Every Christmas for the 20 years we have been together, Ric has threatened to decorate the front yard (or roof) with a herd of reindeers. Every year, I offer up an emphatic NO!

This year, our Ukrainian guests got in on the fracas. They seem to be amused by how easily he baits me. Entertainment for all.

Between planning dinner for 20 guests on Christmas day, and all the shopping, I failed to buy Ric a Christmas present. I told him often, so that a) he wouldn’t be disappointed, and b) he wouldn’t buy me anything. We had enough on our plate.

Tuesday before the big day, I headed out early to finish my chores, returning home just after noon. Ric was in the same place I’d left him, hunched over his computer.

“We’re invited next door for some holiday cheer,” I reminded him as I lugged my goods into the house.

“Oh, what are you wearing? Do I need to change?”

“I am. Suit yourself.”

He scrambled to find his best Christmas tie. Hurrying out the door, Ric almost tripped over a large box that had been placed on our front step. According to the printing on the box, a 4 foot, LED lit moose resided within.

“What did you do!”

“Not me,” Ric insisted.

“Who else?”

“I have no idea. Really, VJ, it wasn’t me!”

“Someone must have delivered it. Didn’t you hear the dogs bark?”

“No…oh, maybe once. While you were out.”

We asked the neighbours if they had seen anything. Nothing. We continued our visit at the window, in case the culprit retuned.

“It has to be Natasha!” Ric concluded later that evening.

I asked Natasha. She laughed at the prank, but said it wasn’t her. Ric didn’t leave it at that. He confronted her and her husband. They both laughed.

“It’s those sneaky Ukrainians, I’m sure,” he told me. I still wasn’t convinced he himself hadn’t done it given his track record.

When the men from our two Ukrainian families came to help set up the table for Christmas days later, Ric asked Koyla if he had something to do with it. Koyla is good natured and gives in to giggles easily. I watched him try to keep a straight face as he denied complicity.

We went through all our friends and neighbours, but couldn’t come up with one single person who could have done this.

“It has to be the Ukrainians,” Ric decided.

Christmas morning came, and Chris (as Ric had named him) still remained in our front hall, in the box. A blizzard had blown in days before, so we didn’t have a chance to set Chris Moose up.

As Ric closed in for a Christmas kiss, I had to tell him that I had lied about not getting him a gift.

“I know,” he said with a sly smile. “You always do.” He glanced at the tree overloaded with presents. I had noticed a few bore my name.

“No. You don’t understand,” I said. “The moose was me.”

The Ukrainians weren’t entirely guileless. One housed the moose until I was ready to launch the plot, and another brought a second one, so now we have a Christine.

As for Ric, he is still stunned that I could fool him like that, and the gift of laughter will linger for many years, I suspect.

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Permission to write, paint, and imagine are the gifts I gave myself when chronic illness hit - a fair exchange: being for doing. Relevance is an attitude. Humour essential.

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