We all grew up with different Christmas traditions. Mine were unique because my family was Jewish. But Mother always put up a Christmas tree — not as a religious symbol, but just to celebrate the holiday season.
Since my dad’s folks were devout Jews who lived across town, the tree had to come down quickly before their announced visits. My mother could undecorate a tree much faster than she could decorate it.
As I look back on my years writing about the holidays in this column, I am reminded of some funny moments that have become part of the Wolfsie family lore.
When I grew up, you never told anyone in the family what you were getting them for Christmas. Surprising them was the best part. Of course, you could guess what you were getting, but in my house you had to be very careful.
“Is it a train set, Mom?”
“Is it a set of Lincoln Logs?”
“No, it’s not.”
“Is it a Robbie the Robot?”
“OK, thanks for totally ruining Christmas for me.”
My wife, on the other hand, believes in telling me what she wants. A few years ago, I ordered a gift online for her, but when it finally landed on our doorstep in late December, I had no recollection of what might be in the huge box.
“I remember,” said Mary Ellen. “That’s what I asked you to get me for Christmas.”
“What is it?”
“Do you really want me to tell you? I thought you liked surprises.”
“Surprises? It’s for you. You can tell me. You already know what it is.”
“I thought somebody should be surprised.”
When I buy Mary Ellen something that was not requested, I usually miss the mark. She once made me take back, two weeks before Christmas, a Keurig coffee maker that was under the tree, wrapped. She knew from the size of the box what it was, and she didn’t want it. The clerk at the department store told me I was the first husband to return a gift before Christmas … still wrapped.
That year she was on a money-saving kick, so instead of buying me the three books I wanted, she checked them out of the library. Three weeks later, I returned them. I guess I showed her.
Overall, I don’t have a gift-giving knack. For a few months prior to our 25th anniversary, she began humming the tune, “I Love Paris in the Springtime.” I assumed she was dropping a hint, so I got her the sheet music. I thought she would get a kick out of knowing the lyrics.
Every year on Christmas morning, everybody knows which gifts Dad has wrapped. The ends of the package are crumbled up like a big spitball. Turn it over and there’s big area that the paper didn’t cover.
This year, instead of exchanging gifts, we decided we would take a family vacation. When we go away, my wife does not even think about coming home, but I always look forward to it. I guess I’m better at returning than she is.