Christmas Eve was always better than Christmas Day.
December 24th was the day I looked forward to the most. I still do. There is just something magical about Christmas Eve. As a kid that day could not go by fast enough, yet secretly I never wanted it to end.
I would pass the time watching television Christmas specials and listening to music. There was no hockey on Christmas Eve of course. Sometimes I would go down to the basement and play hockey either with my brother or just all by myself.
But this one of the few days on the calendar when hockey was not foremost on my mind.
Which is kind of funny, given that growing up in northern British Columbia usually guaranteed a white Christmas. There is nothing better than a good snowfall on Christmas Eve. It's great to play shinny on the frozen pond or in the street in the midst of whiteout.
Christmas Eve always meant a special dinner in our house - Pizza Hut. Back then that was a pretty rare treat for us, so I looked forward to it all week. And we would all get in the car to pick up our own pizza. No delivery for us, no way. That would interfere with our annual drive around town to look at all the amazing decorated houses and yards. My favorite was, of course, the hockey themed house.
The whole drive my dad would taunt us with talk about going to midnight mass, just like he would do when he was a kid. I didn't mind too much. It was the only time of year I would go to church, but they usually put on a little play recreating the birth of Christ. One year one of the kids acting as shepherd was using a hockey stick as his staff.
After dinner I loved staring at the tree, with the lights dancing amongst the tinsel and the Santa Claus ornaments flirting with the angels. And of course there was the presents under the tree. I loved wondering what was inside all of the colorfully wrapped parcels. As much as I could not wait to open them, in a weird way I was sad to do so.
I would hang my stocking by the stereo with care, since we did not have a fireplace. I had hoped Santa would bring me dozens and dozens of packages of hockey cards. I usually got a couple. I enjoyed the gum as much as the usual doubles of cards I already had.
Late in the evening I would always listen to the local radio station, which aired a special nationally syndicated show every year. It was the only time of year I would listen to radio, except of course the majority of Canucks games. Back then there was no satellite TV and listening to Jim Robson call the Canucks games made it seem like Christmas each and every time.
I liked this particular Christmas broadcast because it was a chance to hear different Christmas music, learn worldly customs and hear amazing Christmas stories. The best part of the broadcast was always when they would supposedly interrupt programming to alert listeners that an unidentified air craft was violating Canadian air space, and that Canadian fighter jets were being sent out to greet it.
The first time I had heard this I was genuinely concerned. Remember this was in the early 1980s when the Russian-American Cold War was still very much alive, and even us kids were aware of it. Mind you, us Canadians had a certain respect for the Russians, thanks to hockey. Anyways, imagine my surprise when the news returned and said that the intruder had been identified as Santa Claus, and that the Canadian Air Force would now escort him on his way.
With that odd sense of relief I was able to catch some sleep that night. Of course I would have to sneak out and take a look at tree and the stockings at least once in the middle of the night. That would usually end my rest, for I would hurry back to my room and dream of what Santa had brought. Was it my hockey rink cribbage board? Or that table top hockey game? Or would it finally be that Canucks jersey?
You know, now that I think about it, maybe hockey was first and foremost on my Christmas Eve mind after all.