12 Days of Christmas gift keeps on giving after 13 years

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From 1992 through 2003 Marlene McGunigle received anonymous packages of Christmas ornaments.

Thirteen years after her long and joyous Christmas gift mystery ended, Marlene McGunigle’s story is about to get a larger audience.

McGunigle, who received an anonymous gift representing each of the 12 Days of Christmas each year from 1992 to 2003, will be featured on CBC Radio’s North by Northwest (NXNW) on Saturday morning, December 17, between 9:30 and 10:00 a.m. Creston time.

Host Sheryl Mackay, who describes her interview with McGunigle as “that wonderful conversation”, said on Friday that listeners can also hear it on podcast afterwards at www.cbc.ca/nxnw.

“What a wonderful story this is,” she said.

For her part, McGunigle is happy to relive the story, one that captured the imagination of local residents, and the Advance, which chronicled the final six years of the mystery. Front page coverage in the December 23, 2003 issue included news about the receipt of the final package, which not only included 12 drummers drumming ornaments (one old, large automated one and 11 smaller versions), but also revealed the mystery.

Not only were the annual packages of ornaments and cards anonymous, but they were each sent from a different location around the globe. The final one was shipped from Edmonton.

“I didn’t want it to end,” McGunigle told the Advance in an interview for the 2003 story. And now it is continuing, thanks to her brother Ken Benz, who notified Mackay about the story earlier this year.

In the final parcel was a card hidden under a drummer’s cape. It said: 2003, it is the end of this mysterious game, my friend. 12 drummers drumming reveal to you the answer to “I wonder who.”  We’ve had the fun, it was great to watch ya, Elaine and Ken can say “we gotcha!”

Ken Benz, of Crofton BC, and Elaine MacDonald, of Nanaimo, are Marlene’s brother and sister.

“At one point years ago I actually asked my sister if she was responsible and she said ‘No way.’ I never thought of her again as I tried to solve the mystery,” McGunigle said in 2003.

Today she still admits to the excitement of anticipation she felt each year after the first gift, a partridge ornament, of course, arrived. Part of the thrill was picking up each parcel at the post office, where postal workers were as excited as she was. The cunning brother and sister team went to great lengths to baffle their sister and brother-in-law. Parcels were sent via Scotland, New Zealand, Germany, Korea, Belgium, Italy and Egypt, and points across Canada.

Hewens explained to her sister when they talked by telephone after the mystery came to an end that she got the idea in 1992 when she “was at a low ebb in her life and wanted to do something for someone.” She found the partridge ornament in Los Angeles “and everything just clicked into place.”

Today, the ornaments are stored in a display case donated by a stranger who overheard the story in a department store all those years ago.

“How do I feel when I look at the case? I feel total love for my brother and sister. I feel so fortunate that this happened to me,” McGunigle smiles. “And so thankful to all the wonderful people who came through over the 12 years. How awesome is that!”