Twelve years ago my friend Carol, who was working at the library in Port Stanley, Ontario, came up to me with a request. Would I “do something” at the Christmas talent show for the kids who attend library programs?
Then Carol whips out the sheets of paper she was hiding behind her back. Behold the words for “Twas The Night Before Christmas”. Once I calmed down, and found out that I’d be wearing a nightgown and a stocking cap, and hoisting a candle onstage, I agreed. “Okay, I’ll read the poem to the kids.”
“What do you mean ‘no’?”
“No reading. Lots of memorizing.”
That was October. After many visits to Sebastian’s restaurant in London, and much caffeine, and two months of cramming, I actually knew all the words. And my performance at the show was a rousing success (or so I fantasize).
The next year I decided to take my act on the road. I was an itinerant teacher of visually impaired students, and visited a lot of schools. I asked my elementary teaching friends if they’d like me to recite in their classrooms, and many said yes.
So began years of Santa poem renditions. Thousands of kids watched and listened. There was much happiness within me and, I think, in the hearts of the young’uns.
Which brings me to today. My friend Heather had arranged for me to speak to ten classes, ranging from kindergarten to Grade 5. I hadn’t done Twas last year, since my heart was heavy with Jody’s death. But now I was eager.
The kids were so close to me, typically sitting on a carpet in front of my rocking chair. Those young faces in the front row looked way up at me. And I got on a roll. Words tumbled out and so did audience smiles:
The children were nestled all snug in their beds
While visions of sugarplums danced in their heads
When what to my wondering eyes should appear
But a miniature sleigh and eight tiny reindeer
His eyes how they twinkled, his dimples how merry
His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry
He had a broad face and a little round belly
That shook when he laughed like a bowlful of jelly
He sprang to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle
And away they all flew like the down of a thistle
There was enthusiastic applause as I finished. I was pleased. But I knew that Part Two follows Part One. I told the kids about a moment three years ago. It was early December. I had accompanied Jody to the doctor’s office and was sitting alone in the waiting room. Alone except for the receptionist, that is. I then did what any normal person would have done in this situation:
“Would you like me to recite ‘Twas The Night Before Christmas’?”
“Uhh … sure.”
Ignoring the woman’s somewhat muted enthusiasm, I launched into my shtick. And I’d say she was much happier as I ended with “Merry Christmas to all … and to all a good night.”
And here came Jody out of the inner office, accompanied by a nurse. Once more I offered my services.
“No, Bruce. We don’t have time. We need to get home, wrap those presents, and get them to the post office today, or they won’t get to Alberta by Christmas.”
I was scared, but decided to carry on.
“Well, what if I say it fast?”
“Do you know how to say it fast?”
“I’ve never tried, but let me give it a shot.”
“Okay, but hurry.”
And thus began my second “Night Before Christmas” career – “Speedy Twas”.
Oh my. Kids laugh and laugh. And so do I. My record has been one minute and twenty-eight seconds. Today, one class of small people challenged me to go low. As the second hand closed in on 12, there was a hush. And then bursts of excitement as I sallied forth. Small cheers erupted as I blurted out “His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow, and the beard on his chin was as white as the snow.” One minute. I heard “Go, go, go!” in my head. It was 1:10 when Santa sprang to his sleigh.
I collapsed into “And to all a good night” while one young soul yelled out “1:19!” Oh my goodness. It’s a new world record. And what a good boy am I.
I looked at all those upturned mouths, with several bodies lying flat on the carpet, in various stages of writhe. And I knew … I was home.
May Christmas come every year
May the words always fill my head
And may children laugh