One of the hardest parts of the holidays is making sure "the surprise" remains "the surprise" on Christmas.
And when there are presents involved, there is almost a guarantee someone in your household will be hunting for them. In my family when I was growing up, it was me.
My parents would buy presents for us throughout the year. Once bought, the problem was stashing them away so none of us would find them.
One year, my parents bought all four children new bikes while they were on sale in the summer. Dad had hidden them in the machine shed's loft thinking no one would ever climb the ladder to find them.
It just so happened to be the summer I was heavily into reading Nancy Drew mysteries. I loved playing an undercover agent in hopes of unraveling a big crime. Unfortunately, I never solved a crime but I did uncover the Christmas stash.
But when I uncovered my findings at the dinner table, my mother was horrified. My dad, on the other hand, nonchalantly said the bikes were for our cousins.
Really ... for our cousins? I knew better than to push the issue otherwise there'd be a lump of coal under the Christmas tree. Later, my father took me aside, gave me his stern look and told me to say out of the loft. "Get my drift?" he said with a rather stern look. My father could just look at you … and you knew you were in trouble.
After my finding the Christmas stash, the following years my mother went to great lengths to hide our presents. Never did she hide them in the obvious places like under the bed or in closets.
Instead she hid our presents in a place that no one dared look — the freezer. It was cold and had a lock. On the farm, we had several freezers in our garage. One for vegetables, one for meat and another for pre-made fruit pies and ... all had locks on them.
It was like she took her cue from of an old CIA playbook. Using the disguise of a freezer, it seemed as though Santa had climbed out of sleigh and placed the presents under the tree right before we got home from midnight Mass. The presents were cold and all of a sudden she had my younger brother believing in the guy in the bright red suit again.
As we grew older, she used old toy boxes or used cleaning supplies or laundry as camouflage … noting if laundry or cleaning was involved, we weren't going to touch it.
Mom also engaged trickery: false labeling. It was fall of 1976 and we were done harvesting walnuts. All the old metal garbage cans we owned were filled to the brim with walnuts — except one. That was the year my mother decided to hide the Christmas stash in one of the old beat up cans. Luckily for my father, he peeked inside the garbage can before dumping it into the grinder to remove the walnuts’ husks.
Suffice to say, the following year all the presents were put under the tree. Mom was done worrying about where to hide presents while Dad no longer was feeling the heat nor would he be lectured about being the Grinch who ruined Christmas.