The presents sit huddled under the tree. The bright colorful lights glitter off the kaleidoscope of wrapping and packaging. Their diversity unified in their taunting, driving curiosity. I sit on the floor, bare of carpet and pad, imagining what they are hiding. Christmas always drives my impatience over the edge. I take opportunities to peek at poorly hidden presents, but this year there are no hidden gifts, instead there is a teddy bear clutching at a small velvet jewelry box. The bear smiles at me whenever I am alone with him. My mother is in the kitchen at the other end of the house baking something. She is making enough noise to inform me that she won’t be back to check up on me anytime soon. I have already read all the labels on each package and checked for new arrivals. There is nothing left to do but to imagine what might be in each one. I carefully lift a package with my name on it and slowly tilt it to one side and then the other feeling for a shift inside the box. There is none. It is light – probably clothes. Another box is heavier and smaller. The contents shift heavily and solidly. Books? The teddy bear smiles at me some more. I get up and leave the room figuring I would see what Mom is making. Maybe I could help. Or, maybe I should make my dad’s Christmas bread. I need something to distract me from the teddy bear. His taunts are too strong for me to remain in front of the tree. I don’t get jewelry very often, and that is the only thing I can imagine being in that little velvet box. At sixteen, jewelry is probably the most coveted gift I can hope for.
It doesn’t take long before I return. I can neither remain in the room alone with Teddy Bear nor stay away too long. It won’t be long before he tempts me beyond restraint. I want the surprise, but I want to know. Many trips are made to the front of the tree and away again. Teddy Bear is practically laughing at me now. He knows that I am weak; he knows that it won’t be long now. Three more long days remain before Christmas. I have everything made, purchased, and wrapped. I have nothing left to keep me busy besides the daily preparations that take so little of my time. I can no longer read without images of the unified ranks of packages led by Teddy Bear dancing in my vision. All concentration is lost. Outside it is near zero and the snow is frozen solid. I wish I could be out in the snow building something or on the pond ice skating, but the air freezes my lungs and stiffens my fingers. I cannot stay out long. Hours drag by, and I am wearing a path down the hall viewing the tree and its soldiers only to tear myself away trying to find something else to pass my time. The trips away are shorter. Teddy Bear knows I will not be able to hold out until Christmas and is taking bets on when I will break. His smile is becoming wicked.
Christmas Eve as I sit before the tree the first break in my resolve shines through. I am picking the presents up again. I have no control, I am even picking up everyone else’s presents trying to discern what they hold. Picking up Teddy Bear, the box slips out of his grasp. He did it on purpose, knowing that there is little left to keep me from opening the box. There is no tape or latch to hold me back. I can open the box and no one would ever be able to tell. Slowly, I push the lid partly up. I freeze. I panic and shove the box back into Teddy Bear’s arms, but I hold him a bit longer. He is so cruel yet so snuggly. He drops the box again. How can I resist that? It is like he is telling me to do it. I sit next to the tree with Teddy Bear in my lap holding the box in both my hands listening to figure out where my mom is. The sound of pots being moved around tells me that she is once again busy in the kitchen and would be occupied for a while. I lift the box up level to my eyes. Maybe I won’t have to open it all the way if I can just sneak a peek. Slowly the lid lifts; I cannot see anything, and I lift it more. The spring engages and the box pops the rest of the way open. Sitting on their little cardboard insert is a beautiful pair of 14 carat gold, leaf pierced earrings. I am giddy with excitement. My first pair of pierced earrings. I do a little happy dance in my mind as I close the box and slip it back into Teddy Bear’s arms and place him back into the ranks under the tree.
I try to hide my excitement and remember the feeling so I can recreate it the next day when I am actually given the present. I slip away from the tree and into my room and pick up a book to read knowing that I wouldn’t get very far. Sitting on my bed holding the book, I dream about getting my ears pierced. The excitement drives me back to the tree. Teddy Bear sits quietly smiling. He laughs as I pick him up again and drops the box, so I will have to handle it. I can’t resist opening it and sit staring at my earrings. He knows that I have broken; I will no longer be able to resist messing with the rest of the presents. He is practically demanding that I try to open some more. I pick up a present I cannot figure out. It is a solid rectangle. I pull lightly at the tape. It pulls off easily without tearing the wrapping. If I can only get the one end opened, I would have an idea of what is in the box. I listen again and feel safe to continue. The box is a shoe box. That could mean anything. Disappointment kicks in, and I feel the need to look at something else to ease my curiosity.
I sit back and survey the packages. Teddy Bear leers at me. I know that he wants me to continue. I pick up another box and feel the lightness in my hands as if the box is full of air. That would be no good; I would have to open it all the way to see what was in the actual box. I pick up a small package maybe it is make up. I repeat the earlier process and get a glimpse at the packaging. I am right. I feel powerful and Teddy Bear knows it. His grin grows. I pick up another box not bothering to see whose it is. I just have to see it. Over the next few hours, I open packages not caring who they belong to; I am possessed by the knowledge and have to keep going until I have peeked at all the presents and Teddy Bear is content. He has done his job; I know almost all of what is under the tree.
When Christmas morning rolls around, I am not jumping out of bed at daybreak. I snuggle into the covers until I hear someone moving about. I have lost the excitement. Christmas is just another day; I know most of what I am going to receive, and there are few surprises. The family gathers under the tree looking at what is in our stockings and what Santa has brought. Then Dad starts passing the presents out for each of us to open. I act surprised and pleased, but inside I am failing miserably. The Christmas feeling has left me. I am empty. Yes, I am pleased with the gifts, but I knew almost everything I was getting, and that seemed to ruin things. Teddy Bear sits in my pile smiling smugly. He knows what he has done and is proud of it. He has taught me a valuable lesson on patience and surprise. After that year, I no longer sneak peeks at my gifts and let my family enjoy my surprise and pleasure with me as I open the gifts. It is a lot more satisfying that way.