In the olden days, Santa left Nerf weapons under the tree or next to our stockings in plain sight. After opening our presents, playing with our new toys, loading our PEZ dispensers, and eating cinnamon rolls, we would break out the Nerf guns for a family battle in the wrapping paper wreckage of our living room. We never questioned the idea of a Christmas morning war.
Over the years, this tradition morphed a bit as adult children reunited for the holidays. Sometimes we delayed the war till later in the day or played a more mellow version, such as lining up cans for targets or aiming our sticky darts to fly through an upstairs window.
We often laugh about the year my parents hosted a Sri Lankan college student, Iranga, for the holiday. (When my parents lived in Saudi Arabia, where women aren’t allowed to drive, Iranga’s father was my mother’s driver.) Tony and I were living in Kansas at the time, but we traveled to Michigan for a Dickinson family gathering. On Christmas morning, my sisters and I were surprised to find no armaments under the tree. Did Santa think we had outgrown this annual event? Presents were distributed, and as per another family tradition, the youngest child opened all of hers first. Finally, it was my mother’s turn. As she unwrapped her last gift, we began to chatter about plans for the rest of the day. “Oh wait,” my father said. “There’s one more box hiding back here behind the tree.” He passed it to my mom, who gingerly peeled off the paper from a large cardboard box. She opened the flaps, peeked in and then quickly whipped out a huge Nerf blaster and passed a second one to my dad. They both pelted us with ping-pong balls as we dove behind furniture, crying with laughter and howling over the unfairness of being unarmed. Poor Iranga didn’t know what to think.
Although Tony and I moved abroad and skipped 11 years of family Christmases, we kept a photo on our fridge of my sisters in the heat of battle, Kate ducking behind an overstuffed chair and Meg peeking out from under a pile of wrapping paper. Returning to Michigan for Christmas 2012, we weren’t sure what to expect, but we invested in a couple Nerf guns, disguised them with tissue paper and stashed them in a gift bag, just in case.
My sister Kate and her family live a short distance away, but they spent the night Christmas Eve so we could all enjoy seeing Nico and Paul wake up to Christmas. Adults rose first and made coffee, warning the boys to stay in their room until we had set up with our cameras. As expected, the neighbor had left a Christmas cake on the front step. Our fridge and freezer were stuffed to capacity, so we had to leave it out there. Finally, we called the boys and got the morning under way. Everything was normal … for awhile.
Suspense built as each couple opened the gift and donned their gear.
My brother Mike was oddly oblivious. We kept telling him, “Open your gift from Meg and Britt!” but he sweetly and innocently insisted on waiting to open joint presents until Summer arrived on the 28th. We all knew that would be too late …
After everyone unwrapped their presents, my dad brought the Christmas cake inside and asked if anyone wanted any.
However, he still had a couple gifts to open, so I stood up and moved the cake box from his lap to an end table. It felt suspiciously light, and I had a feeling all hell was about to break loose. I quickly set my camera to video, placed it strategically on a bookshelf and stepped away. Sure enough, Dad called Nico over to help him uncover the “cake.” Inside the box, were two Nerf guns. And this is how it unfolded:
Favorite moments from the initial attack:
* Everyone trying to be covert, reaching for their stashed weapons as Nico lifts the “cake box” lid.
* My mom protecting her face with the gift I brought her from India, a papier-mâché mask I found at a handicrafts fair in Delhi.
* My clueless brother shouting, “Hey, where’d you get the guns?” while holding the baby.
* Sidney, the Jimenez family dog, laying still through all the chaos, looking annoyed and a bit worried.
* Britt taking cover behind the sofa with his arsenal of Dart Tag guns. (He and Meg bought five Dart Tag sets, gave the vests and glasses as gifts and then kept all the weapons!)
* My pregnant sister, Kate, shouting, “I think I peed my pants!” followed by, “Watch the ninnies!”
Yeah, we’re all class.
Eventually, the action moved beyond the living room with teams spread out upstairs and downstairs. I claimed to be an embedded journalist, but that didn’t stop them from blasting me with their velcro darts, which stuck to my vest like little badges of courage.