Running on Empty: Nothing quite like being a kid on Christmas


When I was a kid, a euphoric anxiety followed me around for weeks, whispering about gifts and bows and the endless possibilities inside. It was a maddening procrastination forced upon me by parents holding to old fashioned notions.

Why wait to open presents? They’re right there, wrapped and under the tree. They even have my name on them. Gah! Can’t I just open one?! Maybe one of the little sick ones? The rest won’t even notice.

And the night before Christmas was the worst. I don’t remember sleeping a single minute of any one of my first 13 Christmases. That’s not an exaggeration. I laid in bed, literally shaking from anticipation, and tried to go to sleep. But eventually, I always crept down the hall to sneak a peek at the scintillating silhouettes around the tree, too worked up to wait but too afraid to actually go in.


I was the kid that tapped my parents on their shoulders at 2:00 a.m. – feeling somewhat generous aboaut allowing them to sleep two hours past what is, legally speaking, the official start of Christmas Day – and pleaded for an early release from my prison.

“Dad,” I whispered. “Dad. Is it time yet?”

It was never time. Here, in the age of electricity and interior lighting, human beings still hold to the irrational need for daylight when they open Christmas gifts. It’s torture, and the sense of relief when it finally ends is indescribable.

On Christmas morning, I tore into gifts and packages as if blitzing the tree, so overcome by a downhill rush of excitement that wrapping paper and tags clung to my He-Man pajamas inside a crackling field of friction and static electricity, the stench of burnt Scotch tape in my nose.

By noon, I was snoring, succumbing to the inevitable, crashing fatigue that followed.

I don’t see that level of excitement in kids anymore. We give them phones, tablets, toys, and anything else they ask for whenever they ask for it. There’s no reason to wait until the holiday season. No reason to work. Allowances are rare and chores an oddity.

What good is Santa Claus if so many of us throw stuff at our children all year round?

Making our kids wait for something they want teaches them patience. Convincing them to work for it – even a little bit – teaches them to value what they receive. And allowing them to actually experience disappointment when an item or two on their list doesn’t show up under the tree may just teach them to appreciate the gifts that are present.

I tend to be a bit more nostalgic than that. I just want my kids to lay awake at night, anxiously obsessed with what might be under the tree with their name on it. I may be the only father in America that looks forward to being tapped on the shoulder at 2:00 a.m.

Unfortunately, my kids sleep like rocks on Christmas. I guess it’s my fault. I probably spoil them too much. Or maybe I’m just trying to recapture a little bit of all that for myself – bring a little bit of the past into the present for a day.

I sure miss being a kid on Christmas.