News staffers share Christmas memories: Five-layer wrapping and other gift games

My mother is the Queen of the Christmas game.

We’ve had various crowds at my parents’ house for the annual Morrissette Christmas Eve celebration, but regardless of size, one thing is for certain: There’s going to be a game.

And the games always involve prizes for everyone. That’s just how Mom rolls. The prizes aren’t huge or anything — Aplets and Cotlets, cans of Almond Roca, packages of caramels — but the prizes really aren’t even the point. It’s just a chance to laugh and have fun.

The year Mom wrapped individual sleeves of chocolate doughnuts in different sized packages for a “can’t open until the very end” Yankee Swap stands out, as does the time she let us pick out our prizes, only to have to pass them to the right every time she read “the” in The Night Before Christmas.

Last year, Mom mixed things up. We were a relatively small crowd — just under a dozen — but when she brought out just five packages, I knew something was up.

Mom broke down the game for us: The packages were each wrapped five times. My daughter Abby would ask 25 Christmas-themed questions, and the first one to answer got to unwrap one layer of paper on a package of their choice. Once a package had been unwrapped all five times, that person got to keep its contents.

The questions began, covering everything from the lighthearted (“What color is Rudolph’s nose?”) to the serious (“What were the names of the three wise men?”). The presents were passed and unwrapped, until all five were uncovered. Mom finally gave the okay to look inside.

They were all empty.

“That’s not even the real game!” Mom laughed, bringing out a basket filled with treats. The real game, it turned out, was that we were divided up into pairs for a roll-off. Whoever got the highest number got to pick a prize, until, of course, everyone had something.

I came away with a can of Almond Roca feeling pretty good about myself. So what if I had to roll five times before winning?

The thing about these games is that I remember the details of what we played more clearly than what we ate or what we gave each other. It’s a goofy tradition that we all tend to look forward to, no matter how much we (okay, I) complain.

P.S. The Wise Men were Caspar, Melchior and Balthasar, and the only one who actually knew the answer was my then 7-year-old Johanna. She definitely earned that bit of package unwrapping…

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