From Chicken Soup for the Sister's Soul

An Untraditional Holiday Tale

More than Santa Claus, your sister knows when you’ve been bad or good.

Linda Sunshine

As kids, my sister and I were enemies. Three years my junior, Wendy would borrow my clothes and leave them scattered on the floor. We’d fight about who got to use the bathroom first and how much hot water was left. At times, we’d be locked in hair-pulling brawls.

As we grew up, dislike turned into tolerance, acceptance and then friendship. Today, she’s not only my best friend but also my partner in crime as we try to undo the nutty traditions my parents won’t give up. There’s one in particular we’ve tried to buck; each year we’re unsuccessful.

For more years than I can remember, Wendy and I have read The Night Before Christmas aloud to our family on Christmas Eve. The routine repeats itself each year.

After midnight church service on Christmas Eve, Wendy and I are instructed to go upstairs, where we find new pajamas. Then, clad in our new duds, we scamper downstairs for a late-night snack of homemade cookies and wine, sit on the fireplace, and read from the book that belonged to my grandmother.

Wendy’s twenty-seven; I’m three years older. We’re still reading the story. In fact, we’re still receiving new pajamas, although Victoria’s Secret has replaced the OshKosh.

Every year, we vow to quit reading. When we tell my parents we’re too old for this, they laugh. “Santa Claus won’t come tonight if there’s no reading,” my mom says. She’s not kidding.

Santa still leaves us presents in exchange for milk and cookies, although the milk’s long since been replaced by beer. In fact, the Easter Bunny still hides our baskets, but that’s another story.

Admittedly, Wendy and I have sunk so low as to make our reading obnoxious, hoping this would force us out of this yearly duty. One year, we read in country twang. The next year, we read one word at a time, slowly. Another year, we read as fast as we could. Our family calls the variety cute and won’t consider ending the tradition.

So Wendy and I decided to get even. Seven years ago, we planned our first revenge.

We were giving my parents a grill, and rather than just give it to them, we wanted them to work for it, punishment for those years of reading.

When my parents opened their present that year, they found a riddle. Solve the riddle and they’d find another clue leading them closer to their present. Thirty minutes later, after running around the house, they located the grill on the porch.

We still had to read the next year. So we got meaner.

We filled a box the size of a mattress with Styrofoam peanuts. Inside three peanuts, we stuck a rolled-up message that directed my parents to their present. Luck struck, unfortunately, for after fifteen minutes of searching, my dad located a coded peanut.

A year later, we employed intellect for our payback scheme.

The box my parents opened contained a booby-trapped Twister board. To find their present, my parents had to make it to one corner of the board. Getting there required successfully passing through a maze of challenges. After completing each challenge, my parents could move to the next spot.

Wendy and I spent a day putting the maze together, but it was worth it. On Christmas morning, my parents sang “Jingle Bells” with their noses plugged, kissed our two cats (which you couldn’t have paid them enough to do ordinarily), stood on their heads, and yes, read The Night Before Christmas.

We weren’t excused from our duty.

Wendy and I have since made my parents play our version of “Let’s Make a Deal.” They traded away everything except a bag of kitty litter. Two hours later, when Santa called to say there’d been a technical error, my parents found a new television.

The next Christmas, we put together a huge jigsaw puzzle, scribbled their present on the back (a trip to San Francisco), disbanded the puzzle, and then watched them spend the next several hours putting it together. The following year, they had to complete a list of crazy activities before they received a map, which directed them to their presents. In our pajamas, we piled into the car and drove to a friend’s house where we’d stashed their gifts.

Last year, they played our version of Who Wants to Win Their Christmas Present, modeled after Who Wants to Be a Millionaire. Our rules were different, though: Goof up and they had to perform certain activities before they could play again. So they ran around the outside of the house in their bathrobes, clenched my dog’s pig-ear treat between their teeth, and did twenty push-ups on the floor.

Our plan for revenge has obviously backfired. My parents enjoy their payback so much—they even look forward to it—that our goofy way of giving gifts has now become a tradition of its own.

That means Wendy and I will be stuck reading The Night Before Christmas forever. If only the story would change. But it doesn’t, and maybe that’s the point. As much as I hate to admit it, I would never trade the reading for the hours I spend with my sister planning new, zany ways to give my parents their Christmas present.

At least Wendy and I will never have to shop for pj’s again.

Karen Asp

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