When it comes to surprises at Christmas time, there is a very fine line between that deep longing to know what you're getting for Christmas and not really wanting to know ahead of time. My youngest sister as a little girl caught a glimpse of her 'main' present one year when shopping bags were being brought in from the car. She knew it was her gift and remembers, to this day, that was the worst Christmas ever because the surprise was ruined.
We've probably heard those stories of children who have opened up their presents ahead of time and then realized their impulsive, impatient action spoiled the rest of Christmas for them. Maybe you were one of them; as for me, I was not, but it wasn't for yearning to know too. I was a snoopy kid and was known growing up as the child who invariably had her head under the tree, sizing up the presents that began slowly appearing days before Christmas. And, oh yes, my little sister and I remember searching the house over some years for hidden presents. But, there was something different from finding the hiding place to actually opening the parcels and bags to peek in. We would stop just short of finding out.
My aunt from Vancouver used to send parcels for us in December. Of course, when they arrived Mom would not let us see the presents, no matter how we contrived to sneak peeks over her shoulder. Thankfully, she recognized the value of the surprise and they'd be whisked out of sight before you could blink, wink or nod. And, even though we groaned, secretly we knew deep down inside we didn't really want to know. But there was something exquisite about the anticipating as we pondered the thrilling possibilities of what arrived all the way from Vancouver.
Then there was the time when little sis and I were up to no good one day shortly before Christmas. I wonder, did we plan ahead or just take advantage of the situation? With Mom gone into town, probably for last minute grocery shopping, and Dad perhaps outside working in the barn, we had free range in the empty house, and, yes, we took advantage of it.
We decided where we should start first, upstairs in the cold rooms where no one slept, in the stairwell where chocolates and fudge candies were 'secretly' nestled in paper bags. We were always told not to go in there, that was for Christmas, but with no one to know any different, we opened paper bags, sniffed the sweetness that drifted out, and then closed them as carefully as we opened them. We never ate one ahead of time (that just seemed too disobedient for that time of year ... or maybe our memory fudges on us). Remembering what we were scouting for, we'd carry on looking for presents that might be squirreled high up in closets or under beds, behind doors, maybe even down in the basement.
Ah, that year we found the stash in Mom's bedroom closet. Behind the winter coats, and up on the shelf above the rack. Oh rats, we'd need to haul in a chair now. Carefully, carefully, we didn't want to get caught in case Dad came in, we examined the already-wrapped presents hoping for a clue of which one belonged to who. We shook and gently squeezed, longing so much to know the contents but in the end holding back, because deep down we didn't want the surprise ruined. That would have been awful. So we put the packages back where we found them. Closed the closet door. Put the chair back and tried to look all innocent and calm when Mom came home, all the while wishing Christmas could hurry up already.
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What is it about the surprises at Christmas that makes a person remember those trembling moments with joy and delight? I believe the 'thing' that makes Christmas so special is that we are actually wired to like surprises. Yes, according to research of the brain, we now know that our brains are created to enjoy new things to learn, discover, experience. It's good for us.
Someone tells us, Close your eyes, I have a surprise for you, and we obediently close our eyes, smiling, maybe even feeling a little giddy at what it could be. And, when someone unexpectedly sends us flowers or gives us a box of our favourite chocolate, we do love the surprise of it, don't we? It's not the same buying it for ourselves, for the element of surprise makes our brains happy. According to one article on Splinter, a news and opinion site, "being surprised activates the pleasure centers in our brain and gives us a nice shot of dopamine, which makes experiences more enjoyable." In the article, Science explains why surprise brings us pleasure, author Taryn Hillin goes on to say, "Studies have shown that surprise is your brain's way of alerting you to pay attention, which in turn activates curiosity, excitement, and wonder."
We don't have to wonder anymore why people like surprises -- we've been designed that way and Christmas is such a perfect time of year to take advantage of it. There is something wonderful about packages under the Christmas tree. I think most of us love to prepare these surprises, taking great care to hide them away, whispering and whisking packages out of sight. Waiting for the moment when the surprise is opened and eyes light up. We all wait for that moment, both as givers and as receivers. We tend to do all we can to ensure all remains a secret until that last moment when ribbons and tissue fall away and the item is beheld in all its splendour.
"There is no surprise more magical
than the surprise of being loved:
It is God's finger on man's shoulder."
~ Charles Morgan, 1894 - 1958,
English playwright and novelist
And that, my beautiful friends, is what what every gift we give and receive is about. Every time we receive a gift of any kind it comes with the surprise that we are loved. For, even when we know we are loved, at some level it still ministers to some deep longing or need to hear it again: You I notice, You I cherish.
Here's wishing you surprises in unexpected places this holiday season,