Eight kids -- my four and four from down the street -- flopped, lounged and draped themselves around our living room, on cushions, pillows, sofas and one another.
A candy cane-induced euphoria, or perhaps stupor, held the children in a silent-night, hypnotic state. They intently watched The Grinch, killing time until Old St. Nick's awaited arrival with a sleigh full of toys in a matter of hours.
But with classroom withdrawal kicking in on top of joyful anticipation, the hours felt like they would drag on into another week, and the pack of present-peekers, finding it difficult to maintain a constant state of angelic behavior, even under the piercing light of the Christmas tree, became restless and antsy and agitated with one another.
They began shifting and squirming, kicking legs in new directions, throwing arms in others. There's just no way to get really comfortable on Christmas Eve.
Suddenly, someone stirred like a mouse, "What is that smell?" triggering a chain reaction of questions, accusations, and denials by a herald of Whos.
Momentarily halting my busy yuletide scurrying, I harked from just outside the doorway. Candle flames flickered excitedly on the mantel, presumably fueled by an invisible, magical entity.
"I smell something, too! Who did that?" another child resounded.
"It wasn't me," the guilty voice of defiance spoke.
"It's always you," a sibling chimed.
"Somebody in here stinks. Baaad," sang a fifth voice.
"The one who smelt it dealt it," snapped a sixth.
"That's so old it makes my grandmother's dusty, plastic mistletoe ball that she's hung in the kitchen doorway for the last 50 Christmases look brand new," a seventh kid disgustedly caroled, as though he had past experience beneath it, accidentally finding himself standing there when his musty Aunt Ailene happened by and smooched him up real good, sending thick eggnog breath into his face. "Can't you think of anything new to say?"
The first lad to speak, still reeling from the unexpected gift hanging in the air, drummed a steady beat to get his cohorts back on topic. "Seriously y'all, what is that smell?"
It was the first time in years that I've felt suspense on Christmas Eve.
It sort of tickled in my nose the way the smell of evergreen does when we first haul it into the house, before it dies and scatters needles all over the rug. Fortunately, being beyond the threshold of the room, I wasn't subject to the actual aroma under scrutiny.
Always seeking opportunities to prove she can hang with the big kids, the littlest angel, not yet agile at dodging falling Christmas trees, said, "I don't know what that smell is, but I've smelled it everywhere today. At our house. In the car. At Walmart. Even here, at Miss Lucy's house."
Her remarks relieved me of my urge to go sniffing around the room for hidden surprises like residue left behind by the cat or an abandoned apple core stuffed between the sofa cushions. But her first remark armed her older sister with ammunition a toy soldier would covet.
As a hush fell over the room, the sister sassed, "Then it must be you!"
Although it all began with the spirit of giving, this would not end with hearts full of cheer. This was bound to end with God rest ye merry, gentlemen, if I didn't intervene and remind everyone of the importance of peace on Earth. Immediately, I grabbed another handful of candy canes and swept into the living room ho-ho-ho handing them out, humming, Up on the rooftop, reindeer's paws, out jumps good ol' Santa Claus.
Lucy Adams is a syndicated columnist, freelance writer and author of If Mama Don't Laugh, It Ain't Funny. She lives in Thomson. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.IfMama.com.