When I opened the trunk of my wife’s car, a huge, sparkly, magical-looking horse was inside. Sounds crazy, but I wasn’t surprised. It’s happened before.
In 1971, some friends and I went camping in the Uinta Mountains. We figured it was as far away as we could get from cops. We hadn’t figured on unicorns. I opened an ice chest and found one inside. I stared until it grew bored and left of its own accord.
The one in my wife’s car stayed put, gazing back at me with one shimmering eyeball until I figured out that it was for Christmas, specifically a present for our 6-year-old granddaughter, Ada.
Because the trunk is locked, and Ada doesn’t have access to a key (she’d try to drive if she did), it’s the safest place to keep Christmas hidden away until the Big Morning.
Say what you will about religious rites and solemn beliefs, the most important element of Christmas is knowing where to hide all the stuff you buy so that it isn’t discovered before just the right moment.
Not only does this include the gifts you bought your kids and significant others but also the pricey one you bought for yourself and plan on pretending someone else gave to you.
As a kid, I found that Christmas always began at least a week before the actual big day. That’s when we started snooping around the house looking for treasure.
This was always fraught with risk. One year I was convinced that I was finally getting a BB gun because I found one still in the box under my parents’ bed.
I immediately started stocking up on BBs. I would need a lot if I didn’t want to run out of ammo before it was time to go back to school after Christmas break.
If you can imagine how many BBs $11 would buy back in the ’60s, you’ll have some idea of how disappointed I was to learn on Christmas morning that my parents merely had been holding onto the gun for one of my cousins.
Later, when I became a “Claus,” it required even more imagination to keep my daughters from knowing what they were getting for Christmas. At first, I hid their gifts in the toolshed.
That worked until I was reminded of just how desperate a kid’s imagination will become the closer it gets to Christmas. Our daughters could sniff out Barbie items. Not a corner of our home went unexplored.
By then I was a cop and was nothing if not equal to the task of concealing contraband. I started booking Christmas into the evidence room until Christmas Eve.
As the kids grew and I got tired, there was still a person I wanted to surprise when it came to getting her just the right holiday gift: my wife.
The only thing that spoils a Christmas surprise faster than actually finding the present early, is getting the bill for it in the mail.
Her • “What did you spend $915.75 on?”
Me • “Umm…a part for the lawn mower.”
Her • “From a jewelry store? In December?”
As a person gets older, there should come a point when it’s the thought rather than the surprise that counts the most. It probably would if we stopped having grandkids.
Until then, Christmas morning and the surprised look on young faces will always be what counts the most.
Robert Kirby is The Salt Lake Tribune’s humor columnist. Follow Kirby on Facebook.