Christmas Eve has had so many different meanings over the course of my life. With each year I grew older Christmas Eve brought with it a new set of expectations and wishes for the following morning.

In my early years it was all about Santa. I can remember sitting in bed giddy with anticipation for morning to come. Back when I was in single digits and my Aunt Carol was living with us, bedroom space was at a premium, so I shared a room with my two older sisters. Once we were put to bed the three of us would pretend it was Christmas morning and act out our reactions to opening the presents we wanted the most. Living very close to NYC, there was a lot of air traffic around our house, and it was fun to look out the window imagining that every red plane light was Rudolph’s nose.

When I was around 10, I managed to snoop around the house and found a stash of not yet wrapped Christmas presents in the basement. Not only did I look at all of them, I even went as far as to open one of the toys and play with it. I sat in the basement for about 20 minutes and actually played with one of my Christmas toys. When I was done I carefully put all the pieces back, closed up the box and put it right back where it was. My mom never knew…this was long before the days of toys sealed in bullet proof impossible to open packaging. But you know, playing with that toy on Christmas morning just wasn’t that fun. I tell my kids this story every year to try to teach them the evils of peeking at Christmas.

Once I became a teenager, Christmas eve turned into a night spent eating chips and dip with friends of my parents, or just sitting at home snuggled on the couch watching old movies. There was a beauty in those times, where you could look at the tree or gaze into the fire and be happy just knowing that you had a warm, comfy home to spend Christmas in. Siblings were home from college, so the feeling of family was all around you, and it gave Christmas a richer texture that went beyond just getting presents.

As a young adult, Christmas Eve got dicey. Being the youngest, I was the last to get married, and those single years in my 20’s could be murder during the holidays. No boyfriend to shop for, and all my brothers and sisters married and out of the house made the holiday a little depressing. Especially after my parents sold our family home. While they searched for a new home in Florida, the 3 of us lived in a small apartment upstairs from my grandmother.

I can recall one Christmas Eve – tiny tree set up in the living room, and my parents went to bed in the only bedroom. I slept on the couch during those times, and I sat up late and watched “A Christmas Carol” – but a really old version. It  might have been the 1938 version with Reginald Owen. In any case, I was up until almost 2 am and the next day we went to my sister’s for Christmas. That was the first year I realized that Christmas would always be different from the ones I had as a child.

Then there was the annual party at my friend John’s house. His father was Greek, and would have all the family over for Christmas Eve. At some point I made it my place to be each and every Christmas Eve, even if only for an hour or two. I loved going there. The food was fantastic and his family was loud and warm and fun to be around. Once I got married, I would bring my husband there and every year he would bitch about how he didn’t eat enough. The next day at around 11:30 or so, he would recall all the wonderful food that he did not get a chance to sample and he would sulk.

When we lived in Jersey, hubby and I would attend the Christmas Eve mass at our church every year. It was nice to get dressed up and hear the sermon and sing the songs – our favorite of which was “Go Tell it on the Mountain.” Once we moved we never did it again.

Now that I am grown with kids of my own, Christmas Eve has taken on a whole new meaning. I tends to be more of a time of panic for me…did I get everything I need? What should I make for Christmas dinner? What should I make for Christmas eve dinner? Did I wrap everything?

I am also giddy with anticipation – I look forward to seeing my kids faces as they open up the stuff I know they want the most. I know we meant to bake cookies today but ran out of time. And tomorrow at roughly 8:12 am it will all be over. Then I have to make the palacinka.