Looking Back on Christmas Day

Christmas has officially concluded for our household. Yesterday was the last hurrah with a wonderful but too-brief stay with my dad’s family and a stop by the hotel room holding my sister-in-law and her significant other, delayed in their plans by a winter storm.

It’s been a good Christmas. One of the best in recent memory, I believe. And it all started Christmas Eve. I’m not talking about my emotional experience in church that night, although that might have set the stage. No, I’m talking about the 4 or 5 hours that followed.

We stopped by a friend’s house who had set up a light display set to music being broadcast on a particular radio frequency. The kids were frustrated because we hadn’t eaten dinner before the worship service and they were fairly sure they were starving. But then they saw the pulsing lights and were mesmerized. We sat through several songs before heading home.

Once home and fed and the youngest in bed, the magic started. As I mentioned in my Christmas Eve post, the older two had some magnificent decorating plans. It was now mostly a surprise for Hal, but I consented to staying holed up in my bedroom while they worked. We had plenty of surprises of our own so that was fine with us.

I sat on the bed cutting yarn and tinsel strands to construct the contents of the box I would assemble above the boys’ door, with a string tied to the doorknob. My hope was that when they eagerly and enthusiastically opened the door in the morning, the string would pull the flap down and all the stuff would fall down in front of them, revealing the first clue to their scavenger hunt. (It didn’t work, by the way. Hal inexplicably opened the door slowly and then stood there saying “What the heck?” as he examined the string tied to his doorknob. I rushed from my room to yank on the string. Not quite the same effect.)

My husband sat at the edge of the bed and worked on assembling three puzzles on a card table for part of the hunt. Our intent was to intermix the pieces from all three puzzles, turn it over, write the 6-line poem that represented the second clue on it, then separate the pieces back out to their respective puzzles. That didn’t work either. The pieces were all shaped the same but they were off just enough that we couldn’t mix them. So we went with plan B, which was to write the poem lines across all three puzzles but then mix the puzzle pieces in the three boxes. The puzzles, which were wildly age-inappropriate (way too young) would then go in the stockings.

As we sat and worked in relative silence, we listened to the activity outside our door. Jane and Daryl were working together as they never had before. They spoke in hushed tones but we could still hear them. The were excited and eager to impress Hal with all the lights and paper chains and huge paper snowflakes they had made. They listened to each other’s ideas and encouraged and supported each other. I was mesmerized.

Every once in awhile, they’d come to the door and ask where to find more staples, whether it was OK to attach lightweight items to the ceiling fan, whether all the Christmas lights could be left on over night. My husband and I were both tickled that they had gotten into the spirit of doing stuff for others on Christmas.

At one point, they tried to be considerate of my needs and informed me that they’d be in Jane’s room for awhile if I wanted to come out and do my thing. I laughed and informed them that 1) I had plenty to keep me busy in my room for now and 2) I wasn’t doing any part of my thing until they were in bed.

Eventually, they declared themselves done and we came out for a tour. I had suggested the tour when the realization that I would see the decorations before morning had disappointed them. They wanted to see our faces.

They had done an impressive job. Lights lined the walls of the hallway and living room, including some lit snowflakes over the boys’ door (which would make my plans more challenging). A very long white paper chain nearly encircled the living room and large snowflakes hung everywhere. And these weren’t your average fold-the-paper-then-cut-out-notches snowflakes. No, these were state-of-the-art 3D snowflakes that Daryl had learned to make at Sunday School a few days earlier. A large 3D snowflake hung from each of the three fan blades, which turned very slowly in the center of the room.

I was impressed by their results but even more impressed by the cooperation and love and kindness that had gotten them there. I couldn’t wait for Christmas morning.

Of course, there was still work of my own to do. It took another 2 hours for me to setup the scavenger hunt and prepare their stockings (including the “auxiliary bags” for the overflow items that wouldn’t fit – sitting on the floor with a strand of yarn attaching them to their stockings) .

We assembled the box as quietly as possible over their door. I traipsed around outside hiding the final clues that would keep them out of the house long enough for my husband to move the new PS4 from our bedroom to the living room, to be setup and ready to go when the hunt brought them back into the house. I somehow managed to work directly under Jane’s window without alerting the dog to my presence although she caught my flashlight later and announced the outside “intruder” to the entire house.

Back inside, I taped “Rudolph Chow” on the dog food can so when the part of the hunt that included Santa’s Grocery List came up, they could find “reindeer food”. I taped clues under the carton of milk, behind all the mirrors in the house, on the power bar that holds all their electronics chargers, under some cookie tins. I had already searched through books for the words needed for one clue and carefully hid the clue behind a cabinet door in the bathroom. The clue gave them the book title plus three numbers: page, paragraph on page, and word in the paragraph.

I finally made it to bed about 1:30 in the morning. I didn’t sleep well – I don’t anyway but on nights when I am anticipating something, it’s even worse. I was awake before any of the kids, just waiting for them to join me.

Throughout Christmas Day, my kids told me this was the best Christmas ever. We did have our bumps, but overall, it was magical. They love opening their stockings and they enjoy our scavenger hunt. But the two older ones specifically mentioned how much they liked the new tradition.

Based on a picture moving around Facebook, we limited their presents to 4 each (the PS4 was a gift to the whole family). The four gifts followed a pattern:

Something they want, something they need

Something to wear, something to read

Daryl hadn’t wanted this approach. “Only four presents?!” he had asked. But by the end of the day, he was sold. He wasn’t sure why but he had really liked it. We figured it out together.

Since we were only buying them four presents, we had to stop and think about what to give them. We had to come up with precisely the right gifts. As Daryl put it, “Instead of just getting us a bunch of toys, you got us just a few of exactly what we wanted.”

He didn’t even know how much he had wanted (needed!) new bedding, but the NBA-themed sheets and comforter excited him tremendously. Hal walked around all day in the new church clothes we bought him – tie and loafers included! Jane couldn’t believe she got both a new pair of Tom’s (need!) and her long-desired Uggs (wear).

To top the day off, we invited some friends over for lunch and afternoon game playing while they waited for their husband/dad to get off work that evening to have their family Christmas.

All in all, it was a wildly successful and happy day. I hope we have many more like it.

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