Christmas Eve and its meaning to…you?

I just turned 50 this year. I don’t feel that old. I feel like I’m 35 in my heart; which, if you read a lot of pop psychology and BS on CNN, is what EVERY man who’s 50+ feels.

Maybe that’s so. I have no idea. But one of my best friends, Clyph, is 60 and he feels 12; and another friend of mine 35, is probably about 18 in her heart. So who is to say what old is, and what age is?

And who is to say what is Christmas Eve?

We are taught from the very beginning that Christmas is the day to be waiting for. Santa comes, presents are opened, turkey is eaten, relatives get into fights.

But the night of magic truly is Christmas Eve.

That’s the night of wonder — when the promise of Christmas becomes almost orgasmic, and you, the eternal kid, can’t take it anymore. You’re ordered to go to sleep by Mom and Dad (or, perhaps, the correctional officers, depending on your sorry-ass circumstances), but you can’t. You just freakin’ CAN’T. You toss and turn; Charlie Brown is on the TV, and NORAD is counting the miles they see Santa’s sleigh on the radar.

That was me, Christmas, 1966. That is me, Christmas, 2008. Insomnia, this year, due to the faulty genes I inherited from Dad. But it’s still Christmas. There’s still a tree, there’s colored lights, and there will be presents come Christmas morning.

But on Christmas Eve…

Every family has their traditions. I never had any, except for, “Get to sleep.” Then Dad, drunk, would try to put together my bike, and Mom would throw the rest of my presents under the tree in a distinctly Southern way: unwrapped.

But Maria and her family did have traditions, and I was absorbed into them. So now we open “family” presents — gifts from siblings and Mom to siblings and Mom — on Christmas Eve, and “personal” presents — wife to husband and vice versa, or Mom, Dad and children to children, Mom and Dad, on Christmas day.

So about 24 hours from now, I hope to have opened a couple bottles of bourbon, some CDs or DVDs, a stocking full of nuts and weird ass shit like tissues and White Out from the mom-in-law, and I should, I hope, be playing poker at the $20 limit. It WAS Maria’s father who taught me to play poker; and playing it — and winning — who taught me to love it.

But there is still a part of me that revels in staying up late when I shouldn’t, waiting to hear the clop-clop of reindeer on the roof.

50 in age, 35 in my heart . . . and probably about 6 in my soul.

Do we ever grow up?

Not at Christmas.

May your holidays be as peaceful and as wonderful as the joy your parents felt the day you were born. Because, at least one time a year, when the greyness and the cold of winter is deep upon us, we should turn to the warmth that is in our heart — the root word of hearth — and celebrate the simple and distinct wonder and magic that is within all of us.

Merry Christmas — and may we always be young and forever.