasted an average of two days, which was wonderful when school was in session, but on a holiday? I wondered why I was so unlucky.

I will spare you, dear reader, with the many and various discomforts of a cold and move forward to my more enlightened adulthood with all the relevant lessons I learned via an adult's perspective.

Why Christmas Eve Is A More Humane Time For Unwrapping Gifts

I have discovered time and again how winter's chill does not mix well with insomnia. There was a time, later than my Yuletide colds, when I took to watching old flicks overnight, and falling asleep during my efforts to fight the cold, I woke somewhere about five o'clock with the classic runny nose, sneezing fits, and watery eyes of a classic cold, and only by chance I discovered that a nap after a long night worked miracles on these unpleasant affairs.

Later still, my mother decided that the family would celebrate Christmas on Christmas Eve. My sisters and I did not object, and that Christmas Eve I slept well, and thenceforth my holiday insomnia was relegated to the past and with it my holiday colds.

Now I realize well the importance of sleep, and looking back on a history of bad sleep at Christmastime, I recommend celebrating that festive day the night before. The appetite of the children for their shiny new playthings sated, they sleep peacefully without the high levels of excitement over the coming holiday preventing them from correctly sleeping through the night (correctly, adv. Not bothering the parents), and the parents can enjoy the holiday's true purpose, a morning they can sleep as late as they desire. The children can then quietly enjoy their new toys in the best of health.


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