I imagine it’s tradition in a lot of families, but my dad always read us “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas” by Clement C. Moore on the night before Christmas. He read it from an edition with old illustrations, before Coca-Cola defined the Santa Claus we know now, before, when he was still Saint Nicholas, the tiny elf with a long beard.
But my dad also had the poem memorised, which I remember best when he played Santa Claus (with white shoe polish in his real beard) for a group of us when I was still in Girl Guides. Our Christmas party was outside that year, bundled up around a fire, drinking hot chocolate, when Santa Claus came out of the darkness, with presents in a sack on his back.
There’s still some magic in that moment, in the cold, in the dark, kids seeing something they’re still holding onto like a favourite teddy bear. I don’t have this poem memorised (turns out), but memories aren’t supposed to be perfect. They’re supposed to be magic.