Tag Archives: gifts

Tradition, Tradition!

I wrote yesterday about my family’s traditional “Christmas is in two or three days so we should probably get a tree” outing.  We have some other traditions as well that personally make Christmas Eve a bigger deal to me than Christmas.

For starters, there’s the tree.  I remember when I was young I would wake up and go downstairs on Christmas Eve morning to find my mom working on getting the tree standing and secure.  By early afternoon she already had the lights on, and my sister and I would begin hanging ornaments on it not long after that.  Nowadays, things seem to get started later, and it’s often not until well after dinner that we decorate it; today, however, things got started early and there are already lights and ornaments and even some tinsel on the tree.

Speaking of dinner, the traditional Italian Christmas Eve dinner of the “seven fishes” is another thing that we kinda, sorta do.  We always eat seafood, but not usually any actual fish; nor are there seven of them.  We have crab cakes, along with shrimp and clam chowder.  This year, we added tuna for my dad and scallops for…well, everyone, but at my persuasive insistence.  That makes five pseudo-fishes; next year, I’m aiming to add two more.

This year’s dinner was a little more stressful for me than usual.  Instead of picking up the food we ordered from the seafood shop,* I’ll be in the kitchen making the crab cakes.  I had made them a couple times earlier in the year and people liked them, so I offered.  They turned out reasonably well, so that made me happy.  Well, relieved more than anything.  I did NOT want to ruin Christmas Eve dinner.

*Tangent: my mom always orders it for a 4:45 p.m. pickup.  The store closes at 5:00.  This often makes for a ridiculously unnecessary race against the clock to make sure we get there before they close.

We always visit my grandfather on Christmas Eve.  Usually it’s at night, after dinner, but today I pushed for an early afternoon visit.  See, my sister and I used to give our parents their presents on Christmas Eve, and I wanted to get back to that this year.  My hope was that the whole family would do it, because our gift exchange has gotten later and later over the past few years.  I figured this was as good a time as any to corral that bronco and walk it back to the stable.  It was a half-success; we gave our parents and our aunt their gifts, but my mother hasn’t wrapped ours.  I’m sure we’ll get them by Memorial Day.

As if there was room for any more traditions, I’ve started taking an annual trip to the bookstore.  It started out a few years ago when I was looking for a last-minute gift for my dad.  I ended up walking out with a book for him and three for me.  Now, it’s usually just the last place I go when I have last-minute shopping to do, and I almost always leave with at least three or four books that I then proceed to blow through over the next two months.  I don’t read that often anymore, but when I do, it’s at a prolific pace.

This year, however, the bookstore trip was a one-off journey.  My shopping was finished, so it was simply a run-of-the-mill Tuesday afternoon book binge.  It did, however, serve the alternate purpose that made the previous trips so cherished: it always allows me the opportunity to get away from the family for a little bit.  I know, the holidays are about spending time with each other, but when you have hectic days such as Christmas Eve, you sometimes need to make sure you get the right dosage.

I’m a creature of habit and routine.  I feel like tradition falls under that umbrella, so it’s something I’ve been very adamant about over the years.  If I have my own family someday, and my wife and kids want to put up the Christmas tree a little early, I might cave.  If I have to miss Christmas Eve dinner because we’re out of town visiting her family, I won’t be happy, about it, but sometimes you have to make compromises.

Just make sure there’s a Barnes & Noble nearby.  Daddy needs to go shopping.

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From Me to You

Many people engage in a “Yankee Swap” gift exchange with their friends around the holidays.  My family does something in that vein, but I had a new idea for what to do this year, and I’ll share it with you as well.  Consider it my gift.  It’s probably not original, but then again, most gifts you’ll get at Christmas aren’t unique anyway.

First, make sure everyone who attends the party brings a wrapped gift that has a predetermined cost.  You can make it $10 or $20 or whatever seems appropriate for your group.  For the sake of this example, we’ll say there are eight people in the game, which means there will be eight gifts available.  You’ll also need a pair of dice.

Everyone sits or stands around a table with the gifts piled up in the center.  Someone starts with the dice – pick this person however you like – and rolls.  The dice will move clockwise around the circle.  When a player rolls doubles, they select a gift from the center of the table.  Their participation in this round is now over.  Make a note of what order the players draw gifts in; you could make a note of the order on a sheet of paper, or you can all shift your places around the table.

Once all the gifts are claimed (the last person to roll doubles will be left without a choice of gift), the swapping and stealing round begins.  The person who claimed their gift first opens it.  The person to their left then rolls the dice, again moving clockwise around the table, ending with the person who just opened a gift.  If a player rolls doubles, they may swap their gift – depending on how many times you’ve gone around the table, it could be opened or unopened – with any other gift on the table.  Once the person who just opened their gift has rolled, the round is over.

Then, the next person in line – the second person to claim a gift in the opening round – opens their gift, and you repeat the process.  In the final round, the last player to claim a gift will open their gift last, and be the last to roll for a final swap.  This allows that player to have the advantage of having the most information when making their final choice; a small consolation for being the last person left in the opening round.

Once all the gifts are opened and everyone has rolled the dice, the game is over and everyone either enjoys their gifts or rues the day they agreed to this stupid game.

You can make some easy modifications to the game if you’d like.  One change would be to allow players in the swapping rounds to only swap their gift for the one specific gift that was opened that round, i.e. each gift in the example would be at risk just eight times, and once that round is over, the person who holds it can’t have it taken from them.  A follow-up to this variation would also be to force a player who rolls doubles to swap the gift whether they want to or not; this is for the particularly spiteful among you.

I would also throw in the wrinkle of adding an extra gift to the pot, provided by the host or the person who suggested playing the game.  That way, even the last person has a choice of gifts, and then during the later swap rounds, if there’s nothing open that you like, you can still swap an unopened gift and add some mystery and intrigue.

I haven’t tries this yet, so I have no idea how it would go, but the element of chance certainly mitigates (somewhat) the inevitable occurrence of one gift being passed around the entire table and everyone fighting over it.

Then again, it’s not the holidays without a fight or two, so hey, whatever floats your boat.