What would you give to experience the wonder of a Christmas unknown? Perhaps, that requires clarification: I’ll back it up five steps, for you…

As a parent, you have wrapped all of the gifts under the tree, you know what everyone will receive, and—in certain family circles—possibly perpetuated the Santa Claus mythology. Ho, ho, ho! The tally of dedicated preparation hours, spent shopping and wrapping gifts, registers in hundreds of marks. You’ve made financial sacrifices to make ends meet, while saving (or splurging irresponsibly) to purchase the perfect set of gifts for your family. You’ve done your job, now you simply wait to see the expression of joy on your child’s face.

As a kid, you experience all of the same gifts under the tree, although you have no idea of the contents, masked behind thin sheets of wrapping paper, ribbons, and bows. Books, movies, games, sweaters—perhaps the inevitable dreaded socks and underwear—or any other unthinkable gift could lie dormant, under the tree, waiting for morning, waiting for you. The gifts, selected by your parents, should be wonderful—or, at least, that’s what you wish and hope for. The excitement and anticipation are palpable. Were you able to sleep at all, last night, dear child?

And that’s the wonder of a Christmas unknown—something of which parents barely recall from their own youth.

That exact moment of joyful apprehension is a feeling that should be bottled, marketed, and sold to salt-n-peppered parents, like me, who need a boost of that magical and special sensation. To an extent, a similar happiness can be experienced from watching your own children relish in the process of unwrapping Christmas presents.

One of the most glorious messes in the world is the mess created in the living room on Christmas day. Don’t clean it up too quickly. ~ Andy Rooney

Shortly before 8:00am, I awake to a beautiful Christmas morning, visible beyond the frosty pane of window glass. A light snow has fallen overnight, and this is the first occurrence of a White Christmas that I can remember in the last decade. My pre-gift unwrapping responsibilities include: find the digital camera for capturing the events of the next hour, flip the light switch to the Christmas tree, and wake the children.

With a late evening preceding, three out of three kids are slow to adopt their designated starting line: the stairway between the bedroom level and the living area. Eventually, they all make their mark. Racers ready: 3, 2, 1, go!

There is an organization to the chaos, of that I’m grateful, and each child takes turns, unwrapping their gifts. The process of one person opening a gift, while the other four watch, represents our preferred method of Christmas-present-opening-and-revealing. It is almost as if each person in the room gets to enjoy the anticipation and excitement of each individual gift. From a parental perspective, this also draws out the unwrapping process, justifying all of the time and effort that you placed into the gift-buying and gift-wrapping processes. I am giving two-thumbs up for that philosophy.

My son, the focus of today’s narrative, has reserved two gifts—one is the largest box in his stack of gifts—to open last. I think he knows of the contents thereof, but I also hope that he doesn’t know with certainly. As children age, get older, refine their preferences and interests, their list of demands (or perhaps desires is a better word) shrinks proportionally. In fact, his Christmas wishlist consisted of exactly one big-ticket item: a virtual reality headset for the PlayStation gaming platform.

And if I jumped right into the gift reveal, in this precise moment of narration, that would destroy the heightened level of anticipation. So, first, join me for a trip in my own Wayback Machine of Christmases Past.

Scrooge: “Who, and what are you?”
Ghost: “I am the Ghost of Christmas Past.”
Scrooge: “Long Past?”
Ghost: “No. Your past.”

I’ve already established—in previous stories where life experiences are more like feelings, rather than specific facts—that my memories aren’t tack-sharp, and the following recollection will adopt the same pattern. In my best guess, the year would have been close to that of 1984—give or take one. My big-ticket wishlist item for the year was the Lego Castle—a huge conglomeration of yellow bricks, knights, and swords—as Legos were my creative tools, an artistic canvas for my imagination, the place to foster ideas, dreams, and hopes. Even though my parents would never be able to afford the steep price tag, I had faith in Santa Claus—yes, I still believed in the Big Fat Man, beyond ten or eleven or twelve (stop judging me!).

With a bucket of Lego, you can tell any story. You can build an airplane or a dragon or a pirate ship – it’s whatever you can imagine. ~ Christopher Miller

For that particular year, the set of French doors located at the bottom of the main stairs leading into the living room, blocked by the Christmas tree, remained closed for the Christmas season. The foot traffic detour wasn’t a problem, and for eager boys, my brother and I ripped through the lower floor, circling around the kitchen and dining room, and entered the opposite double glass doors, into our Christmas-drenched morning. The rest of the recall is fuzzy, and I couldn’t tell you anything that I received, except for the feeling of sadness when I couldn’t locate, unwrap, or enjoy the Lego Castle—my yellow Lego Castle.

At some point, whether on my own accord or prompted by a parent, I noticed that one wrapped gift was wedged between the tree and the closed doorway. To my delight, the present was addressed to me, from Santa. The size and shape of the box were are positive potential match for my Lego Castle fantasy world. Needless to say, that’s exactly what was inside the box. I was so delighted, and if there were ever a moment from my childhood that my parents could/would/should have photographed or filmed, I would choose that specific memory to relive, over and over, even as an adult.

And that’s the wonder of a Christmas unknown—something of which parents barely recall from their own youth.

He has saved the last two gifts from his initial bounty. My son carefully unwraps the box, and it doesn’t take much to expose the prominent blue packaging of the PlayStation product. The virtual reality headset, components, and game is exactly what he requested for Christmas. His final gift is a second virtual reality game for the system, which obviously couldn’t be unwrapped before the system itself.

As a parent, my joy is derived two-fold: 1) from the expression of surprise, joy, and amazement on his face, 2) from my ability to purchase an expensive gift, such as this, for him. While this story focuses on his gifts, my daughters also experience a wonderful Christmas, each receiving the majority of items that they also requested, as well as some that they did not ask for, like a new basketball hoop for future Summer driveway antics.

This was a good year—and in more ways than just today alone—for giving them gifts, and that makes me really happy as well—sometimes, that’s good enough; sometimes, that’s got to be good enough.