This event did not take place when I was a child and my own children were not yet born, but it is by far one of my favorite Christmas memories. It happened during the Christmas season of 1985. I was working as a receptionist for a counseling center and I had been having a hard time getting into the spirit of the season. During lunch one day, I picked up a magazine and read a story entitled "The Holiday Phantom". In the story, a family took the song "The Twelve Days of Christmas" quite literally and they anonymously left gifts each day for 12 days at the doorstep of a family. I wish I could tell you the name of the author or even the name of the magazine, but I can't. What I can tell you is that that writer inspired my husband and I become "holiday phantoms" ourselves and we chose my sister in law and her family as our "victims". Beginning on December 13, we left a new gift, each night, on their front porch. We decided to begin with a small artificial Christmas tree. We found a tree and then went shopping for a "partridge" to put "in the tree". After doing some shopping, we purchased a silver bird that "clipped" onto a branch. Perfect. We also wrote a poem to go with the tree. Now, to leave the tree and get away without being caught. No problem. My husband figured he could sneak up onto the darkened porch and knock on the door and hide by the side of the house in the bushes until they had found the tree and closed the door. He knocked on the door, ran and then listened as the door was opened and the kids found the tree. So far, so good. We got away with it. It was so much fun hearing our nephews tell us the story of how they had opened the door to find their Christmas tree and how exciting it was. Each day, we had prepared something to leave at the door. Candles, candy, etc. and we included a poem to go with each. Since they weren't expecting anyone on the second night, my husband was easily able to get away from the house without be detected again, but once the kids were onto the fact that something was going to be showing up each night, they became determined to "catch" the culprit!
The boys were eager to "catch the culprit"
Now, things got really interesting. Each night, not only did we have to come up with a new item to leave, my husband had to formulate a new escape plan. By the fifth night, it was becoming more difficult to hide since the boys were now waiting by the door with shoes on, ready to run out into the night. It also had rained and then snowed, so the ground had a coating of ice, making running treacherous.
On one night, my husband planned to run around the side of their house, jump the fence, run through their backyard, jump the other fence, cross into a neighbors yard and walk back home by going around the block. He knocked on the door, heard the yells and foot stomping in the house and began to make his escape. He jumped the fence and began running through the backyard, forgetting that his sister had a clothesline strung across that portion of the yard. Boom! He hit the clothesline and went flying! Somehow, he made it back up and over the back fence without getting caught. The next night, he decided to cross into the next door neighbors yard instead of going through the back of the yard. Unfortunately, he forgot that our neighbor happened to be a former police officer, who, upon hearing his dogs creating a commotion outside, came outside with gun drawn! My husband put his hands up and said "It's just me. It's just me." To which our dear neighbor said, "Who are you?". Luckily, he managed to explain to the ex-police officer what he was doing and at the same time, remain unidentified as the "Holiday Phantom". By this time, we were both having such a good time with the "secret" gift giving that we were sad that it would soon be over. The final night was going to be a real challenge since the family would all be at our home for Christmas Eve and it would be difficult to explain my husband's absence for a few minutes. We were able to get my father in law to run some interference while my husband jogged to his sister's home and left the final gift, along with a poem that listed all the previous nights gifts. (I was told later, that the order of the gifts that I had written was incorrect! I'm not sure what I did to mess it up, but that just adds to the story!) I think the family enjoyed the experience of being given the gifts, but no more than we enjoyed the experience of giving the gifts. We have had many laughs about it in the years since and I have often wanted to do it again for someone else. None of the gifts was expensive, but the joy it gave us was priceless.