The cat-and-mouse game of hiding the Christmas presents begins as soon as a black Friday bargain is found. Whether you are hiding gifts from your significant other or your children the game can be intense.
Take, for example, the year of the drum set.
My then 10-year old son had his heart set on a drum set for Christmas. It was out of our realm of possibility until about two days before Christmas when a moving neighbor had to off-load his five-drum set due to a sudden move. The price was right but how to hide it for Christmas morning?
Fortunately we had an easy answer. Parked on our driveway as a long travel trailer belonging to my sister and I had the only set of keys. In the dark of night we stowed the drums where they would sit until Santa would come.
Christmas Eve came with a few blanket of snow followed by a brutal cold snap with temperatures well below 20 degrees. After a festive evening followed by the usual difficult-to-get-the-kids-to-bed Christmas Eve ritual all was finally quiet and still. Quietly Santa stuffed the stockings and assembled the doll carriage, bicycle and Barbie house for the other kids. At last it was time to bring in the drums.
Energized at the thought that Santa would finally be done by 3am I didn’t bother to wear anything more than slippers and a t-shirt as I headed out to the trailer.
It took a solid ten minutes to get the frozen trailer door open. It was a side door – meaning I had a narrow opening to get the drums through. I reached in and grabbed as much of them as I could but because they were so large I knew I would have to make a couple of trips.
I had to be careful because beneath the blanket of snow was a sheet of ice. There is a reason they call them slippers.
With both arms full I made my first trip inside the house, where I dropped my load with a thud, drawing a glare from Mrs. Claus who frowned at the snow I brought in on the floor and the cold air that came with me. I trudged back outside and slipped just as I got to the trailer door yet again, falling hard on my backside and letting out an “ugh!” as I went down. All was still outside and I could tell I had disturbed nature – nearby a dog started to bark and I heard a cat or two quickly scamper away.
Frustrated, cold and maybe just a tad impatiently I reached in to the trailer to grab the big bass drum and a set of cymbals. I had to balance everything on one side of my body as I closed the door because there was no way I was going back out in that cold after this load was done. I successfully got the door closed and rebalanced things in my arm when I turned my body and on the same piece of ice where I had just fallen my slippered foot slid again and down I went – the cymbals crashing to the snow covered concrete with a rolling clang and the bass drum – suddenly free and gaining speed as it lumbered down the driveway toward the street.
I must have yelled out something. Quickly I saw lights go on across the street. Behind me at a neighbor’s house I heard laughter and saw curtains briefly ruffle.
Fortunately – or not – I fell on the other side of my body this time so I wasn’t seriously hurt. I picked up the cymbals and chased down the drum. I took them all inside to assess the damage and to my great surprise there were only a few slight nicks from the mishaps and a quick wipe of the towel made them presentable.
Santa – and who knows what HE was up to the whole time this fiasco was going on – placed the drums near the tree while my wife brushed the snow out of my hair. She could hardly contain herself. Calmly she asked me why I was all red and out of breath.
“I had a little trouble with the drums,” I said.
“Oh, I heard.” She replied. “In fact the entire neighborhood knows what one of our kids is getting for Christmas.”
This happened years ago. Raising a large family and having experienced dozens of Christmas secrets over time has given me some gift giving wisdom. Here are some helpful tips I wish someone had shared with me:
1. Christmas Eve is a deadline – not a starting point. If you’re smart enough to buy early then be even smarter by wrapping it early, too.
2. If possible, go to the hassle of off-site storage. Face facts: your kids are smarter than you. They will find the goods.
3. This should be obvious: buy it assembled. Nothing is worse than 500 loose parts and all the wrong tools when you’re dead tired on Christmas Eve. Whatever they charge to put it together is probably worth it.
4. This is going to sound juvenile but it works. Buy it, wrap it, put it under the tree any time you want – but put false gift tags on them. Come Christmas Eve and the kids finally conk out – just swap the tags, rearrange things then head for bed. I sadly didn’t discover this genius idea until my kids were a little older but it worked out wonderfully.
5. Advanced Santa Strategy 101: use the neighbors. Hide their stuff for them and have them hide your stuff for you. If your kids are close don’t even bother going to great efforts to hide the stuff, especially if you have snoops in your brood. Having them spread false information is better for everyone.
6. Save a surprise for your significant other. This too sounds obvious but when you gear up for a Christmas Eve of mass late night assembly you don’t want to get to Christmas morning having forgotten a detail. Take care of this one first and in advance if you can.
7. Before you even buy the toy or the gadget get the stupid batteries. Nothing kills a Christmas morning than a gift that cannot be used right now.
8. If you actually have to hide anything hide the gift wrap. Don’t let them see Santa wraps things in the same paper as Mom and Dad.
9. If you want a truly sleepless Christmas Eve get a puppy. This is another long story and it’s worse than the drums.
10. Always make sure you put an orange in the stocking. It’s cheap, nutritious and actually has meaning.