Do You See What I See?

Virtuous Cheating and the Holiday Seasons

I hope I don’t get in trouble for telling you that my family is a bunch of big cheaters.

We love to play games, but we watch very carefully to see who’s stacking the deck; who’s sneaking a peek at the cards, or who’s moving the little Monopoly shoe a tad too many spaces.

I’m also a big fan of Christmas. (A recent poll on our family website asks our favorite Christmas characters with all the usual suspects: Rudolph, Santa, Jesus, Ralphie. My sister responded that her favorite Christmas character wasn’t in the list. She meant me.)

So, when a well-meaning soul tells me I should really be present to Advent first—and not jump right into the Christmas spirit, I suspect they think I’m cheating.

Christmas search and destroy
I remember a childhood Christmas in the early 70’s. I got Battleship, the classic game of naval search and destroy—each player mapping out the coordinates of the other’s warships to “sink” them. “You sunk my battleship!” The refrain from the commercial echoes as I remember playing this game with my older brother, Pete.

Pete and I were, um, how to say this, arch-enemies during our childhood. Three years older, Pete was perfectly separated by age from me—if by perfect you mean that he had the upper hand and I was an annoying little sister. This is how we were: he’d punch; I’d tattle. He’d punch me for tattling; I’d call him a creep. Then he’d punch me, and I’d, well, you get the picture.

Yule détente
So, it’s a rare and good memory our playing this game that Christmas morning. Pete and I playing a game lounging on that shag carpet surrounded by wrapping paper remnants and empty shirt boxes.

This is what I love about Christmas. For one day, at least, we all try to get along.

Of course, there we are playing Battleship together: an appropriate game for the two warring kids.

That 70s techno magic
That was also the year my Mom got a Polaroid Instamatic camera. It was magic, maybe you remember it, a photo developing right before your eyes. This was high technology! Mom snapped photo after photo that day. Well, there they are sitting on the bookcase and Pete gets up, periodically, to check out the new ones.

I don’t realize until I’ve lost my last two-peg patrol boat that something fishy has been going on. Uh, huh, there’s a photograph of my side of the board up there—he has been checking for my ships’ coordinates.

It’s Christmas, however. So after the brief storm, we laugh and go on to play another game.

The virtuous cheating of Advent
We sing the Advent hymn, “O Come, Emmanuel,” and pray for the justice that traditionally comes with Jesus’ return. Still, Jesus was already born. As we celebrate the season of waiting and expectation, I also celebrate that Christ has been born already. I celebrate Advent in the midst of preparing for Christmas.

I listen to Christmas music from Thanksgiving on (if I can hold out till then) while I pray my Advent reflections. I put up my Great Grandmother’s shiny aluminum tree, and I light those purple Advent candles.

When my brother and I played together in peace that Christmas, no matter how imperfectly, we were living Christmas. And that is a treasured moment in my collection of holiday memories. Living Christmas helped us to move on from our sibling animosity—we found a way to laugh and play the game again.

I don’t think it’s cheating to celebrate Christmas everyday.