Our family has several traditions at Christmas time, most of which I'm sure occur with some variation in many households. For example, we always open one present on Christmas Eve, and it is always a new pair of pajamas (no matter how many times my mom tries to convince us that this year, it might be something else). For Christmas breakfast, my mom always makes cinnamon rolls.
The greatest tradition, however, is the Christmas morning charge. Every year when we would go to bed on Christmas Eve, my dad constructed a barricade across the landing that overlooks the living room, so as to prevent anyone from that wing of the house (where the kids' bedrooms are) being able to see or sneak down to where the magic happens before it was go time. On Christmas morning, we would wake up and congregate in the hallway behind the barricade, making each other hyper and sometimes chanting to wake up our parents. Mind you, we still do all this, even though five of the six of us are over the age of 20 (although at least now we have the grandkids to use as an excuse). In recent years, the "barricade" has become little more than a blanket held up with a pole, but we insist on having him put it up nonetheless.
And then my dad would come out of his room on the other side of the barricade with the camcorder and turn on the Christmas music downstairs - Mannheim Steamroller's "Deck the Halls." When we heard that song start, the excitement became palpable. This was it. This was what we had been waiting for. All our dreams were about to be fulfilled. Mannheim Steamroller meant that wonderful things were about to happen. (Incidentally, one year Dad tried to play a different CD for the charge. This idea was not well-received.) With my dad waiting at the foot of the stairs with the camcorder, my mom removed the barricade, and the charge began. One by one, from youngest to oldest, we all ran down the stairs, usually shrieking with joy and excitement (these days, we just do it out of habit and silliness... mostly), and the madness commenced.
Last night we made our semi-traditional pre-Christmas trip into San Francisco, during which we usually go to dinner and either catch a show or just walk around the city. This time it was for the Mannheim Steamroller Christmas concert. After the first two or three songs, they played "Deck the Halls." Just hearing the intro - with the fast tempo and blaring synthesizers - I could feel my body tense and my pulse speed up ever so slightly. It was the result of years of conditioning - the anticipation that had accompanied this song since I was little had surfaced, and for a split second I was overcome with an irrational sense of glee.
And then it passed, and I remembered that I am, in fact, 23 years old.