Childhood Christmas Memory: Dad’s Big Surprise

Here’s one of my favorite childhood Christmas memories.

We had finished all preparations for Christmas Day: a decorated house, a trimmed tree, a Nativity scene, and a plate of cookies for Santa. The only thing left was a good night’s sleep with dreams of what we might find under the tree.

There were three bedrooms in our house: one for Mom and Dad, one for the three boys, and one for the three girls. Mom and Dad’s room was closest to the living room; then came the boys’ room; and finally, the girls’ room was in the back.

It was not easy for six Christmas-giddy kids to do, but when Mom yelled that it was time for bed, we obeyed.

Dad had given us strict orders not to come out of our rooms until morning. “No peeking!” at what Santa Claus left under the tree. Dad planned for us to share our excitement on Christmas Day.

We tried our best to fall asleep, but it was not to be.

It was Meeting Time.

My sister Lynne tapped the code on the wall that we shared with our brothers. The boys slipped into our bedroom, and we came up with the plan: Lynne would wake us after Mom and Dad had fallen asleep, we would meet in the hallway, and then sneak into the living room to see our presents.

Yeah! Let’s do it!

But we have to be so-o-o quiet. 

Dad’s gonna be really mad if he finds out.


And so we were. 

The sounds of Mom and Dad finishing up their evening seemed to last forever as we struggled to stay awake. Finally, there was quiet, enough so that I fell asleep.

But Lynne kept the vigil, and soon she shook me awake. Then I heard the tapping.

It was time.

Usually, we were quick to obey the Voice of Dad as we knew the consequences were not pleasant. But not that night. We were on a Christmas Eve mission, and even Dad’s wrath was not going to deter us.

We left our bedrooms, stealth and steady. The hallway to the living room was unlit, but that wasn’t a problem. We could walk through that house with our eyes closed. Nothing would stop us from seeing those presents waiting for us just a few steps away.

Quiet, quiet. 


Watch out!



Stop talking!

The six of us tiptoed up the hall, past Mom and Dad’s bedroom door, moved closer and closer to the living room entrance, soon to behold the treasures for which we yearned, and …


We had walked into a pile of stacked chairs.

We stumbled, screamed, turned around, and ran back to our bedrooms. In shock. Under the covers. Praying Dad wouldn’t bring the belt.

But my parents did not come. Once again, it was all quiet in the house.

When morning came, Dad carried on as if nothing had happened. We learned later that the chair stacking was his idea.

How did they know? What did we say on Christmas Eve that made them suspicious enough to set a trap for us before they went to bed? And how did they miraculously set up the chairs without us hearing them? I laugh every time I imagine their conversation and movements that night, working as a team to make a “Gotcha!” for their kids.

I am sure that my siblings will agree that Dad’s Big Surprise is our number one childhood Christmas memory. Several years ago, I wrote stories detailing my personal Top 10 childhood Christmas memories and shared them as a countdown before Christmas Day. The titles will give you an idea of how much fun we had at Christmas during the early years — taking hold of that joy in the household while it lasted.

  • No. 1: Making the Nativity Scene
  • No. 2: Dad’s Big Surprise
  • No. 3: The Gift of Music
  • No. 4: Mom’s Christmas Decorations
  • No. 5: Lynne Leading the Choir
  • No. 6: Norman and the Dart Gun
  • No. 7: Watching Christmas TV Specials
  • No. 8: Seeing Santa’s Sleigh
  • No. 9: Milk and Cookies for Santa
  • No. 10: Caroling on State Street in a Pickup Truck

Do you have a favorite childhood Christmas memory? Share it in the comments!

8 thoughts

  1. Darla,
    I loved your Christmas story. I wish I had a good memory like you to remember things like this. Perhaps it’s because there’s so much crammed in my head and I can’t sort those memories and pull them from the bottom of the pile.

    Like you I had a big family (I was #7 of 7 kids) and remember our “Sibling Packs” to do this or that with out mom and dad finding out. (I will say we all got our share of the belt from dad. He lost so many belts through the years because we were constantly hiding them from him. When we moved from the Mesa we found lots of belts hidden, lol) Yes, I remembered our Sibling brotherhood and Packs while reading your story.
    Thank you again for sharing and also for giving me Helda’s info.

    Your Pal,
    Irma Aguirre Mera


  2. I was a bit skeptical about Santa when I was 4. There were too many of them all over my city. I fell asleep on the sofa Christmas Eve, and woke up to my dad swearing at my new toy stove that came missing some parts. The next morning dad told me he would take the stove back to Santa’s workshop, but I also knew all about Santa-he was my parents who worked so hard to give me a nice holiday. I kept my thoughts to myself until I was older and I didn’t spoil Santa for my sister.


    • I had my doubts about Santa,too, at that time. But when I saw the bite taken out of the cookie in the morning, there was the evidence! My parents didn’t have money for gifts, and we learned later that kind people and charitable organizations in our city were the givers. We also got gifts from our grandmother.


  3. What a clever trap. lol Fun memory too. ^_^

    A favorite memory of mine was getting to go over to my Grandma Jane’s house on Christmas Eve to be with extended family for the evening. I was really young and it was crowded so I got to sit on my Grandad’s lap and he would use his magnifying glass to show me all the little dots in the newspaper’s pictures. I still treasure that memory.


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