I stole Christmas from my brother one year. He still resents me for it. But I didn’t steal as much from him as I did from myself.
It was about 4.00 in the morning. Christmas Eve. I’d been sitting by the tree for about an hour. I’d already opened half the presents – but it was lonely doing it on my own. No fun without anyone to see my look of shock and surprise. No one to giggle with. Ooh and aah with.
But did I go back to bed?
Nope. At 10 years old or so, I didn’t have enough sense for that. I woke up my little brother instead.
He padded out to the living room with me, rubbing the sleep from his eyes.
“Shhhhh,” I warned him, lest he disturb our mother. Surprisingly, he listened to me. If he’d made noise, my mother would have woken up and my clandestine mission foiled. I would have been in trouble – so he was good enough to save me from that. Although I suppose if my mother had woken up, she would have blamed both of us. He was guilty by association – and he couldn’t do a thing about it.
I showed him a trick I’d learned for opening presents so you could close them again with nobody noticing. Carefully peel the tape off the end, making sure the paper didn’t tear so we could stick it back. If the present was a game, we could tell what it was simply by opening up the side and taking a look at the box. Those ones were easy to tape back up.
A bit harder were the ones that were in blank boxes. You know, sweaters and hats and scarves. If it felt like clothes, I wouldn’t bother. Where’s the fun in that?
Where’s the fun in any of this, my brother figured. He went back to bed and I let him. At least he had a few surprises left.
I was still too tempted by one big box with my name on it. I picked it up. The box was about a foot by a foot. It was light – much lighter than it looked. I shook it. No sound. No rattling, no jiggling. No thumps.
I slowly took the tape from the side. The paper dropped down. I slowly peeled the tape from the other side. Then from the bottom. There were no big ribbons around it, so rewrapping would be easy.
I had the paper off – and lifted the lid off the box.
There, nestled in tissue paper – lots and lots of tissue paper, stuffed in to fill the box and foil any chances of my guessing what it was – sat a camera. A Kodak Instamatic. It was the one big present I’d really, really been hoping for.
For a second I was thrilled.
Then my heart sank. There was no one there to share it with. No one to ooh and aah with.
I knew some work went into that present. And I realized I hadn’t only spoiled the surprise for myself – I’d spoiled it for my mom. Christmas, I learned at that moment, was as much about giving as receiving.
So I sat there and practiced looking surprised. First a great big shocked look, hands up to the face.
Too much, I thought.
A big smile and thank you. Too little.
I practiced and worried and worried and practiced. Finally, I gave up. I rewrapped the present, carefully matching up the tape from where I’d peeled it away from the paper – and my heart felt just a little bit emptier.
When morning came and I got up for real, I managed to get just the right reaction. I was happy to get that camera and I let it show. My mom was thrilled that I was so happy.
At least her surprise wasn’t ruined.
Now the story’s become part of the family lore – and we laugh about it with our kids (who can’t believe their mother/auntie was so sly).
I learned my lesson, I tell my daughter and niece and nephew, and learned how to wait for surprises.
And my brother? Good story or not, he still hasn’t forgiven me for forcing him, one year, to ruin his own Christmas.
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