The Oatmeal had a wonderful comic this week called “How Different Age Groups Celebrate Christmas”. I can certainly relate to the “children” section – my parents always made a huge deal out of Christmas, and the Christmas Eve anticipation was almost unbearable at times. I remember my sister and I falling asleep on the sofa on Christmas Day once after lying awake and whispering to each other in the dark literally all night in excitement (we always shared a room on Christmas Eve, a tradition we continued well into our 20s! Although we stopped staying awake all night when we hit our teens).

Surprises were always a HUGE part of Christmas. We’d write letters to Santa, outlining our requests, but we’d usually get maybe one present from the list, and the rest would be my parents’ choices. (BTW, our best gifts EVAH were a Lego train set, and Slinkies. We got the latter the same year as our first ever computer, an Atari way back in 1986, and it took our parents hours to set it up on Christmas Day; by the time they succeeded we’d given up watching them, broken open the Slinkies, and told our parents we were having far too much fun on the stairs to come and look at the computer). My parents always bought each other surprise gifts, too – I remember one year when they bought each other three identical presents!

But one year, I ruined the surprise.

We were living in Germany, so I must have been very little – we left when I was four – and I don’t remember the story. But my Mum certainly does, and likes to remind me of it whenever she gets the chance…

She’d done all her shopping with us kids in tow – an exhausting experience, especially since her German wasn’t fantastic – and had finally managed to find everything she wanted. Feeling happy, she came into the living room – where she found me telling my Dad exactly what she’d bought him, while he tried to make me stop talking. My mum immediately joined in his shushing efforts, and they succeeded with one item left unstated – a fancy new leather-bound address book.

The next day was Christmas Eve. My Dad was looking for his cousin’s phone number in his old, decrepit address book, and it fell apart in his hands. He announced that since he had the day off, he was going into town to buy a new address book so he could write the numbers of all the relatives we needed to call on Christmas Day into the new one.

“Don’t bother”, said my Mum with a sigh.

(He still has the address book she bought him that year, by the way. Germans know how to make long-lasting address books, apparently).

Back to the Oatmeal cartoon

I found the panel depicting 30-somethings without kids particularly amusing. Mr E Man and I seem to alternate between genuine-surprise-present years and tell-me-what-you-want-and-I’ll-buy-it years, but we do always at least wrap the presents, and we also do stockings stuffed with surprise gifts.

This year has turned into a tell-me-what-you-want-and-I’ll-buy-it year. I’ve bought Mr E Man a SlingBox doohickey that you can hook up to your hard drive DVD recorder and access remotely, so you can set up and watch recordings from a laptop or cell phone (why does he want this? Well, we’re going to be in England during the NHL play-offs next year. So if you’re one of the people we’re planning to meet in May, please don’t be offended if he’s watching the Canucks* on his phone in the pub).

I asked for a bookcase. My books are currently stuffed into an overflowing dresser, leaving no room for the nice glasses we got as wedding presents and which are, in turn, taking up kitchen cupboard space we could really use for other things. It’s really hard to locate and extract specific books from this disaster zone, and besides, I love bookcases (they just weren’t a priority when we moved into our unfurnished house bringing only a coffee table and a TV stand with us from our tiny apartment).

I also wanted an iPhone 4, which was supposed to be my birthday present (my birthday is in February and no, I didn’t get anything else from him), but I knew better than to ask for one; we’d been to the Rogers and Apple stores approximately every second weekend since the phone launched in August, and they’d never had any. Mr E Man had also tried to get one every single day for a week when he was off work with his injured hand; no joy. I assumed there was no point even looking in December.

Anyway… Mr E Man has been running around like a headless chicken all week, bless him, getting everything ready for the Waifs and Strays Christmas Day Dinner we’re hosting for our friends from Ontario, New Brunswick, and Turkey who can’t make it home to their families. (I’ve been working all week and we’ve been either out of town or busy for the last three weekends). So I assumed he hadn’t had any time for Christmas shopping, and told him that as long as I had a stocking on Christmas Day I’d be as happy as a kitty in a box of tinsel, and that we could get the bookcase in January and the iPhone 4, well, probably never (or maybe the week before the iPhone 5 comes out).

So I was at work on Wednesday, listening to podcasts and trying not to be too resentful of all my friends who were already on vacation and having all kinds of good times without me, and suddenly noticed that my phone had no reception. No big whoop – it happens – but when the problem persisted I grew more and more puzzled. When I got to our friends’ house that evening for another friend’s birthday pinata and dinner, I asked everyone else who’s on Rogers to check their reception, and all their phones were working normally. While the birthday boy (who works for Telus) and the host (who runs a computer support company) were trying to fix my phone, Mr E Man walked over and put a box in my hand, nicely wrapped, and of a familiar shape and size.

“Happy Birthday and Christmas, babe”, he said.

After I went “ooooooOOOOOOooooooh!!!!!!”, I asked if this was the reason my phone wasn’t working. He sheepishly said that he’d asked the guy at the Fido store (yes, he had to switch me over from Rogers to get me a phone) not to activate it until we called to request it, but that he’d forgotten to remind the guy and my number had been switched over to the new phone. “It was supposed to be a surprise…” he said.

Ah well. These things happen. And I looooove my new phone.

Last night, I got home from work while Mr E Man was still out; he’d bought a frozen goose and had apparently decided that the best way to defrost it was to take it to the pub to meet his friends. So I snuck into the back room (that we never use unless we have guests) to retrieve the hidden gifts I needed to wrap and put in Mr E Man’s stocking…

…and found a bookcase.

