Tuesday, January 11, 2011

A Christmas Puzzle

Many years ago when we were small, my mother’s side of the family brought together the “boys” (my aunt and uncle’s two sons) and the “girls” (my sister and me) for Christmases and Easters. We have since grown, Christmas has moved to January, the location in Arizona, and the kid’s table comes complete with filled wine glasses. It’s been a long time since any of us believed in Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny. Yet somehow a certain tradition of making us work for our holiday inheritance has lived on.

Easter morning always arrived with a certain sense of foreboding for such a joyous celebration. A basket of colored eggs, chocolate bunnies, Peeps and jelly beans decorated the dining room table, but that was strictly off-limits to those that could be called a grandchild. Grandchildren had their own baskets, but one never knew where those baskets might be. Or what might be in them.

Easter was usually at the “boys” house, yet for all that you would think they would know every crook and cranny of their own home, the hunt for a fair-sized basket often lasted the better part of a hour or sometimes even a day. One year the baskets were famously booby-trapped with cans of silly-string, adding an element of danger to being the last to find the basket. The tradition continued for more than 20 years, and the finding never got any easier.

Now as we gather for Christmas, significant others of the grandchildren find themselves being initiated in the rights of present passage. A traditional monetary gift is hidden around the house, each “child” with their own, where an how must be worked out from a Christmas puzzle. One year I was extremely grateful to still be overseas when I found out that obtaining the clue had involved solving a Rubix cube.

This year our first clue lead us to a wrapped gift. The wrapped gift turned out to be a 100-piece jigsaw puzzle - ages 5 and up, maybe, but that was more about the choking hazard of the pieces. I was immediately grateful for the other family tradition of setting increasingly difficult puzzles at Thanksgiving and other family holidays.

I was quick with my puzzle (perhaps the easiest one of the bunch - it took seven of us to later complete my cousin's 100 piece hologram puzzle). Once completed, a cryptic message inscribed on the back of the puzzle directed us to the location of our gift. My message?

“Head north to find your modus operandi among the others.”

Hint: north was the kitchen.

One cousin’s girlfriend was quick with her clue - she’s been subjected to this before (including the infamous Rubix cube). Her tactic was to put together the scrawled-message side of her puzzle and discovered one key word as a giveaway. My other cousin’s girlfriend was initiated into the tradition this year and was overwhelmed by the whole process.

I was quick with the puzzle, but slow with the clue - and even slower as I had to sort through a whole cabin to find it.

Still this is a tradition I am glad lives on, and one I will never feel too old for.

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