A Holiday Tradition of Wonder and Surprise

Surviving Hardship with Humor
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When I think of a family tradition that would capture the essence of Christmas in our house, I would say the tradition of “wonder and surprise” … to an extreme.

It started eighteen years ago, when I was suffering from many cognitive challenges due to a brain injury I sustained earlier in the year. My short term memory deficits caused a lot of confusion and created chaos at every turn.

I would put a gift in the box and wrap it, but immediately forget what was in the box or who was to receive the gift. So I would have to unwrap the gift and start over. Next, I decided to write the name on the outside of the gift box before wrapping it. Again, once I wrapped it, I couldn’t recall the name on the box. So then, I figured out that I should write the name on the gift tag first. My attention and focus was so poor, that I would forget to attach the gift tag to the package. I wouldn’t notice that I had two tags written out, until I had wrapped the second package and found myself in a quandary of which name tag went on which gift. It was an exhausting process.

On Christmas morning there was even more confusion when family members opened their gifts. Each time they opened a gift that was definitely not meant for them, they would panic, dig through the pile of gift wrap to recheck the gift tag and find that the gift indeed had their name on it. Laughter erupted each time. That year we held a second gift exchange after opening all the packages to get the gift to the appropriate person.

To add to the confusion, when grandparents and aunts and uncles would ask me what to get my children, I didn’t realize that I had told them all the same thing. My son and daughter got duplicates of many gifts that year. After we finished opening our gifts and I could see what everyone got, it occurred to me that I had not wrapped some of the things I had purchased for them. Only I couldn’t remember where I had hidden them. I didn’t find some of the items until spring. From that year forward, I picked two places to put items that needed to be wrapped – in the laundry hamper or left them in the trunk of my car (two places that I would be sure to bump into them, but my family wouldn’t think to look).

Over the years, I have developed systems and strategies that helped me to reduce the mistakes I made. I now wait until I am completely done shopping before I wrap any gifts. I then sort them into piles and wrap one person’s gifts at a time.

Still, I tend to goof up every year. So our tradition of “wonder and surprise” continues – wondering whether any gift we open could possibly be for someone else.

After taking the ribbing for so many years, I decided it was my turn to get even. I bought each of our four children and also my husband one small gift that they did not ask for, nor wanted. Initially they assumed that I had made a mistake and asked me who they should give it to. When I told them that I had purchased it specifically for them, they got a look of pure bewilderment on their face. The laugh was on them.

My family counts on being surprised each Christmas when we open gifts – either by opening a gift that belongs to another, receiving a gag gift, or getting caught off guard by how I present their gift to them.

One year when our four children were teenagers, they were adamant that all they wanted was money. They asked that we not buy them any gifts. I wrapped only one medium size package for each of them. When they opened their package, they stared at a crisp one-dollar bill and a clue to where they could find an envelope with their name on it. Inside that envelope they found a $5 bill and another clue. To claim their entire money gift, they had to complete a scavenger hunt. At first they were annoyed. Once they figured out that each subsequent find was a larger amount, the excitement and fun took over. Each of them located a $10 bill, a $10 plus a $5, a $20 bill and the last clue led them back to our tree to locate a small knitted stocking ornament that contained a rolled up $50 bill, which had been in plain sight for a week (total $101). Each year when they hang their knitted ornament up on their tree, they recall that memory.

A situation caused by hardship has gifted us with a tradition of “wonder and surprise.” Whenever we open gifts, we wonder what surprises await us beneath the wrapping. We laugh at my blunders and celebrate each time I get it right.

P.S. As a side note, our children were 6 and 9 years of age that first difficult Christmas. They will be 24 and 27 this Christmas. My husband and I have daughters and sons the same age. We are a blended family.

SPECIAL NOTE: The Missoulian published Lois’ article in their Thanksgiving Gift Guide on November 27, 2008.

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Lois McElravy, Lessons from Lois, works with individuals and organizations who want to learn how to use the power of humor and the magic of laughter to handle the demands and pressures of work and home, adjust to constant change, deal with difficult people, cope with the unpredictable swift pace of life, product positive outcomes and have more fun.

Learning to laugh and “hangin’ on with humor” rescued Lois from the distress and despair surrounding her daily life, and initiated her recovery from a brain injury. Lois’ keynotes and trainings entertain, inspire and stimulate audiences to examine their own response to challenge and adversity. Hilarious personal stories, “Lessons from Lois” impart life-changing insights and equip participants with humor strategies and practical solutions to overcome the seriousness of their life challenges and feel happy.

Her universal message renews hope and motivates others to consistently do small things so they can achieve amazing results one day at a time.

©2012 Lois McElravy, Lessons from Lois – Permission to reprint or repost this article is granted by including the above byline and Lois’ contact information. http://www.lessonsfromlois.com