McGinnis: Christmas memories last far beyond childhood.Written by Jeff McGinnis | | firstname.lastname@example.org
For many kids — myself included — Christmas morning was the most magical time of the year.
There was no feeling quite like it. Rising from bed at least an hour before your usual wake-up time, dragging your parents from their bed by sheer force of will, running to the living room as fast as little legs can carry you. Your eyes were soon greeted by the amazing sight of wrapped boxes as far as the eye could see, all shimmering in the lights from a beautifully decorated tree. It was — and is — one of the most beautiful sights I can imagine.
Of course, our ability to comprehend the beauty on display as youngsters was non-existent — we just wanted to get our hands on the toys, darn it. But in my household, there were rules: No presents opened until Mom and Dad were ready, and we would hand out the gifts one by one, and finally release them from their gift-wrapped prisons in turn. No chaotic torn-paper bedlam would be seen in the McGinnis household. You open one, your brother, then Mom, then Dad, and so on.
This meant there were long, agonizing minutes between the first sighting of the bounty of prezzies and the first opening of any of them. This left a remarkable chunk of time for you to openly speculate on what gift was where. After a while, I became a master at deciphering gift contents by size and shape. It was a talent honed by the many minutes spent waiting not-so-patiently for the gifts to be handed out.
“Okay. This one is clearly VHS size. That must be the copy of ‘Who Framed Roger Rabbit’ I asked for! Then the long and slender box — too small for anything but the ‘Tetris’ Game-and-Watch that I wanted! That’s a fairly large container — could it be a surprise board game I didn’t request? Only one way to know … squeeze … gives easily and is soft to the touch. Ugh. Clothes.”
Now, like any self-styled expert, I was certainly not perfect in my prediction capabilities. After a certain point, my parents got wise to my attempts at analysis and started to switch up boxes to throw me off the trail. The end result occasionally resembled a game of Clue, where Professor Plum wrapped the video game in the clothing box so Colonel Mustard wouldn’t know until the last second that he’d gotten “Sonic the Hedgehog 3.”
My parents’ unwrapping structure would usually mean that present opening would take about a half-hour. They also guided us from one gift to the next, instructing which one was to be opened in what order — they understood the importance of building to a climax, so as not to let the morning ritual fall flat. It’s certainly better to open the SEGA Genesis last
than to close with a purple polo shirt. (If you don’t know what a Genesis is, ask your dad.)
My brother and I were not particularly competitive in most aspects of our childhood lives — except when it came to toys. Then we became as territorial as the Jets and the Sharks in “West Side Story.” In a preemptive attempt to counteract this, “Santa” would often get me and my brother the same thing as a primary gift. We each got an Optimus Prime one year, each got a Game Boy another, and so on. This would pacify our competitive instincts — for a few minutes, until we started trying to nitpick each other’s gift for unseen flaws that ours clearly lacked. “Hah! Your Skeletor’s paint job isn’t nearly as pristine as mine is!”
Of course, the day wasn’t over yet. There was a family get-together to be attended, as well — more gifts to open, more boxes to analyze, more prezzies to relish. But no matter how cool the stuff we got from the relatives, the real goodies were usually what awaited us back home. All the while — throughout the dinner and evening spent in the company of our extended family — we reveled while recalling that haul of awesomeness.
I wish I had understood something more completely then. I remember the silent joy that my parents’ faces held as I opened their generous gifts. But for a long time, of course, it wasn’t mom or dad who had provided so many wonderful memories — it was Santa Claus, right? Sure, Santa’s handwriting looked suspiciously like mom’s, but our young minds dismissed it.
I know the goal was to preserve the idea of a magical Christmas, one where anything was possible. But now that I know all the work, the effort, the sacrifice necessary to make those wonderful memories, it fills me with joy and gratitude. Knowing who was really behind the miracle of Christmas morning doesn’t make the moments any less magical. And understanding the love that the giving represented reminds me that, when you care about someone else, anything really can be possible.
Email Jeff at PopGoesJeff@gmail.com.