Once Upon a Christmas Eve
“Granny, why does Papa always give us new pajamas for Christmas?” Kurtis asked as he crawled into my lap.
I cuddled my great-grandson as my thoughts returned to his grandmother’s first Christmas. “Well, sweetie, it really was an accident, but now it’s a family tradition. Want me to tell you the story?”
“Yeah, I like stories.” His eyes twinkled as snuggled down to listen. His cousins sat on the floor at my feet ready to listen, too, even Ryan, who at eleven considered himself no longer a child.
“One December many years ago, in 1962 to be exact, a young mother used her sewing machine to make her baby girl some Christmas presents. The mother and the father didn’t have much money, and they certainly didn’t have enough for elaborate presents; although this would be their daughter’s first Christmas.
“The mother found remnants of material on sale and sewed a red corduroy skirt with shoulder straps and a small robe. She made a long gown of white flannel with a red design and matching slippers for tiny feet. From other scraps, she sewed a funny-looking stuffed rabbit with button eyes and nose. Then she embroidered a smile on the silly face. Finally, the young couple went shopping and splurged on a white blouse with lace around the collar and around the wrists. They wrapped and placed the gifts under a small tree sitting on a bookcase where little hands couldn’t reach. The label on the infant-sized robe and nightgown said, ‘from Daddy.’
“Christmas Eve, the mother bathed the baby and wrapped her in a towel before taking her to the living room. However, when she picked up the worn, slightly stained pajamas, the mother paused and turned to her husband. ‘This is what Rene will be wearing when we take pictures of her in the morning.’”
“Rene?” Kurtis turned in my lap. “That’s Na Na.”
“Yes, that’s Na Na,” I answered. “Now back to the story.”
“‘Doesn’t she have anything any better?’ the father asked, a frown wrinkling his brow.
“‘No, because we haven’t gone to the laundry-mat this week,’ his wife answered. She sighed as he wrapped both his wife and child in his arms. ‘I know that’s something silly to be worried about.’
“‘She has the new gown and stuff you made her for Christmas,’ he reminded his wife.
“The woman, not much more than a girl herself, lifted her head. ‘We could let her open that gift tonight.’
“And so, my children, the Zabel tradition of allowing children to open one gift on Christmas Eve was born when Rene ‘opened’ her gift from Daddy and was dressed in her new gown, robe, and slippers for pictures on Christmas morning.” I looked at the eager faces around me. “Want to hear some more stories about what your parents did when they were your age on Christmas Eve?”
“Yes, Granny, tell us some more stories,” Shane piped up from his spot on the floor.
“Then I’ll tell you what happened when they were old enough to enjoy stories, even when your daddy was a baby, Shane.
“When the children were old enough for stories, they would open the present from Daddy, take baths, and, once dressed in new nightwear, gather in the living room. The lights of the tree, a couple of candles, and one or two oil lamps provided the only light as I read How the Grinch Stole Christmas, The Night Before Christmas, and the Christmas story from the Bible. After the stories, the family sang carols before trooping to bed.
“Then Christmas morning, we all got up and opened our gifts, Rene, Bob, and Randy dressed in new pajamas. We had the same Christmas Eve every year until they left home.”
I hugged Kurtis. “Then when your momma and your Aunt Keri were born, they always had a package from PaPa with new pajamas. It became a tradition for each and everyone of the children to have the same present. And guess what?” I paused. “Right in front of all the gifts are packages from PaPa for you, Kurtis, and you, Ryan, and you, Colby, and you, Shane. Want to open them now?”
Four excited boys, ages eleven to almost five, soon had decorative paper torn off the packages and held pajamas. They had to go home that Christmas Eve, for Christmas morning wasn’t ours anymore, and would return the next night, but they left wearing new pajamas from PaPa.