Dec. 15. Ten days before the Big Day of Loot. It's the day my family traditionally begins putting wrapped gifts under the Christmas tree.
Exactly how we arrived at Dec. 15 as the official day to begin loading the tree is a mystery. Family legend has it as my fault.
Every family has a forensic present examiner, someone obsessed with solving the mysteries of Christmas long before the actual day.
Forty-eight hours was about how long it took me as a kid to deduce all my presents by subjecting them to deep scientific analysis. Here are a few tips from what I remember.
Most amateurs just stick to fondling. In addition to bumps, edges, ridges and configuration of a gift-wrapped item, there's also its heft. In my prime I could tell the difference in weight between Lincoln Logs and Tinker Toys.
A gift should be shaken carefully. Not only is it possible to damage the present, but you might also work a lid loose and never be able to smell Chanel No. 5 again without thinking of a fat guy in a red suit.
Speaking of which, smelling a present is something a lot of amateur gift sleuths fail to do. Unless the gift giver is really on a budget, a cheese roll doesn't smell anything like Play-doh.
There's also the overall sense of excitement. A 500-piece puzzle picturing the Louvre looks, sounds and feels way more boring than a set of Hot Wheels.
Keep in mind that all of that was when I was younger, before I graduated to gift analysis through glue, tape, razor blades and proper gift-wrap pattern realignment. Done right, no one will ever know you were there.
My family wouldn't have cared had I limited the scrutiny to my own presents, but I also examined the presents to everyone else and then loudly announced my findings. This was considered by purists everyone but me to be "spoiling" Christmas.
Every day after school I would conduct a gift inventory and arrange them according to content: pajamas, gloves, necktie, BB gun, Barbie, chemistry setâ¦
Sister: "Mom! He said I'm getting a Wendy Wetpants!"
Me: "You are. Feel this part and then shake it like this. Now hold it up to the light. See?"
If the old man was home and overheard this, I'd be locked in my room (hall closet, shed, garage, car trunk, etc.) 30 seconds later. He knew the only way to keep me from spoiling everyone's Christmas was to put a serious damper on mine.
My efforts as a gift analyst came to an end when I got married and had kids. Not only did I already know what most of the gifts were, I couldn't touch the ones that were for me.
Since 1978 I haven't been able to analyze a single wrapped gift.
Waiting for Christmas morning actually turned out OK. One year what I thought would be a boring pair of church shoes turned out to be a Smith & Wesson Model 19 .357-magnum.
But that hasn't stopped the gift analysis in our home. My wife spoils her own Christmas now by keeping a sharp eye on the finances.
Her: "I see where someone paid $419.95 for a professional grade meatball maker at Kitchen Krazy on 5:22 p.m. on Wednesday, Dec. 4."
Me: "Must have been Santa."
Robert Kirby can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or facebook.com/stillnotpatbagley.