I promised my children that if they slept in until 4 on Christmas morning I would not slop around the house all morning looking for my sense of humor and wouldn't let my head fall in the cinnamon rolls at breakfast. It's a good thing events never work out according to contract at my house.

At some unholy hour, approximately 23 minutes and 17 seconds after my husband and I had retired for the evening, six shadows appeared at the foot of our bed. The first thing I heard was heavy, labored breathing then. . . ."Do you think they're awake?"

"Somebody check the clock."

"Anybody got a flashlight?"

"Yeah, I do."

"Well shine it on 'em and see if their eyes are shut."

Then a cold, wet nose touched mine as a small sticky finger pried my eyelid open and someone yelled: "Hey, Mom! You awake?"

"No," I mumbled and rolled over.

At this precise moment, six shadows pounced on two lethargic lumps in the master bed.

"Oh kids, go back to bed. It's too early," my husband groaned while some child ricocheted off his chest and another beamed Morse code flashlight signals up his nose.

"Dad! Dad! Dad! It's Christmas."

"It's not Christmas. You silly kids have your days mixed up. Go back to bed."

"But we can't go back to sleep now."

"We're too excited."

"I have to go to the bathroom."

My husband and I like to extend this moment. It's our last chance to be in charge all day. Once we leave our bedroom, all parental control flies out the window and gives way to the children's hour. The pandemonium that is Christmas begins.

First, the family room becomes bewitched with the lighting of the tree. Then there is the frantic ripping of paper and lowering of bulging stockings. Then there is the slurping of wet tongues on peppermint, and the fresh scent of oranges losing their skins. It's loud, confusing, messy and wonderful.

If there's anything even more fun than watching your young children enjoy Christmas, it's watching your big kids watch your little kids enjoying Christmas. Then comes game playing, toy trading, turkey eating, welcoming friends and relatives and cleaning up the kitchen.

Later in the afternoon, as the children lounge drowsily on the sofa and the house is quiet, a sad thought comes. Night is coming and soon Christmas will be no more.

Now on Dec. 26, we find there is nothing so over as Christmas.