I hope I don’t get in trouble for telling you that my family is a big bunch of cheaters. We love to play games and we watch very carefully to see who’s stacking the deck; who’s sneaking a peek at the cards or moving the little Monopoly shoe a tad too many spaces?

You should also know I’m a big fan of Christmas. (Recently I posted a poll on our family website about favorite Christmas characters. All the usual suspects were there, 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 and not jump right into the Christmas spirit, I suspect they think I’m cheating.

I remember a Christmas in the early 70’s. I got Battleship, the classic naval game of seek and destroy. “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, for the most part during our childhood. Three years older than me, we were perfectly separated by age, 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 me; 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.

“Plays well with others?” Not so much with us. So, it’s a rare and good memory our playing this game that Christmas morning.

Anyway, so there we are playing Battleship together: a perfect game for the two warring kids. Sitting on the floor near the tree, we’re wearing blue t-shirts with our first names emblazoned on the front and our last names on the back in white. A classic photo has all six of us lined up against the faux wood paneling wearing these t-shirts from our Great-Aunt Anne. This is what I love about Christmas. For one day, at least, we all try to get along. Pete and I playing a game lounging on that shag carpet surrounded by wrapping paper remnants and empty shirt boxes.

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 picture of my side of that board up there! It’s Christmas, however. So after the brief storm, we laugh and go on to play another game. I still love this memory.

We sing “O Come, Emmanuel” and pray for Jesus to return with justice. Still, Jesus was already born. As we celebrate this season of 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 that long,) and I pray with Advent reflections. I put up my Great Grandmother’s shiny aluminum tree and I light the advent candles.

When my brother and I played together 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.