Holiday hide and seek
Judith Runkel of Bell Acres has come clean with her mother, Catherine, about some naughty monkey business from some 50 Christmases ago.
Runkel, then 9, and her younger sister, Janet, took a flashlight, and sneaked into a new space under the stairs where their father had expanded a closet. A big box was blocking the entrance, and when Runkel tried to push it aside, she realized the box was open. She reached in, and was ecstatic to pull out the Montgomery Ward version of Zippy the Chimp -- a very popular toy. Ecstatic, the girls continued to sneak into the closet to play with their two Zippy toys a few more times before Christmas morning.
"We had to act really surprised, but she and I knew that we had been monkeying around there with them," says Runkel, who will be 60 on Wednesday. She and her sister continued to snoop in the closet every Christmas season after the Zippy year.
During the weeks leading up to Christmas, especially in households with children, pairs of prying eyes may be tempted to snoop around for hidden gifts, and spoil the surprise that's supposed to wait for the holiday. To ward off snoops and maintain the pre-holiday suspense, people may need to get creative about hiding places.
Carol Briney, a professional organizer in Aspinwall, says that the household children's ages can determine the hiding places.
"It's so important to just to keep it age-appropriate. The older the child, the smarter the child ... and the more they're going to look," Briney says. "You just have to be as creative as your child."
If you have young children, Briney says, any place that is up high or not too easy to reach will work; plus, the youngest children usually aren't prone to snooping anyway. With older children, parents need to put more creativity and ingenuity into their hiding places, she says.
One good technique is to hide gifts in a place your children or other family members don't visit or use, Briney says. For instance, her cousin once hid the kids' gifts in dog food bags; it worked well, because the kids never fed the dog.
Other options are to keep the gifts at a family member's or neighbor's house, or to keep gifts in the attic, Briney says. Putting the wrong name tags on presents under the tree, then switching the tags on Christmas, is another effective technique of hiding gifts in plain view, because the recipient doesn't know it's for him or her.
That's what the father and stepmother of Sarah Yurga, 35, of New Kensington did nine years ago for Christmas. They "pulled off the greatest caper, I think, ever known," she says.
The couple had bought a computer for Yurga's teenage step-brothers, but had no place to hide it. So they wrapped up the boxes, put them in the living room, and put "to/from" tags on the boxes designating the gifts for Abby, Yurga's infant daughter. Then, on Christmas morning, the couple switched the tags, and surprised the boys, who had been pouting for weeks and asking, "Why is Abby getting all these big gifts?"
"I thought that was so genius," Yurga says "They just put it in the living room under the tree, and just tormented these poor boys."
Briney recommends thinking twice before hiding gifts in your closet: It's probably too obvious.
"I think kids look in there first," she says. "They're not supposed to go in there, so you think it's safe."
You might be able to get away with stuffing gifts under your bed, Briney says, so long as it's a bigger bed, and can be surrounded by other things.
Some young snoopers are incorrigible, and carry their snooping into adulthood. When Carol Abel of Penn stopped expecting Santa Claus around age 8, she started searching around the house for gifts.
"I figure it's in there somewhere, so I'll find it," says Abel, 61.
She would find gifts, unwrap them carefully, peek, and then tape them up again. If her parents knew, Abel says, they never said anything. Now, Abel confesses to doing the same thing to her husband, Lou. She once found a wrapped gold chain for her, along with the receipt in the bag. Abel exchanged it, re-wrapped it, opened it in front of him, and put the chain on -- and her poor husband didn't realize it.
"He was proud," Carol Abel says. "I thought I wanted to tell him the truth, but thought, no, then I'll never be able to pull it off again."
With her three now-adult children -- Ryan, Griffin and Lauren -- Abel didn't buy presents too far in advance, so they had less time to snoop. Still, she says, her daughter especially was likely to inherit Abel's snooping ways.
"She's just like me," she says.
Outsmart those holiday sleuths!
• You know your kids best. Determine where they are most likely to look, and build on that.
• Wrap your gifts before hiding them.
• Use your imagination to pinpoint places your children don't want to be. If your kids hate helping with laundry, try there.
• For smaller gifts, try using the kitchen, which is an unlikely place for gifts. Put something inside a crock pot on a high shelf, or on top of the refrigerator -- assuming the kids don't help much with cooking.
• If you use the basement or attic, put the gifts in a place where they'll be well-disguised. A large box of "old stuff that smells funny" would be good. Be sure to protect the gifts in airtight bags if they will be in a musty area.
• If you need to use a garage or shed, keep temperatures in mind; some presents shouldn't be exposed to the cold. Lock the shed and hide the key.
• If you hide gifts in your car, don't use the glove compartment or the area under the seats. Under-the-floor storage areas in mini-vans is a good idea.
• Hide gifts in an out-of-home office with a locked area.
• Smuggle presents to a friend's or relative's house, but beware if they also have kids: the snoopers might unite and multiply, and be difficult to outsmart.
• Avoid places like under the bed or in dresser drawers; that's amateur for your preteen and teenager.
• Locked closets are no match for determined sleuths; they will find a way to get in.
• Typical places that an older child could find easily are attics, basements and garages.