A week until Christmas and I am reminiscing about some well-loved traditions with my family.
Decorating the Tree: To this day seeing tinsel (icicles) causes me stress. Yes, I’m talking about those slender, silver strands of shimmery splendor. My dad loved tinsel on our tree. But, his ‘placing perfection’ was a bit obsessive. Dad expected each strand to be draped, not dropped individually. Every. Last. One. And no cheating by trying to do two at a time. He would watch us and if there were double strands, we’d have to pick them off and re-hang them. I admit the tree looked great when it was done; but, I swore I’d never, ever use tinsel on my own trees because I knew I’d end up throwing clumps of tinsel on the branches just to spite my dad.
Opening Presents: When I was very young, Mom would make hot chocolate and we’d peek in our stockings before going to Christmas Mass. Then, when we returned from church, Dad made sure each gift was handed out and opened one-at-a-time as the rest of the family observed. This was a big deal to him. No one could grab just any present. The “order of openings” was carefully orchestrated. He’d start with small things – which always included the Life Savers Book of assorted candy. My favorite flavors were Butter Rum and the Tropical Fruit ones (especially coconut). Then there were other gifts from my parents, relatives, and of course, Santa.
Later, as an adult, Dad still loved to orchestrate the “order of openings.” We’d each get the traditional Life Savors Book, plus sometimes a tin of popcorn for the family. When my kids were younger, he enjoyed giving everyone a $20 gift certificate to his favorite department store – Gottschalks. While I didn’t mind the merchandise at Gottschalks, I was more of a Target kind of person. Unbeknownst to my dad, for several years our family devised a way to use the certificate, then return the merchandise for cash and then go to our own favorite stores and get what we wanted. I always felt a little guilty, but I figured we were still enjoying his gift, just getting more for our money. I’m not sure how, but he somehow he got wind of it (I think one of his grandkids thanked him for the gift from Target!) and the following year envelopes with $20 cash replaced the gift certificates.
Even though we knew the envelope was coming, Dad enjoyed disguising it. One year he gave us all a gift and had us open them at once (drifting from the one-at-a-time tradition). As we each opened items such as brownie mix in a bag or a #10 can of corn (6.6 lbs.) and other assorted items from his pantry, we found envelopes containing the cash taped inside. Even though we opened those together, Dad watched the melee that ensued afterwards with a smile. Thinking back, whether we opened together or individually, I realize now how much he enjoyed the expressions on our faces as we opened each well-thought-out gift.
After Dad passed in 2010, we’ve all tried to keep some of the traditions alive. No, we don’t do tinsel, but somehow every year Life Savers Books show up under the tree. One year Michelle bought them, one year I did, and this year when my brother and I met up he handed me a small just-the-right-size wrapped box that I suspect will continue the Life Savers tradition. He also gifted me with a bag of Deluxe Filled Hard Candy Mix. Writing on the bag declares “Old-Fashioned candy that takes you back to your Childhood.” And it’s true. Each little gooey-centered treat does bring back fond memories. From being offered a chance to indulge from Dad’s stash to my aunt telling us to ‘take just one’ when there was a dozen or more stuck together and as a kid trying to figure out a way to chip one off the monstrous candy mass without making a sticky mess.
Sometimes things from the past seem locked away forever. And then a bag of candy brings it all back. From the tinsel, to the re-purposed gift certificates, it all was a part of the magic of Christmas. Thanks to my brother, Bob, for the gift of special recollections.