On Christmas Day

On December 25, 1974, I woke before dawn and rolled out of my white canopy bed. Holding up the the waist of my Bert and Ernie pajamas, I fumbled for the banister in the dark hallway and slipped down the stairs to the living room. I snapped on the light and surveyed the mound of presents spilling out from the darkened tree.

Then, while my parents slumbered, I tore open every single gift.

It took about an hour to cut through the load and afterward, I bobbed in a sea of boxes, wrapping paper and packing peanuts. The dog padded amidst the devastation, dragging bits of ribbon and scotch tape.

My grandmother — who had lobbied heavily for a European style celebration where presents are opened on the 24th — discovered my destruction. My parents woke to her screams.

“I told you we should have opened the presents on Christmas Eve!” she wailed. Dad sent my grandmother back to her room, then he collected the wrapping paper and tags, and taped the gifts together as best he could.

That evening my parents explained that I shouldn’t have opened everything. Because I had made a big mess.

So the next year, I did the exact same thing again. Only this time, I threw out all the paper, ribbons and cards in the trash. And I stacked up the boxes and gifts in one neat pile.

Again, my parents woke to screams.

“She did it again!” my grandmother cried. “This wouldn’t have happened if we’d opened the packages on Christmas Eve!”

The following year, my parents threatened me with bodily harm if I attempted a repeat performance, but they said that I could plunder whatever Santa left in my stocking.

Fast-forward 35 years. Determined that history would not repeat itself, I lectured the kids about opening only what they found in their stocking on Christmas morning. And waiting until we were up. They nodded dutifully.

But yesterday around 6 am, I woke with a funny feeling in my gut. The scuttling, thumping and muffled noises from the living room didn’t sound right. They didn’t sound stocking sized.

Under the glow of twinkly tree lights I discovered Cayden and Hadley surrounded by piles of crumpled wrapping paper and toys still in their plastic packaging.

“What are you doing!?” I barked at them. “You were only supposed to open your stockings!” (Which still hung by the fireplace, bloated with gifts.)

“It was Hadley,” Cayden said, his eyes welling with tears. “Hadley started opening everything!”

I had no doubt that Hadley was the guilty party, but Cayden was complicit. He knew better.

Fortunately, their handiwork was minor compared to my childhood devastation. They’d only cracked the outer crust of gifts ringing the tree.

As penance, the kids had to help Martin clean the barn. Then we all went for a wintery walk to forget the errs of our ways and start Christmas morning fresh. And ready ourselves for a new round of wrapping ripping.

Next year, I don’t know what I’ll do about Christmas morning. I guess I’ll deliver the open-only-your-stockings lecture again.

And set my alarm clock for 5 am.

Happy Holidays, one and all.

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