My kids say I’m warped. Why? Because I don’t see things as they do, especially at Christmas. You see, I think exchanging Christmas presents ought to be mysterious and fun. When they were little, unwrapping presents was memorable. Then they became teenagers—the fun fizzled.
These teenagers redefined the meaning of wrapped presents. They put gifts in bags, NOT a Christmas gift bag mind you, but a grocery or trash bag. How alluring is a present in a garbage bag?
As they aged, another downer evolved. The price tag on their gifts got bigger while the packages got smaller. How do you surprise them when they only ask for a Nintendo game and there’s only one small package under the tree with their name on it? Christmas was becoming predictable and no fun.
It was time to reinvent our holiday gift swap.
The first Christmas I declared war on unwrapping boredom, I used unusual boxes to conceal their contents. My husband’s tennis ball container was emptied and used to wrap socks. The tennis balls went into a coffee can. To disguise a belt, I taped two wrapping paper tubes together end-to-end—my husband thought it was a softball bat or golf club standing against the wall. My son’s jeans were rolled-up inside a game box. The game contents went into a shirt box. Finally, they were surprised again.
The next year I tried something different. I switched all the gift tags, as my boys were notorious for shaking presents days before we opened them. When my youngest unwrapped a footbath, his eyes bulged. “Mom, are you crazy? Why’d you buy me this?”
“I didn’t. I bought it for your father.”
“Then why’s my name on it?”
“So I could see that expression on your face.”
Just then, my husband finished unwrapping a Redskins’ football jersey.
“Have you lost your mind woman? I wouldn’t be caught dead in this.”
“Oh no, Dad—here’s your Giant’s jersey—pass me my Redskins before you desecrate it.” My eldest son rolled his eyes as father and son exchanged jerseys. And so it went all night. Lots of shocked looks and laughter while I tried to remember who the real recipients were.
Year three I arranged a scavenger hunt. I hid presents in the garage, inside insulated coolers, in empty suitcases, within a clean trash receptacle, behind the washer and dryer, on top of the china closet, under couches, and pinned behind drapes. The mystery was back.
Year four was my first empty-nest year. When the boys returned from college for Christmas, they weren’t prepared for my latest scheme. I eliminated nametags by taping a riddle to each package. They had to solve the riddle to know whose present it was.
“Mom! I came home to rest my brain, not work it,” protested my youngest.
His brother glared at his father while shaking his head. “She’s got w-a-y too much time on her hands.”
After the first few attempts, they got the hang of it, but swore I wrote lame riddles.
Year five I went for broke. After Thanksgiving, I called their dorm. “Guys, I need you both home next weekend.”
“Why? We’ll be home for Christmas.”
“I know, but something serious came up. We need to talk in person.” All I heard were groans on their end of the phone.
They arrived late that Saturday morning.“Sorry guys, but we can’t talk without dad. Take a nap, but be showered and ready to leave for dinner by 4:30pm.”
“Whatever,” they answered with raised eyebrows.
Driving past our favorite restaurant, we headed for the Beltway.
“Where we goin’?”
“You’ll see,” was all I offered.
We drove into the city, parked in a garage, and walked to Planet Hollywood. “Guys, Merry Christmas—your big gift this year is dinner and a show.”
“Oh no,” they moaned. “Not a ballet or something stupid like that?”
I remained silent.
After dinner, we walked past several theatres, their curiosity yielding to panic. Turning the corner, they spotted the marquee, “Tonight, Live with Sinbad.”
“Gotcha!” I yelled, pleased with myself. “Now who’s warped?”
Sinbad was awesome, we had a great time, and they were impressed. If I’d given them the tickets it wouldn’t have been as memorable as my ruse. They’re also right though—great gifts don’t need fancy wrapping—just to be given in love. Hey, God gave us a gift of love wrapped only in cloth and a manger.* For a warped mother, I have smart kids.
*So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. 5) He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. 6) While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, 7) and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn. Luke 2:4-7 (NIV)
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