• Rich Engelbrecht

Christmas presents


Depending on your place in the child hierarchy; oldest, middle, youngest, only, or one of bunch, Christmas and Christmas presents are seen and experienced differently. Being the oldest of three, a sister, 3 years younger, and a brother 7 years younger, it was up to me to “educate” them about asking for, and getting what we wanted under the tree. Were we selfish? In hind sight, yes, but with 3 children under 10, with all the excitement, build-up and store displays, it was almost impossible not to get a little greedy.

I kinda guessed, when my brother came along, that the Stork story was not reality, and in my 7-year old mind it brought suspicion onto the other holiday stories, like the Easter bunny, the Tooth Fairy, and yes, even Santa. But I couldn’t prove it and not really being sure, I hedged my bets and wrote my note to Santa each year, sat on his lap at the mall and told him all my secret wants, and put cookies and milk [with a Scotch chaser for some unfathomable reason] out on Christmas eve.

In the early 60’s it was a time before internet or cell phones. Mass communications was limited to 3 television channels in black and white. Christmas catalogs would clog the mailbox [well that part hasn’t changed much]. In the weeks leading up to Christmas the Sears toy catalog would get worn out, marked up, drooled over, and endlessly discussed. Our lists were created, and then recreated when we saw something new on TV. With all the excitement of the season, we would share our lists with friends, and well, pretty much anybody that would listen to us.

When I was eight, I accidentally found where my parents “hid” the Christmas presents to be. That year and the next held no surprises under the tree and seemed to confirm my suspicions of Santa.

In 1965 I turned 10. That year I discovered James Bond, both in Ian Fleming’s books and the movies. It was the first “grown up” movie I was allowed to see. I became a bit obsessed with Bond. That year, one of the hot toys was a James Bond briefcase. It was a hard plastic briefcase containing a plastic bullet-firing Lugar gun & attachments to turn it into a sniper rifle; hidden dagger, 'Code-a-Matic' machine & code book, wallet w/ passport, 6 business cards, a stack of play money and the case featured a combination lock that would "Explode," setting off a paper cap if the wrong combination was entered. The inner bullet-firing mechanism was able to fire plastic bullets from one side of case. A real boy toy.

I wanted one. I really wanted one. In the days leading up to Christmas I found all the presents in their secret hiding spots, and it wasn’t there. Christmas Eve and one last look, still no case and I was heartbroken.

Christmas Eve was spent at my grandparent’s home, with lots of relatives but us three were the only children and we were bored. I was sulking about not getting the only toy I really wanted and just generally being miserable, as only a 10-year can be.

My aunt came to me and pulled me into the living room where the tree was being decorated by all. I was told to listen. Over and above the talking I started to hear bells from outside. My sister and brother were jumping up and down yelling Santa, Santa. I thought I knew better, until there was a thump on the roof. Then more bells and I could hear something walking up there. Then silence. The doorbell rang, and there in the door was Santa, full beard, red suit and all. In hindsight, he looked suspiciously like my Uncle Harold, but at that instant he was Santa.

In he walks, bigger than life, and he has a bag that looks like it’s full of boxes. He has something for everyone, but he hasn’t given anything to me! I started to think that I was invisible and that because I didn’t think he was real that I wasn’t going to be included.

He does finally turn to me and says “Merry Christmas young man” and winks. He turns to his bag and comments, almost to himself, “Oh look, there is one more box in here”. He presents me with the box and tells me again, “Merry Christmas”.

I turn to open it and joy upon joy, it is the briefcase! I turn back and he’s gone. From that point I believed in Santa, & Christmas; my doubts disappear.

That toy and I went on to terrorize my siblings, my cousins, and my friends for months to come, and remains the first toy that also taught me a lesson. It has stayed with me my whole life and when it came time for my own children to begin to question Christmas, my words to them and to all the children in my life are:

Just remember, Santa brings what you want [toys], parents give you what you need [clothes].