when i was younger, my parents planned christmas with nearly indecent enthusiasm.
i loved every minute of the holiday- the decorations, the food, even the rather stale gingerbread house we would dissemble and devour on the 26th. i never fully understood why my mother committed to the tradition as fervently as she did. christmas represented many things she hated; spending money, excessive sweets, and distracting me from winter break homework. but not only did she encourage my fanciful wish-list scribing, she also devised my favorite part of christmas morning.
instead of wrapping presents and placing them under the tree on christmas eve, my mother decided that they would stash all of my gifts (unwrapped) in a giant trash bag and hide it somewhere so well-concealed that it would take me nearly an hour to find. once discovered, however, i could reach into this magical plastic goodie bag and relish the spoils of the hunt with no fussy packaging.
reaching in and pulling out one gift after another represents the most blissful memory of my 28 years. maybe she just wanted me to work for my gifts, but the ploy worked like a drug by heightening my christmas morning anticipation to nearly unreasonable levels. i would wake up at 5 a.m. and jam on my sleuthing cap (a santa hat), rolling up my pajama sleeves to prepare for the search.
“you never find,” my mother would chortle, snapping pictures with a disposable kodak while i felt under couches and crawled into closets.
one year, she hid the bag in the dryer. it was the longest hunt in history of christmas, and i remember bursting into tears when she suggested cruelly, “maybe this year i not buying gifts.”
“she’s just kidding, princess!” my dad said hurriedly, bending down to scoop me into a hug. “we just hid it too well. i can show you where it is.” he glared up at my mother while i clutched and sobbed into his flannel.
“no,” my mother scowled back. “she have to working for it, otherwise take all fun out.”
she took a few more pictures of me crying and rubbing my eyes. her goading finally drove me to run to the point of our house that was furthest away from her- the laundry room. my delight in finally uncovering the bag of presents was unmatched by any other christmas in my ten years of gift-hunting.
the year i turned 13, i woke up at nine and walked downstairs to see my father watching a christmas parade on tv and my mother knitting. she glanced over at me, put down her half-finished scarf, and reached for something beside her. i thought it would be the ubiquitous disposable camera, but i was wrong.
she tossed me a chocolate orange and said, “merry christmas. i got you SAT practice book but it not coming in mail yet.”