I first posted this story in 2011 and have now made it my holiday tradition. If you haven't read it before, I hope you enjoy it. If you have read it before, I'm hoping that you make it your holiday tradition in reading it again.
Merry Christmas, and all the best over the holiday season!
first, we did it out of excitement, unable to wait. Later, it became a
game about how far we could go, how much risk we were willing to take.
In time, it became a ritual.
first time we crept downstairs, anxious to see what Santa left us, my
younger sister, Jen, and I faced an obstacle: each other. "Go to bed," I
whispered, not wanting her to make any noise, thereby arousing the
attention of our parents, who had only a half hour or less gone to bed
after placing our wrapped gifts under the tree. Our older sister, Holly,
was sound asleep, able to contain her excitement and curiosity.
first time that Jen and I met on the stairs, we got our parents'
attention: "In to bed," my mother called from her bedroom, "or Santa
won't come." Reluctantly, Jen and I returned to our respective rooms,
giving each other the stink eye for having spoiled the other's plans at
checking out the cache of presents.
that night, after I had deemed that everyone was fast asleep, I slowly
made my way downstairs. I would pause on the stairs every time a step
creaked, waiting to hear if anyone had stirred at the soft noise. It
took a couple of minutes to reach the ground floor and sneak to our
living room, where our Christmas tree stood. I had reached my
destination without arousing suspicion.
I was a stealth machine.
faint light illuminated the living room through our sheer curtains from
the outdoor street lights, casting a twinkling glow off the tinsel and
glass balls on the tree. My eyes, already adjusted to the darkness from
my bedroom, could easily make out the outline of the tree and the mound
of boxes and parcels underneath it. I saw the stockings, filled to
bursting, hanging off the edge of the shelf of our wall unithaving no
fireplace or mantle. I slowly approached the tree, making my way towards
the light switch underneath the tree, the one that would light up the
tree and give me a clear view of the gifts.
was so busy moving quietly, using my eyes to the best of their
abilities, making sure that I didn't trip over a present, that I hadn't
used my ears to detect another presence. Coming into the living room,
equally quiet, was Jen.
"What are you doing here?" I whispered.
"The same thing as you," was the response.
"You're going to wake everyone up," I complained.
"Not if I keep quiet," she said. "You're making all of the noise."
knew that by continuing to argue, we'd wake the rest of the household.
We dropped our voices to a barely audible whisper. "What should we do?" I
"Want to turn on the Christmas tree?" Jen suggested.
was just about to do that," I said, "but only for a second." I was
afraid that somehow the light would make its way out of the living room,
up the stairs and down the hall, and through my parent's closed door
and up to their eyes. Such was the paranoid logic of a young kid who was
not where he was supposed to be.
reached for the switch and the tree sparkled in the warm glow of the
lights. Jen and I let our eyes wander over the packages and the brightly
patterned paper, trying to see through the wrap and trying to discern
the gift by its shape. We kept the lights on for only a couple of
seconds, and before we felt we ran further risk, we immersed ourselves
once again in darkness.
decided that it was too great a risk to remain downstairs any longer,
so we agreed to return to our rooms. We further agreed that we shouldn't
try ascending the stairs at the same time, so Jen went first, and when I
knew that she was safely in her room, I made my way to my own.
Operation: Christmas was born.
next morning, as Jen and I sat in our living room with Holly and our
parents, we gave each other a smiling look, silently communicating that
we shared a little secret, that we had gotten away with a reconnaissance
of our haul of gifts. No one else knew what we had done. We had gotten
cleanly away with this act.
up to the following Christmas, Jen and I privately discussed going
downstairs to take another sneak peek at the gifts under the tree. But
this year, we would be more organized. We synchronize our clocks so that
we would have our rendezvous better timed. Also, the mystery of Santa
Claus had pretty much worn out on us, and our parents decided that they
would put our stockings at the end of our beds before they went to bed
themselves. they figured that if we woke up to our stockings in the
morning, it would buy them a little more sleep by keeping us occupied.
and I decided that when our folks came into our rooms to put the
stockings at the end of our beds, we would feign sleep. We would listen
for them to quiet down, and then we'd wait a half hour. We would then
give each other an additional 15 minutes to go through our stockings and
check out our haul.
And then it was showtime.
would quietly step out of our rooms and wait for the other to show up
in the hall. We would then head down the stairs together. In the weeks
leading up to the big day, or night, we would make a note of the squeaks
in the stairs, and either avoid the step to a side of the step that
didn't creak, or failing to find a safe spot, overstep that stair
altogether. We memorised the walking pattern, going up and down the
stairs. We wouldn't make a sound.
the second year, I brought a flashlight. Not so much to see our way to
the tree but to look at the presents without fumbling for the light
switch. We would turn the tree on, marvel at the packages underneath,
and then turn the lights off, but would use the flashlight to find which
gifts belonged to us.
the way back up, we heard a stirring from my folks' room. We froze. We
didn't know if one of our parents had simply moved or was on their way
to us. So we stood, halfway up the staircase, and remained silent and
motionless until we deemed it was safe to proceed.
That was year two.
the years that followed, we continued the tradition. Jen and I got more
sophisticated. We drew maps of the upper and ground floors, marked out a
plan of where who should be at what time. We ran drills when we were
home alone. Operation: Christmas became a finely choreographed exercise.
became emboldened: we'd turn the lights on the Christmas tree and leave
it on for as long as we were downstairs. We'd stay longer, counting up
our presents and figuring out what each one was, based on what we had
asked for and the size that the package would be. We would get ourselves
a snack and eat it, surrounded by wrapped boxes.
our teens, we would unwrap the gifts, confirming what we suspected the
package to be. If we could further remove the gift from it's casing or
box, we'd do it. We'd play with our stuff. And then we would carefully
re-wrap the present and put it back where our parents had arranged it.
Some Christmases, we'd return to our bedrooms, knowing exactly what we
were getting in a few hours.
thrill of Christmas morning came in feigning surprise, in keeping from
laughing out loud. Some mornings, Jen and I couldn't make eye contact
for fear of bursting out in hysterics.
also enjoyed the surprise of seeing what our sister, Holly, had
received under the tree. Unwrapping her gifts wasn't even a
went on for years, until Jen finally moved out of the house. Even
though she was younger than me, she flew the coup first. Our game was
up. I never went to check on the presents by myself. Operation: Christmas wouldn't have been the same without a partner in crime.
we became adults, Jen and I confessed our crime. My parents wouldn't
believe us. They couldn't accept that we would have the capability of
pulling off such a caper, that we'd be able to unwrap gifts, play with
the toys, and put them back together. Not without our parents detecting
anything was amiss. Jen and I just looked at each other, smiled, and
shared our memories in silence.
For us, the magic of Christmas includes our scheme. For me, remembering Operation: Christmas
was a ritual that brought me closer to my sister than any other game we
played as kids, in daylight hours. It was our special time together.
And isn't that what Christmas is all about?