It’s a really, really great bookcase. I love it. I’ll post a photo once I’ve put all my books in it. And I knew that Mr E Man had put it in the only room in the house where he thought I wouldn’t see it before Christmas Day.

Touched by his thoughtfulness (and excellent taste), I decided to pretend I’d never been in that room and hadn’t seen the bookcase…

…but he came through the front door with the goose just as I was leaving the room.

Well, if you didn’t laugh you’d only cry, as my sister likes to say.

I wonder if I’ll still be hearing about the phone and the bookcase 30 years later, like I do with the address book?



to all my wonderful readers. I hope you have a lovely day with family and friends (and get some lovely presents, whether they’re a surprise or not).



*hopefully. I did warn him that buying the SlingBox could well jinx us.

**or Solstice / Winterval / Festivus / other celebration of your choice!

About Cath@VWXYNot?

"one of the sillier science bloggers [...] I thought I should give a warning to the more staid members of the community." - Bob O'Hara, December 2010
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12 Responses to SURPRISE!!!

  1. ricardipus says:


    I hope you felt properly ashamed 😀

    Oh, and Merry Christmas to you and your young man (I can say that ‘cos I’m pretty darn sure I’m older than both of you). I’m resisting Christmas blogging, although who knows what might happen during breaks in the action tomorrow.

  2. Bob O'H says:

    Thanks for those tales, and good to hear Mr E Man has taken good care of the goose.

    We’re settling in to watch the snow blow around. My Christmas gift is that I have to do the cooking. Grrl’s gift is that she can drink buttered rum whilst ordering mr around the kitchen. It’s gonna be fun.

  3. Nina says:

    Wonderfully amazing stories Cath!
    Will probably post later about our 30’s-no-children-celebrating-with-30’s-with-child-christmas. We did not do presents (as far as I’m aware of, so it might turn out ugly if people start giving me presents because I have NONE).
    Thomas is having fun reading about all German snow disaster. Luckily his family all managed to get together regardless.

    Have fun at your party! It sounds very familiar, you working Mr E-man shopping … It would be even better if we didn’t have to work and they would still do the shopping.

    Anyway, merry christmas!

  4. Alyssa says:

    Nice Christmas stories! My brother and I used to snoop for our gifts, and we found out my parents liked hiding them in a locked filing cabinet. The cabinet could easily be broken into using a letter opener though, so we snooped for a couple years. Then, one year, the letter opener broke in the lock, and that was the end of that! Our parents were so mad that they told us they took back the gifts! Luckily they had a soft spot and ended up giving them to us anyway (or maybe the stores had awful return policies then). Fun times!

  5. Stephen says:

    Great stories Cath – and Happy Christmas to you and E man from the UK, where it’s already started!

  6. Hermitage says:

    That is disgustingly adorable. Disgustingly!

  7. Lisbeth says:

    So glad that Mr. E man spoils you – you totally deserve it!
    Happy holidays to the both of you

  8. RPS77 says:

    Good story, and glad to hear that you got what you wanted.

    Have a great Christmas!

  9. Cath@VWXYNot? says:

    Thanks everyone for your comments! I hope you all had a lovely Christmas. I’m settling in to a day full of hockey – we’re currently watching a documentary about the Penguins and Capitals in the run up to their Winter Classic game on New Year’s Day, which will be followed by the Canada-Russia game in the World Juniors and then the Canucks vs. Oilers. Various friends will be dropping in throughout the day, so I should probably get off the sofa and wash the rest of yesterday’s dishes.

    But first…

    Ricardipus, yes, I was most ashamed. Although really it wasn’t entirely my fault 🙂

    Bob, the goose responded well to its treatment – it was delicious! I’d never had it before and I was most impressed. We didn’t end up with that post-turkey sleepiness, and the only downside is that there are hardly any leftovers (there’s less meat and more body cavity than in a turkey of the equivalent size, presumably because their lungs have to much bigger for all that flying. Either that or that wasn’t its first visit to a pub, and it had a grossly enlarged liver).

    We had a fairly even division of labour: I made the cranberry sauce, Mr E Man made everything else, and I did the washing up (with help from one of our guests). No, we don’t have a dishwasher 🙁

    Nina, sounds like an interesting mix! (And I want to hear what it’s like to celebrate your first Christmas in summer!) We saw some of our 30-something-with-kids friends on Christmas Eve, and there will be up to three young kids at our house today for the hockey festivities. But Christmas Day was child-free, except for the 5am squeals of delight from our tenant’s 8-year-old son that woke us up a little earlier than anticipated!

    Alyssa, excellent story! We never dared to look for our gifts, because we knew exactly how much trouble we’d get into – my parents love surprises that much!

    Stephen, thanks! Time zones are a wonderful thing; we Skyped my parents & sister yesterday at noon our time, 8pm their time, and they were most amusingly drunk. I <3 Skype.

    Sorry, Hermy! I'll try to be less adorable from now on :p

    Thanks, Lisbeth! I hope you and Tue had a lovely Christmas too. I bet you had a proper white one, too… nothing but rain around these parts unfortunately!

    RPS77, thanks! I'm a very very lucky lady 🙂


  10. ecogeofemme says:

    How sweet! I never snooped because I never wanted to know.

    I loved the cartoon! We also alternate between surprises and requests. This year we decided not to get each other any gifts, but we bought a Wii. I loooooves it!

  11. Cath@VWXYNot? says:

    Ooh, that’s a good idea. We don’t have any kind of gaming system (other than our phones), but I do enjoy playing with the Wii at my inlaws’ house when we visit (I’m a mean bass player in Beatles Rock Band, and my archery is improving). I’m not sure we’d ever pay full price for a system for ourselves, but we might buy a used one when the second generation comes out and everyone upgrades!

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