Everybody Has a Story: On the 12 days of Christmas, family gave nightly perplexity

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During a visit to our daughter, Cheri, and her family in Vancouver one December, we were introduced to the practice of giving the “12 Days of Christmas” to a friend’s family.

The idea is to choose a family and to surprise them on each of the 12 days with an ornament or small toy depicting a partridge, geese, dancers, golden rings, or some such gift item from the song. Our daughter wrote a short poem to go with each gift. This usually added to the fun and the mystery.

The items were delivered late at night to their friend’s doorstep or other suitable place to protect it from the often-inclement weather. We parked several houses away and made sure that the house lights were out so as to not get caught making the delivery. We went with them several nights on a drive of several miles, after 11 p.m., in the cold, to make the deliveries. On the last day, the gift was delivered in person.

When we moved to a small village in Ohio after retirement, we decided to try this ourselves. We chose a family from our church, a couple with two daughters, who lived a few miles down a country road from us. We shopped in many places before we found all of the 12 items needed.

My wife, Ferrel, wrote the poems and we had fun wrapping the gifts and planning our strategy for delivery. We made many trips down the road to their house, only to find that they were at home but not yet in bed. We would drive on, find a place to turn around and drive back home hoping that they were not looking out the window and wondering what we were doing. On one occasion, we had to make the secret delivery to their pew in church. It was fun to see their surprise that day and to hear their talk of getting the gifts. Our reward came when we delivered that last gift and heard how much they enjoyed receiving the surprises each day.

Several years later, we chose a good friend who had recently lost her husband. She lived just a block away, so we thought the deliveries would be easier. They were closer, but not easier. It was cold that Christmas season, with several inches of snow on the ground for weeks. LaDonna would sit in her kitchen in the evening and watch television. I would walk down the alley behind her house to see if her light was still on. If it was out, I would leave the gift between the screen door and the kitchen door. Many times she would be up later than usual, and I had to make numerous trips before being able to leave the gift.

Again, our reward was on the last day when she had tears in her eyes as she thanked us for making her feel very special.

Our third venture was with a couple and their precocious red-haired daughter, Brenedine, who was about 5. They lived in the village, about four blocks from our house. It was fun knowing how much the daughter would get involved with the gifts and the guessing. I would drive to an intersection just beyond their house and park, making sure that no one was up and watching. They had a porch, and I had to be careful where I stepped so as not to make noise. Some of the nights were cold and snowy, and on one there was a light rain. That night, we put the gift in a big brown paper bag with a bow, and hoped it would not get too soaked.

The family was very surprised on the last night and we enjoyed Brenedine’s stories of how much fun she had with the gifts and trying to guess where they came from.

We thought it would be exciting for us, and perplexing to Homer, the town grouch, to give him the 12 days. It would be fun to see if he mentioned the presents when we gathered in the Post Office each day to pick up our mail. Or, if he took his complaint about trespassing to the village council. He was always complaining about something. We decided against it for several reasons. The first and most important was that he had confronted a former renter of his with a loaded shotgun. It was also rumored that he carried a small pistol in his boot.

We concluded it was not worth the risk to spread the Christmas Spirit that far. Other than that, whenever I hear the song or see an ornament that would make a good gift, I recall the joy it gave us to share “The Twelve Days of Christmas.”

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