“Garage door opener?”
“Yeah. Got it.”
“Did you get the keys yet?”
“Dad had to go to the store and I didn’t want him to notice that they were gone”
We’d have to get them before it was time to go to bed. We had been planning this for months but now we had to put it all into action. It was Christmas Eve and it was time! Time to break into our house.
Every year our parents set a trap on Christmas Eve designed to keep kids in bed longer before getting to the tree. The rule was that if you woke up mom and dad getting through the trap, you had to go back to bed. If, however, you made it to the tree without waking the parents, you were home free and the present opening could commence!
We had never officially made it through the trap without waking them up. But this was our year! I was 11 and my brother was 8 and we were old enough to understand what was at stake. We couldn’t let dad’s craftiness get the best of us this time.
This was our first Christmas in this house and at the beginning of November my brother and I started scoping out possible break in points. Dad’s traps usually consisted of some magnificent tower of boxes, pots, silverware, bells and all manner of noisy doodads designed to topple over at the slightest movement of our door. Our strategy was to completely avoid having to open our door. Unfortunately this new house was filled with sliding glass doors, which only locked from the inside and would surely be secured by dad before the lights went out. We considered the garage door. We took turns lying in mom and dad’s bed to listen while the other went and opened the garage the minimum amount to allow us to crawl through. As we feared, the garage was just too noisy. We would definitely plan to grab the keys to the front door before we went to bed Christmas Eve but the front door was right next to mom and dad’s room and might be too risky. That would be Plan B.
We decided our best bet was the bathroom window.
On first our first practice try we discovered that not only was the bathroom window small but it had a bar installed which kept it from raising more than 4 inches. We decided to take out the bar. We had to unscrew several screws and it seemed to have partially rusted into place but we finally got it detached. The window was a good 5 feet above the ground but the window now opened wide enough for my brother to climb through if I gave him a boost.
The month leading up to Christmas, whenever my parents were gone, my brother and I could be found practicing. We would take off my bedroom screen windows, climb out, and then get him in through the bathroom window as quietly as possible while our five year old sister danced around us enjoying the excitement.
We were also busy gathering things that wouldn’t be missed (scissors, tools, flashlights etc..) and making lists of things we’d have to grab that night (garage door opener and keys for the front door) just in case plan A fell through.
Christmas Eve had finally come and we were ready. We excitedly went through the Christmas Eve traditions and went right to bed. Not that we would even attempt closing our eyes. Sleep was never going to happen. The sooner we said goodnight, the sooner dad would shut our door, build the trap and put himself to bed. We figured we’d wait till 4am to give our parents time to set the trap, meet with Santa, and fall deeply enough asleep that our rustling and creeping through the house wouldn’t wake them before we got to the tree.
It seemed like the longest Christmas Eve yet! We crawled over to the door trying to peer under and listen for any telltale signs of what could possibly be happening on the other side. At 3:55 we slowly opened my window. Next was the screen. No matter how slowly you try to take off a screen from the inside, there is always a moment where it “pops!” out of the frame. We stood listening, hoping we had been the only ones to hear. Feeling everything was still going according to plan, we moved on to the bathroom window. Now that we had successfully gotten out of the house, it was time to break back in. The window slid open easily and I had just hoisted my brother through when his foot hit a small figurine, crashing and breaking on the linoleum below. Why had my mom decided to redecorate?! It hadn’t been there during our many practice sessions! We’d be lucky if we didn’t find our parents standing outside the bathroom door waiting for us!
In the bathroom now, we had to decide the next step. Dad had closed the bathroom door and we had no idea what was on the other side. If any part of the trap connected to the bathroom door it would ruin everything. Slowly my brother turned the handle and gave the slightest pull. The door opened free of any resistance!
On the other side was a hallway full of string and bungee cords running from my room to my brother’s room. I was too big to fit through the bathroom window, so it was up to my brother to dismantle the trap, free the bedroom doors so the sleeping little sister and I could reach the tree together.
My brother was amazing using our scissors to cut the lines tying the doors and carefully unstack all the usual and some not so usual noisemakers. It seemed like we’d taken so long that I had no hope that my parents wouldn’t just wake up on their own. Finally my door opened. We carefully climbed through the hallway and made our way across the house. It was hard not to stop in front of the beautiful Christmas tree for too long but we were so close! We tiptoed past the front door and burst into my parent’s room where my parents were still in bed, fast asleep!
We had made it! We sang “We made it through the trap!” at the top of our lungs while my dazed parents admitted they had not heard a thing.
There are so many things that brothers and sisters find to disagree about. It’s great to have traditions that bring us together as a team. The planning and execution of getting through the traps definitely stands out in my mind as some of the best times with my siblings. There were many more Christmases with many more traps. Some navigated more successfully than others. But as the first one we officially made it through, it was definitely one of my favorites.
Now I have my own small children. Till now we have tried to keep our traps light and fun. But our kids are growing. And so is one of our favorite traditions.
In the words of Grandma Palmer, who started this tradition, “[The Christmas Trap] grew and grew and grew. And got happier and happier and happier.”