Wednesday, December 7, 2011

The best gift ever

After a little reprieve down memory lane, there’s a wee bit of holiday tradition that needs to be shared.

In our family, my mum was the keeper of mirth. Christmas, while not traditionally celebrated in Japan, was no different occasion to incur such mirth.

The unwrapping of presents began like any other household – gathered around the tree waiting for your name to be read on the tag. However, after a couple of gifts, there ultimately would be unnamed gifts, ones who were left unlabeled accidentally. We would at least open one gift that belonged to another.

Then the odd request would be spoken… “Hey Pat, why don’t you get the shaving cream for me?” That would mean my brother would have to go to my parents’ bathroom and under the shaving cream cap would be a hidden bill. Usually ones but often fives and occasionally a ten, my parents would hide money throughout the house. My mischievous brother would take forever getting back because he was hunting all other potential hiding spots, cheating to get more cash. Once a couple more presents were opened, another odd request would be asked, each child taking turns to find hidden cash. What never failed was my parents would forget all of the hiding places. Sometimes throughout the year a lucky recipient would find a forgotten bill hidden behind a frame or tucked under a doily.

This tradition evolved as we got older and had kids of our own. It was still done at my parents’ house but there was no ulterior goal; it was all about finding money. They would corral us in a bedroom with the door closed and hide money throughout specified rooms – usually the front room and the kitchen. Once it was all complete, they would unleash us to the wilds. The first year, it was a free for all, fend for yourself chaos. My brother would usually park himself at the door and tear down the hall to be the first in the room. My memory recalls flying couch cushions, rug burns from diving towards dropped cash and utter mayhem. Plus a lot of screaming and laughing and boos for missing a hiding spot.

After that tornado experience, they changed tactics. After hiding the money, they would drag each person to a different starting spot around the rooms. This was beneficial to the little ones but never stopped my brother from tearing through on his mission to find the most cash. Even quiet ones quickly got into the spirit and cheered when a bill was found.

Over the years we've had variations of the cash hide-n-seek. During a summer gathering, my mum and I stuffed bills into balloons and strung them across the living room. After being blindfolded, the person had one chance to pop a balloon with a needle taped on the end of a stick. During a highly stressful time in publishing, my boss and I hid money throughout the workspace to create a breather in the deadline. We made the caveat that once someone found 3 bills regardless of the denomination they had to stop searching. At one point there was a remaining bill tucked in the acoustic ceiling tile in the kitchen. As I directed the seekers that they were getting warm, one person spotted the lone bill. The table had to be climbed on to reach the bill but it was not stable for 5 people to jump on at once. We did break the table but the relief from the stress was worth it.

Our first Christmas without mum didn't change the tradition, though we missed hearing her rich laughter and gasps at what we wouldn't do to find money. Pops took a huge stack of two dollar bills to be found. Even at the end of a sweaty side splitting time, all of the bills weren't found. I do believe one of the last bills was found over the summer tucked away under a rug.

The great memories were started, though, when the air was cold and the scent of Christmas was in the air. It was one of the many unique traditions in our family but by far was the one chock full of laughs, screams and hilarity.