(and the purchasing) of the following year’s gift parade on December 26th, not leaving a minute wasted as she boarded her buying sleigh for the next twelve months. She’d make lists of who was getting what, always making sure that everyone had the same amount of wrapped items tallied within her ruled spiral notebooks. If money was running short, it was off to the blood bank to donate a pint and pick up a few more bucks to buy what she knew we absolutely needed. Alzheimer has taken time out of the equation for her. She can no longer measure the three hundred and sixty-five days between Christmas’ and she has long ago put away her spiral notebooks, so it is up to us to carry on for her.
Our traditions are no longer about quantity but about the importance of family and who can make the rest of us laugh so hard the tears run down our cheeks or the pee leaks onto our seats. Here’s how we’re doing it this year:
Long ago my mom made patchwork stockings for all of us. We’ve managed to keep them and hang them on the mantle or along the staircase every year. Most them have our names embroidered on them but as relationships have changed we’ve had to go with pinned on index cards to accommodate the yearly newcomers. In deference to the economy we’ve each been given three names we’re responsible for letting our imaginations go wild devising the perfect gift for ten dollars or under. After the stockings have been opened there’s a small intermission for dessert before the real holiday giving begins.
Here’s where we’ve instigated the anonymous gift wars known as dumpster diving. Everyone brings a wrapped gift that they either found on the street or scooped up for less than a saw buck. All the gifts are placed in the center of the room with all of us sitting in a circle eyeing the packages anticipating which are really good gifts and which are, well, not so good. We pass a hat filled with numbers. Each person draws a number assigning him or her a position in the gift selection queue. Whoever draws number one gets to select the first mystery package and either delicately or ravenously unwrap their chosen treasure. They get to hold on to the gift of their choice until it’s number two’s turn. Lucky number two makes his selection, unwraps his gift and then decides if he likes it or not. If he decides what number one got was better than what he picked he can switch with number one and hold on to the better gift until it’s number three’s turn. Now number three and all subsequent drawers have the opportunity of surveying the field after their pick and decide if they want to swap with anyone that preceded them. The exchange goes on until everyone has picked a gift and then lucky number one gets one more chance to evaluate the plethora of bounty and make the final selection. Last year’s most desired item was the hand decorated Christmas vest complete with a three-dimensional reindeer and little felt mice. The mice were courtesy of my mom’s handiwork from decades ago.The last exchange of the evening involves bringing all of the things you never wanted and piling them in the middle of the floor, unwrapped. The dice come out and everyone takes turns trying to roll doubles and an opportunity at snatching something off the pile whether you want it or not. The same rule applies with snatching and trading until all the refuse in the middle of the floor has been taken. Some things will make it home, some will get as far as the trash can. Other than real gifts for anyone under the age of consent the point is to laugh and enjoy what the time we have together. That’s something money can’t buy.