The Expected Surprise

Surprises are often used as a way to communicate love or appreciation. Regardless of your personal feelings about surprises (some people claim they hate them, these unexpected events are proven to increase dopamine production in our brains. But surprises don’t always have to be unexpected. You can actually create “surprise traditions” that can strengthen your relationships and bring incredible joy to your loved ones. Let me give you an example:

Twelve Decembers ago, I was in my boyfriend’s apartment studying for my law school exams. I heard the front door open and knew he’d arrived, but I did not expect what I saw next. The door slammed open as my boyfriend shoved in a large, bushy Christmas tree.  All I could see was his smile behind the fresh green branches that covered up his whole body.


I was indeed stunned.  This was our first Christmas dating and we didn’t live together so the last thing I expected was for us to decorate a Christmas tree at his place.

Amazed, I muttered a “Thanks babe!”

When I was little, my mom and my stepfather put up an artificial white Christmas tree every year. It was pretty, didn’t make a mess, and was a one-time expense. There was nothing wrong with it. But in all the Christmas movies I watched, I’d see families going out to pick their special tree at a local farm. I dreamed of how it would look and smell in my home if I had one of my own.

“You said you always wanted a ‘real’ Christmas tree when you were growing up so I figured, why not get you one this year. Even though you don’t live here, we can put our gifts under this tree and celebrate Christmas together.”

Now, thanks to my boyfriend, I finally had a real tree. I was touched.  Excited we purchased a box of Christmas lights and candy canes to adorn it.

That boyfriend became my husband and now, twelve years later, he still “surprises” me with a Christmas tree every winter—even though it’s an expected surprise.

You see, I was sure that after we were married, we would go together each year to buy our tree. In early December of our first year of marriage, he told me he was going to the store to pick up something we needed. But guess what he returned with instead. Yes. A tree.  

The following year he did the same thing. Then we had kids. I wasn’t sure how he was going to handle that. Would we start buying trees as a happy family, or would he surprise the kids as well? Neither. Year after year, he takes the kids with him and they all surprise me!

Every winter I know that my husband, Orlando, is going to buy me a Christmas tree, but I never know how or when it’s coming. This year he bought it the day before Thanksgiving. Other years he buys it the first week of December, or the day after Thanksgiving, or on the day of my December birthday. The “surprise day” the tree arrives is part of our family tradition.

This tradition brightens every Christmas holiday. My kids look forward to conspiring with their dad to ensure that I will be surprised, and I feel so special that they go through all the trouble.  Knowing they are going to buy me the tree doesn’t make the surprise any less special. It’s more special because it is also a tradition. Every time I think of Christmas, I think about how wonderful my family is. When my boys grow up, they may repeat our tradition with their own families, or maybe they will come up with surprises of their own, but they will carry our Christmas tree tradition in their hearts when we’re no longer around.

Create a “surprise tradition” in your family. It doesn’t have to be elaborate or expensive. All you need is a simple surprise to communicate “I love you.” Surprises are repeatable. As you do surprise your family again and again, your special act will become a tradition. You will plant seeds in the hearts of your loved ones that will be there even when you’re not.

Please tell me in the comments below what “expected surprise traditions” you have in your family, no matter what the occasion. Include as many details as you can so you can help someone who needs a boost.


2 thoughts on “The Expected Surprise”

  1. Awww I love this! You actually surprised ME by I was expecting to hear about your dad’s expected surprise. You know, when he would ask what you were gonna do that day and tell you he couldn’t stop by but then he’d show up? ????????????

    My expected surprise and tradition is that I create a Father’s Day movie to my hubby with family pics and videos of the entire previous years. He knows it’s coming, but I never let him see me in the process of preparing it ????.

    Another one is that he randomly created a “betsy’s Day” one year. He woke up and did a bunch of special things and I said, “wow, it must be Betsy’s day” and he agreed: “yes!!! Didn’t you know? It’s a holiday! Everyone is celebrating you today!” So he came home with gifts and took me out. The next year, I was doing my internship in NYC and I received an arrangement on Betsy’s day ????. We continued to celebrate the next and the next, but to this day I don’t know the actual date of Betsy’s day, so it always surprise me. Just yesterday, my daughter asked, “mami when is Betsy’s day?” My kids are also part of the surprise. They write me letters and make drawings to gift me on Betsy’s day. They have gifts for me and we go out as a family to celebrate! They sing “happy Betsy’s day” and I even blow candles! It’s amazing!!!!

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