Christmas Eve: I must go home

Editor’s note: Marilyn Hagerty wrote this Christmas Eve column more than 40 years ago. Republishing it has become a holiday tradition.

Marilyn Hagerty

Excuse me, please. But it’s Christmas Eve, and I must go home.

If only for five minutes and only in my thoughts, I have to go back on Christmas Eve. I haven’t been there in person for many years. Still, I never have been away.

Every Christmas, there’s a string of events that take me home. It starts when I hear children speaking pieces at church. Then it’s the carols, the Christmas tree, the tinsel, the packages.

And in my mind, I snatch a few minutes to travel down Highway 14 in South Dakota once more. Around the curves and down that last big hill above the Missouri River.

Most of the year, I consider Walter my personal enemy. I give him a pinch every time I have a chance. He slugs me back.


On Christmas Eve, with his hair combed and slicked down with oil, Walter looks almost like an angel. On Christmas Eve, nothing is too expensive for Walter’s little sisters. He is generous with money he has earned delivering the Capital Journal.

We put on our coats and buckle up our overshoes before we start out for church. As we walk down the back road and up the hill this night seems different from all others.

Maybe it’s because we girls get to go without long underwear on Christmas Eve. Maybe it’s because we think we see the same star that guided the Wise Men.

It’s cold and clear in on Christmas Eve. Because we are early, we stand over the big heat register at the front of the church. Warm air blows up under our skirts. Later, some boys lucky to be chosen as shepherds have blankets draped around them. They get to come in the back door of the little Lutheran church and parade out the door beside the pulpit.

Five minutes is all I can take.

It’s time to come back to reality. This is the here and now. The children at my own house are grown and gone. Sometimes they come back on Christmas Eve. There’s supper to fix before candlelight services at church.

I wouldn’t have it any other way.

It’s only a few minutes that I must tarry. I must go home each Christmas Eve.

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