It's the most wonderful time of the year

December 5, 2016

My sister and I embracing our inner kids, Christmas 2015

Looking back, I think there were two parts to every year of my childhood: the holidays and the time I spent anxiously waiting for the holidays to arrive. Christmas has such a special place in my heart. It encapsulates the greatest memories of my childhood - memories I still remember so vividly. As a little girl, I'd get so excited to wake up the day after Thanksgiving because I knew that was the day my mom would play our favorite holiday casette tapes and CDs while my dad brought down all of our Christmas decorations from the attic. That same day, we'd go pick out our tree (I loved the smell), decorate it from top to bottom, put lights around the outside of our house, scatter our Christmas figures throughout the inside of the house and put together our Christmas village. Getting to see those decorations come out of their boxes after 11 months of hiding, looking at our tree lit up every night before bed, visiting the most ornately-decorated houses in town, reading Christmas stories by our *fake* fireplace and spending the evenings on our couch watching holiday movies and sipping hot cocoa were some of my greatest childhood memories ... but nothing topped Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.

We always spend Christmas Eve at my cousins' house; it's one of my favorite nights of the year. As kids, my cousins and I would kick the night off with a show where we'd force our family to watch us sing carols while dressed up as holiday characters (check us out below). Really, the entire night was just an opening act for "Santa" - AKA an airplane we swore was his sleigh - flying over my cousins' house. There are no words to describe the excitement we'd feel thinking we were witnessing Santa's roof-to-roof travel right above our heads. One year, there was a plane flying much lower than usual and, assuming it was him, we took advantage of the opportunity by yelling what we wanted to wake up to the next morning. My wish? I wanted him to give my late dog, Pooka, a voice so I could talk to him (the voice of young Simba from The Lion King, to be exact. I was very specific). Later that night before bed, my sister and I would set out cookies, milk and our letters for Santa along with carrots for the reindeer, which I later learned were being given to our rabbits. And then, drained from the night's festivities, we'd eventually fall asleep.

Nothing can adequately describe the thrill that coursed through my entire body when I woke up Christmas morning. It would paralyze me at first, but soon enough I'd jolt up out of bed, creep out of my parent's room (it was a tradition for me and my sister to sleep there on Christmas Eve) and slowly turn the corner that led to the living room, knowing that the highlight of the entire season was just one glance away. And suddenly, I saw it: a floor completely covered in gifts, alongside half eaten cookies and carrots and a response to my letter from Santa himself (kudos, dad's left hand). After doing what I'm sure was an incredibly dorky happy-dance, I'd dash back into the room, jumping on the bed to wake my parents and sister up so we could open our gifts and put on the Disney parade. That entire morning - the smells, the sounds and feeling of ripping open wrapping paper - was the definition of Heaven on Earth. 

To this day, Christmastime is still my favorite time of year, and I think that's mainly because it re-connects me to the little girl I once was … a little girl who not only believed in a sweet, chubby white-haired man in a red suit delivering presents down our non-existent chimney, but also in a pure and perfect world. Growing up is tough, and each year, the holidays seem to remind me more and more of this weird, difficult and confusing time of life that I'm in (my childhood self would cringe at the fact that I asked for a veggie spiralizer this Christmas) but they're also a reminder to love harder, dream bigger and believe in better. That's how I plan to send the year off, and I think that's how childhood Stephanie would have wanted it.

Oh, and spoiler alert: my dog never got Simba's voice. 

Me before braces and Gabbi before emotion, circa 1996

My cousins and I, forcing our family to hear us sing since the 90s 

Our tree this year, daytime (my mom really loves Disney)

Our tree and village - minus the train - at night 

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