The Longest Days Are Always Just Before Christmas

We almost couldn’t stand it. But we had to. We had no choice.

Without a doubt, for the kids at Colvill School, the longest weeks of the year were those between Thanksgiving and the start of Christmas vacation. And it showed.

It didn’t matter what grade you were in or for that matter what school you attended. We had just one focus and schoolwork was not it. We could only think about presents, sliding and sleeping in for nearly two whole weeks.

Teachers, of course, knew this so they planned a lot of special events as bargaining chips. If we behaved and got through our spelling and arithmetic lessons, for example, we could make a cool craft paper ornament. I wasn’t patient enough to be good at art but this was better than any alternatives other than phy ed.

There were plenty of activities to look forward to. We always had a class Christmas party, usually on the last day before vacation. So that we could each receive a gift at the party, we each were asked to buy a small gift for the classmate whose name we drew from a box.

There were strict rules on these gifts. It couldn’t cost more than some trivial amount which limited it to something like a small toy. For a few kids, I think this was the only gift they received at Christmas. Mom always found an appropriate gift somewhere, paid for it and wrapped it.

We sang holiday songs at school that weren’t all secular. That probably wouldn’t go over well today. We even performed an afternoon concert for anyone that could make it during the day. That was mostly moms and grandparents. There were two concerts, one for lower grades and one for upper grades.

We talked about little else than Christmas during this time. By the time vacation started, we knew what practically every kid expected for presents from their parents. Most would get what they had been begging for but some were greatly disappointed when they realized that the gift, such as a bike, couldn’t even be used until spring.

There were also activities outside of school to keep us busy during this time. Of course we had to buy a Christmas tree and trim it with the ornaments stored in the attic. Some were fragile ornaments made at school or church in years past. Mom held a flashlight as we retrieved them from the crawl space behind a small door. Dad replaced any failed lights on each string of bulbs. Some just needed to be screwed in tighter.

Our church had its annual Sunday School pageant which usually included a nativity scene

and certainly lots of singing. Afterwards each of us received the obligatory Christmas candy box, complete with a string handle. 

Some years we already had snow by Thanksgiving, even enough to slide on. That’s a good thing because playing anything on bare, frozen ground is unforgiving. I skinned a knee once on frozen dirt, right through my jeans.

But whether we had snow or not it was always a thrill to wake up to the sound of a snowplow blade scraping the street, getting louder as it approached. The snow chains on its rear wheels sounded like sleigh bells as it passed by.

We raced to the windows to see how much snow had fallen and if it was still snowing. Of course, more snow was great but if we still had even a couple days to go before vacation it was just that much harder to sit still at school. We couldn’t hope for a snow day. They were so rare back then that the only one I remember was on March 17, 1965 when I was in fifth grade. I remember it because it was the year of the big spring flood.

Adding to the agony of The Long Wait were the dark days. Why would anyone schedule Christmas during the darkest days of the year? Adults called them the shortest days but to kids these were the longest days. Yes, there was a definite shortage of daylight but each day still had 24 hours and most of them were dark.

Vacation sometimes started several days before Christmas. At least we weren’t in school but we could only look at and not touch the slowly increasing number of presents under the tree. We could sometimes see who the presents were for and the shape of a gift was often, sadly, a dead giveaway that it was a shirt or a pair of pants. Admittedly, we also knew by feel as well because when the folks weren’t around we practically shook the life out of them.

Years when vacation started just before Christmas Eve the whole event happened so fast that it wasn’t long before the new toys were either broken, their batteries had died, or they just weren’t fun anymore. And gifts like clothes were never fun.

Ultimately, vacation would end and we would soon find ourselves back at school. But that was all right because we couldn’t wait for Show and Tell to list all our gifts and embellish what we did during vacation.

Plus, the days were slowly getting longer and the biggest winter snows hadn’t even arrived yet.

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