“Well, the big day is almost over.”
Saying that short, little phrase on Christmas Day has become a Riley family tradition. My Dad was the first one in our family to use the phrase. As I recall, Dad said it at a Riley Christmas nearly 30 years ago. The entire clan had gathered at my sister’s house to celebrate the holiday.
My sister, Belinda, has the perfect home for a country-style Christmas party. She and Don live just a few miles outside of Germantown, in a gorgeous two-story log home. When their home is decorated for the holidays and food is flowing from the snack table to the dinner table and on to the dessert table, their home just oozes Christmas joy and goodwill.
With holiday music wafting from room to room, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Dolly Parton walk into the family room and start singing a country duet with Kenny Rogers. It’s just that kind of rustic, country home. We love having Christmas at Belinda and Don’s.
One evening in the mid ’80s, Dad had finished reading the Nativity story from the Gospel of Luke. Presents had been passed out. All the kids had finished opening their gifts. Everyone threw wadded up paper at Uncle Jeff. (It’s a tradition.)
With a flourish, Jeff would stuff a big trash bag full of bright, glossy wrapping paper. Jeff is also the uncle you like to ask to toss you a dinner roll. But, be prepared … a hot dinner roll will be flying your way. Well, it had been a grand evening. We were all having a joyous time, when, out of the blue, Dad said, “Well, the big day is almost over.” Everyone laughed.
From then on, it has become a silly, holiday race to see who can say, “Well, the big day is almost over,” before anyone else can get the words out. As soon as they arrive, some grandkids will start chanting the phrase. Everyone laughs. The Riley clan laughs a lot when we’re together, and Christmas seems to bring out the joy of family and the laughter and love that a family should share.
As I write this column, late on Christmas evening, I am struggling to keep my eyes open and stay awake. My Christmas started about 4:30 this morning. You just can’t sleep in when Santa is about to arrive. After Santa left Wilmington, we fixed a big breakfast for all the family and friends who wanted to show up.
After breakfast, we visited kids and grandchildren. We cooked some more. Ate some more and laughed some more. Santa was really good to our kids and grandchildren today. We know that we have been blessed. At my mother-in-law’s home this evening, we shared another meal, more laughter and more joy. ‘Tis the season.
On the way home, we were listening to the radio when the real Dolly Parton and Kenny Rogers came on the air and started to sing a song entitled, “I believe in Santa Claus.”
Part of the lyrics to this sweet, holiday song include the lines, “I believe there’s always hope when all seems lost, and I believe in Santa Claus. I believe in Santa Claus, I’ll tell you why I do. ‘Cause I believe that dreams and plans and wishes can come true. I believe in miracles, I believe in magic too. Oh, I believe in Santa Claus and I believe in you. I believe in family, in country and in smiles. I believe in turnin’ negatives to positives in life. I believe in lookin’ farther up, the farther down we get. I believe when someone hurts us we should forgive and forget… and I believe in Santa Claus.
“I believe in saying what you mean and meaning what you say. I believe a better attitude can make a better way, and I believe in viewing life as a journey that we’re on, and lookin’ at our troubles as another stepping stone, and I believe that everything in life is what it’s meant to be. I believe there is a God somewhere although he’s hard to see. I believe ‘I am,’ so therefore, I should do all that I can to be a better piece in the puzzle of God’s plan … and, I believe in Santa Claus. Let the little children sing it. I believe in Santa Claus.”
Well, now, it’s nearly midnight. The big day is truly almost over, and I find that I still believe in Santa Claus. It’s a shame that Christmas comes only one day a year. Things were busy today. We ran around a lot, but there was joy. There was peace. There is always something special, something peaceful, about Christmas.
For the next 364 days, let us all try to keep the spirit of Christmas alive. Help someone every day. Help one another throughout the year. As much as you possibly can, experience the joy and peace that is Christmas every day this coming year.
Randy Riley is President of Council of Wilmington.