A Christmas Eve to remember


It was the night before Christmas about 15 years ago. Nora was barely 10, and Emma was still dreaming of kindergarten. We had just gotten home from a Christmas Eve church service.

About two inches of snow had fallen the day before, and it was cold, about 25 degrees, so a white Christmas seemed assured. All that remained was a long winter’s nap, but the girls were too excited to sleep.

Walk in the woods

My wife, Linda, suggested we take a walk in the woods.

“That will tire the girls out so maybe we can at least sleep until dawn,” she hoped. “Besides, the moon is bright. With the snow on the ground it really does give a ‘luster of mid-day to objects below.'”

The girls thought it was a great idea.

“Maybe we’ll hear the animals talk,” Emma suggested. “Mom says on Christmas Eve animals can talk.” Nora smiled a big sister smile.

So we bundled up and followed our favorite trail. About a half mile later we came to a huge fallen tree, a favorite rest stop.

“Let’s just sit for a few minutes,” I said.

It was a gorgeous night. Chilly, but not too cold. The air was still, the sky crystal clear, and a thousand stars winked and blinked. The moon was so bright it cast shadows of the tall white oak trees which surrounded us.

A pair of great horned owls dueted in the distance, a reminder the beginning of the nesting season was just a month away.

Seemed to be snowing

As we watched and listened, a breeze picked up and blew flakes off the snow-covered branches above. Though the sky remained clear, it seemed to be snowing — on Christmas Eve.

After about 15 minutes, our feet began to get cold. The thought of hot chocolate and a few cookies was too much to resist. So we got up and headed back to the house.

We hadn’t taken two steps when we all heard a distinctive, high-pitched sound.

“What was that?” Emma asked.

“I don’t know,” Nora answered. “Maybe the animals are starting to talk,” she added with a sly grin.

Before I thought better of it, I almost spoiled the moment.

Flying squirrels

“I think we’re hearing flying squirrels. They have high pitched voices,” I explained. “I know they live in the woods. Remember, we found a few nests in the chickadee boxes last spring.”

In the brightness of the moonshine, I confirmed my suspicions. All around us a half dozen flying squirrels jumped from tree to tree.

As they sailed, the flaps of skin that runs from ankle to wrist billowed with air, and the flyers glided skillfully from one tree to the next.

Upon landing, they instantly scurried to the back side of the tree trunk — just in case a owl was in hot pursuit.


Linda and Nora saw the movement too, but just as I was about to point it out to Emma, she exclaimed, “Those aren’t animal sounds, they’re elves!”

She was still focused on the squeaky noises we had heard moments earlier.

Holiday magic

Now I faced a dilemma. Do I grab the teachable moment, or do I go for holiday magic? I opted for magic because I knew we could see flying squirrels another time.

“What are you talking about, Emma?” I asked. “What elves?”

“Santa’s elves. I don’t know why they’re in the woods, but we need to get back home, and I need to get to bed,” she explained.

Emma took off up the trail like a fox on the run. It was all we could do to keep up. By the time we got back to the house, we were exhausted.

After a cookie and a quick cup of hot chocolate, Emma put on her nightie and jumped into bed. Her cheeks were still rosy and cold.

Sound asleep

Before I even opened our dog-eared copy of ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas, she was sound asleep. It was a Christmas Eve to remember.


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Scott Shalaway, who holds a Ph.D. in wildlife ecology from Michigan State University, writes from his home in rural West Virginia. A former faculty member at Oklahoma State University and the University of Oklahoma Biological Station, he has been writing a weekly nature column for newspapers and freelancing for magazines since 1986. He can be heard on Birds & Nature from 3-4 p.m. Sunday afternoons on 620 KHB Radio, Pittsburgh, or live online anywhere at www.khbradio.com, or on the Tune-In radio app. Visit his website at www.drshalaway.com or contact him directly at sshalaway@aol.com or 2222 Fish Ridge Road, Cameron, WV 26033.



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