I’m thumbing through my mental filing cabinets, trying to remember the holiday traditions my family is supposed to have. But see, the problem is this: our traditions are kind of flickering, waffling a little, not quite sure if they want to stay or go. Get every family member a gift, or just pick names? Open gifts on Christmas Eve, or Christmas morning? Christmas brunch or Christmas dinner? Midnight mass or morning service? Colored lights or clear? Brandy slush or wine? Paper or plastic?
The only constant is laughter, delicious food (always a changing menu), and a house full of love. And this year, my frighteningly talented sister Maddie suggested a new tradition: a “make or bake” gift exchange, as opposed to the usual orgy of store-bought fare. (A little background: She is an art teacher, and her boyfriend is a chef.) Immediately, my brother and I shook our heads.
“No way. That is a very, very bad idea,” Jake said.
“What!” Maddie answered, somewhat indignantly. “Jess, you could write something, and Jake could…”
“Teach a child to do something for you?”
Jake is a teacher, so this was a perfectly reasonable response. We gazed around the room at the stacks of recently-opened gifts.
On my mother’s pile:
I bought her a decorative bowl and a draft blocker in the shape of a long cat.
Jake bought her some photo boxes.
Maddie had painstakingly and elaborately hand-painted a lovely wooden box my mother could use to store keepsakes in.
On my father’s pile:
I bought him a red shirt and tie.
Jake bought him a purple shirt and tie.
Maddie had artfully painted a set of bookends: one side containing a framed picture of him and his baby grandson beaming at one another, the other side consisting of the letter “M,” for our family surname. I nearly expected it to breakdance for a full four minutes, turn to my pitiful little JCPenney tie and say, “You got served.”
And I haven’t even gotten to the clever, hand-made decoupaged and painted flower pots, a gorgeous paper mache ornament, handmade magnets, and some homemade truffles and biscotti nestled in fluted paper cups, tied with real ribbon in cello bags, and tucked into Chinese take-out containers decorated with Christmas shapes and snowflakes. The kicker? They made all of this with a four month-old in the house. And he’s their child, so he’s probably not leaving.
“Oh, my gifts were all handmade, too,” Jake said as we watched our little not-so-homemade gifts get pwned. “In a sweatshop by some Malaysian children.”
Next year, I’ll be bringing my A game. I’m busting out the pinking shears and oil paints in June. Then we’ll see who the favorite is.