To show you how “with it” I am, it took me well over a half century to realize the holiday irony of when I was a kid. For at least some of those early years, I thought irony was what Mother used on our clothes.
My brothers and I would have loved to stay up as late as possible on Christmas Eve in the hope of spying Santa bringing our presents.
Unfortunately, our parents would march us up to our bedroom and virtually order us to go to sleep and dream pleasant dreams.
Eventually, we would all drift off to a restless sleep and wake up around 5 a.m. to await our folks’ permission to race down the stairs and begin a wrapping paper-tearing frenzy that made the living room look like confetti time at midnight on New Year’s Eve.
A week later, when that occasion did roll around for real, we had experienced a week of staying up way past our normal bedtime.
However, we were not about to pass up a chance to hang around past midnight even if it meant eating sardines. (I’ll get to that in a bit.)
If Christmas Eve was the longest night of the year for our parents, Christmas Day was the longest day of the year for us kids.
After the frenzy of present unwrapping early that morning, we had an hour or two of playing with our new toys before our folks got us ready for Christmas Mass.
It must have been like trying to pry a pack of reluctant dogs away from their food dishes for a veterinarian’s visit — and having to dress them up in little suits and ties first.
We ate a dinner of mother’s delicious baked chicken sometime early that afternoon, but we were too excited by the day to attack that meal with our usual enthusiasm and gluttony.
The arrival of aunts, uncles and assorted cousins late that afternoon was followed by a mass migration to Uncle Al’s and Aunt Jane’s house a few blocks away for a family celebration that lasted late into the evening.
The next day was usually a day-night doubleheader. After the third round of a family get-together at Uncle Johnny’s and Aunt Catherine’s in a nearby town, we would return home for the first of a series of parties with the families of the guys dad socialized with.
This gave us kids a chance to play with the toys and games that Santa had left at other people’s homes and our parents an opportunity to take a break from the toys and games by sipping a few drinks of the season in someone else’s kitchen.
There were four or five stops in this series of late-evening festivities, but staying up late was probably the most memorable feature about them.
One home does stand out in my fading memories. It was a home where there were grates in the upstairs bedrooms to permit hot air from the first floor to rise. It also gave us kids a chance to eavesdrop on our folks’ conversation.
Let’s just say our parents were very forgiving not to have stayed on their rooftops on Christmas Eve, holding up signs stating, “Santa, No kids here. Keep going.”
At the end of the week of late nights lay New Year’s Eve. We didn’t have to plead to stay up late, which took some of the fun out of it, but we didn’t complain.
That was because at midnight, we got to hold real silver dollars to bring us luck in the new year. (It didn’t work; we had to give the money back.)
We also had to eat sardines for the same reason, but then we got to feast on shrimp. This taught us a valuable life lesson. If you want to dine on shrimp, sometimes you have to be willing to eat sardines first.