When I was a kid, my brother and I had a long-standing tradition around Christmas time. As soon as our parents would leave us at home alone for any reason, we would look at each other and shout, "Let's find the Christmas presents!"
I can't remember how old we were when our parents started leaving us home alone. We had two older sisters who would watch us, and we lived in a small town where we didn't even lock our front door when we would leave the house. So, I know we stayed home alone at a much earlier age than I would ever consider for my kids.
I also remember that at age 10, I started babysitting for another family. Like most people, the neighbors probably confused my name with that of my older sister, Amy, and were actually hoping the 16-year-old would show up to babysit. Whatever, the case, I collected my 10-year-old self and figured out how to change diapers, make dinner and stay up until midnight, watching the backyard neighbors.
Most years, my brother and I had figured out what was inside all of our Christmas presents, and we had mastered the art of acting surprised as we opened each gift.
For many years, all I wanted for Christmas was a Little People set. I had the house, the school, the garage, the hospital, the Sesame Street house and several others. I'm sure I was a much older age than kids are today when I continued drifting off into my imaginary world to play with my Little People. (I think we called them Fisher Price People, back then.)
When I was in third grade, I distinctly remember begging my mom for a new electronic wonder called, "Blip."
"Please, Mom. If I get nothing else for Christmas, please just get me Blip." I spent hours back in those days scanning the landfill nightmare known as the JCPenney Big Book, circling every toy and game that looked even slightly entertaining. But the most awe-inspiring one that year was this electronic game that involved a single blip of light that bounced from one side of the screen to the other. Players tried to hit the bouncing circle and keep an opponent from scoring, much like air hockey.
In sixth grade, all of the kids in our family jointly received Atari. Boy, that was a relief not to be the only kid at school who did NOT get Atari. We used our joysticks to master PacMan, Pong, Tank and a racing game.
In eighth grade, my parents gave both me and my brother boom boxes. This gift required some extra snooping. When they were gone one day, we actually unwrapped our boom boxes and rewrapped them to find out what was inside.
Somehow, my kids have not inherited my obsession for finding Christmas presents long before Christmas Day. I supposed when we wrap a snowboard without putting it in a box first, it doesn't require a whole lot of investigative skills to uncover what it might be. The football and Lego sets were pretty obvious, too. Or maybe they also inherited my ability to act really surprised.
But I have found, after all of these years, that the best gifts are the ones I didn't see coming. The best gifts are the ones that weren't on my list. They are the ones someone else picked out for me. They are the ones I never would have even asked for. They are the ones someone else knew I needed or would love and they took the time to track them down and find them.
They are often the simple things, as well. Even in the mix of the Wii games, Barbie and Lego, my kids were still fascinated yesterday with teaching a Slinky to walk down the stairs and figuring out how to solve a Rubik's cube. We also spent a few hours solving mysteries last night with our new game of "Clue."
My husband did surprise me with the BEST. GIFT. EVER. in purely materialistic terms. (I will have to write about that one in a separate post.)
But this will also be a Christmas I will remember for the joy of giving. I was blessed because of a couple of totally strange and unplanned circumstances to give a few gifts to people outside of our family. Both instances were outside my control, and I guess you could have described them as life giving me lemons. But because of what happened, I was able to give someone else lemonade. (I so wish I could tell all of the details here, but I just can't.)
Anyway, God blessed me by allowing me to give those gifts to someone else. The beautiful thing was how much the people receiving them appreciated those gifts.
My heart was filled with joy this year at watching my kids open their gifts, even though they probably weren't as spectacular as some of the Christmases in the past. And I was overwhelmed with the thoughtfulness of my husband and his surprise gifts. I definitely scored on the receiving end this year, but my happiness at his gift also filled him with joy. So, I realized that although it's better to give then to receive, it's also nice to be a good recipient.
What about you? What is your most memorable Christmas gift? Was it something you gave or something you were given?