By Margie Bailey Rose
Father number three was Christmas crazy, or maybe present crazy better described him. He talked very little about his own childhood Christmases, but they must have been lean because he was determined that our children would have every gift they ever wanted. I noticed he also bought toys for them they didn't ask for, and I suspected they might have been toys he wanted, but didn't get, when he was a child. I did my best to manipulate the kids into asking for reasonable things– no pony or monkeys, please, but it always got away from me.
Our family Santa started Christmas shopping in October and really got going in November and December. He stashed gifts at friend's houses, at work, in our garage, and in our bedroom. He put bolts and locks on the garage and bedroom and still the sneaky kids seemed to know what most of the presents were before they were unwrapped. Friends were getting tired of his late night gift drop-offs, and I had enough of carrying a key to get into my own bedroom. I devised a numbering system allowing all of the booty to be stashed in plain sight.
We double wrapped each gift and put a number on it rather than a name. Even if the kids found a present and figured out what it was, they didn't know whom it was for. To keep at least one step ahead, I used three different numbers for each child and changed them around in succeeding years. The system worked so well I outsmarted myself one year, and my first daughter got a present intended for the my third son. (Lucky for me she was a tomboy and didn't notice the mix-up.)
Santa Daddy rushed the kids to bed each Christmas Eve and spent several hours arranging presents around the house. The kids knew the routine and never got up for a drink, or to go to the bathroom, without calling out and covering their eyes. I was the only one who thought the whole thing ridiculous– kids and Santa loved it.
When my oldest was seventeen and youngest not quite two, the children opened gifts until they were exhausted and finally asked if they could take a break to have breakfast. Only Dad was reluctant to quit. He had developed a ritual with strict rules around gift opening and loved every minute of it. Everyone took turns choosing a gift and opening it– youngest first and on up through the ages. Each gift was opened, admired by all, the giver was thanked (Santa's favorite part) and the gift was placed in the area of the living room set aside for that child. You can see why it took hours to get through a house full of gifts.
I feared the overabundance of presents would make my children materialistic and want more and more each year, but it didn't work that way. They look back on those years and laugh, trying to outdo each other with stories about the year they all got TVs or the year of the Cabbage Patch dolls when shoppers were mugging each other, and I told them there would be none for us. As usual Santa came through, and there was a whole family of Cabbage Patch dolls under our tree. Great memories for them, but oddly enough, they don't smother their kids with presents. My brood believes that spending time with their children, and planning fun things to do together, is far more important than the latest plastic toy. They buy their children practical things like clothes and educational toys and games– just the sort of gifts I would have given them– if I'd had the chance.
I fear that old going-around coming-around thing will happen, and our next generation will turn into Santa Daddies like Grandfather number three because they didn't get tons of gifts. Where will it end?