When I was a little girl, my family was one of the few on the block to open presents on Christmas Eve. All my friends had to wait until the next morning to find out what goodies Santa Claus left under the tree. While they lay in their beds wide awake and anxiously anticipating the next morning, I was already playing with my newly-gained loot. If cell phones had existed back then, I would have been madly texting them and making them green with envy.

The practice of opening gifts on Christmas Eve wasn't due to any long-standing family tradition. My Dad said it was so he could take better shots with his Super 8 movie camera. He had one of those light bars the span of which was about equal to a California condor. It held four 300-watt flood lamps, and when they were all turned on, the living room lit up like an airplane runway.

You couldn't hold the light bar and take movies at the same time, so my Mom was the one saddled with the duty of following Dad around the living room while he zoomed in on his favorite subject: me opening my Christmas presents.

The interesting thing is, those beautifully-wrapped boxes weren't under the tree that morning. They weren't even there 10 minutes before I tore into them. So where did they come from?

Each Christmas Eve, an hour or two after dark, my Dad would suggest that he and I go for a walk. My poker-faced Mom, in the kitchen and up to her elbows in turkey carcass as she prepared the next day's feast, would chime in and announce what a good idea that was.

So my Dad and I would put on our coats, gloves and hats. He'd take me by the hand and out the door we'd go. Meanwhile, unbeknownst to me, my mother would remove the boxes and bags from their hiding places around the house and lovingly place them under the tree.

As my Dad and I strolled around the block and ooh'd and aah'd at all the beautiful Christmas lights, he'd tell me the story of Santa Claus, his eight reindeer and the magical sleigh.

I listened each year as though hearing the tale for the first time. It's one of my favorite memories of my Dad, made even more special because it was just him and me.

By the time we neared the end of our annual journey, I would be in such a fervor that I would practically be pulling my Dad along by his hand as we headed back to the house, where I knew a beauteous bounty awaited me.

I remember one Christmas Eve as though it were yesterday.

The air was crisp, the sky was clear.

We were almost home.

As we rounded the last corner, I looked upward and there in the sky just above our rooftop was a silhouette of Santa in his sleigh as eight reindeer pulled him aloft and out of sight.

Even today, if I close my eyes and think back, I can recall the wonderful vision I saw that night.

Wishing you and your families wonderful memories.

Merry Christmas.