Lots of families have traditions at Christmastime that are passed down from year to year.
Some of them are so old, no one remembers exactly how or why they came to be; it's just the way things have always been done. In our family, a great-grandmother's recipe for ginger bread cookies, made from pure cane molasses is the most anticipated, most sought after gift of the season.
As my great grandmother and grandmother did in Christmases past, my aunts and mother and father have faithfully replicated the recipe each year. My Bride now does an admirable job of precisely duplicating the flavor and texture of those beloved gingerbread cookies, as well. And so that tradition will continue with the next generation.
Other traditions are more recently inaugurated, and with the advent of the Internet and social media, their origins can be more precisely traced. Such is the annual re-gifting of the opened jar of chocolate nuts in our family.
Admit it--we all re-gift. But who would re-gift an obviously opened package?
The year before my younger brother died, our family had gathered on Christmas Day to exchange gifts and share a meal, before driving to nearby Wharton County for an extended-family holiday reunion. There were four siblings in my immediate clan; I am the oldest, followed by three years by Craig. Our sister, Kay, is five years younger than me; and Scott, the youngest brother, is 12-years my junior.
Scott was always the one getting into mischief without really trying when he was growing up. He wasn't a bad kid--he was uniquely intelligent, and always wanted to keep up with his older brothers and sister. Our mother had her hands full as she raised us, and being frugal, she would plan ahead for things like Christmas gifts--often buying items earlier in the year for Yule time giving.
For this particular Christmas weekend, our mother had placed jars of chocolate covered almonds in a festive gift bag for each of us. One by one, we each opened our jar of chocolate nuts, and immediately munched on a handful. Craig, however, had a bemused expression on his face, and nudged me to show what was in his bag. It was the same jar of nuts, alright, but the vacuum seal had already been broken...and half the contents were gone!
(We later learned Mom had bought the nuts back before Thanksgiving. Scott had apparently been unable to wait, and opened one of the jars to "sample" the wares. Our mother, unaware of the pilfering, prepared the jar for giving...to Craig.)
When Scott looked over and saw Craig's half-empty jar of chocolate nuts, he burst out laughing, as did the rest of us, when we learned what had happened.
By the Spring, Craig would be gone, a victim of Leukemia.
The following Christmas was a somber one; the first one without Craig. We all put on brave faces and gathered again for gift-giving and meal sharing, with an even closer bond with one another because of the shared loss of our brother, spouse, father, grandfather and son.
My daughter made a special Christmas tree ornament for everyone that year with a photo of Craig placed in the center of a large, wooden snowflake. There were more than a few tears and sobs as we each opened that gift.
Scott passed to me a rumpled gift bag with tissue paper stuffed in the top. I reached in and pulled out a jar of chocolate covered almonds...half empty. As I opened the lid, I noticed a post-it note stuck to the vacuum seal, still partially attached to the mouth of the jar.
"Remember last year when we all laughed so hard together!" the note said, written in my youngest brother's unmistakable architect's scrawl. "Will be one of my favorite memories!"
I think I had a pretty hard time reading the last line because my vision had become suddenly blurry with flurry of tears. And then I laughed, and Scott laughed, because it had been a pretty funny incident.
That was three years ago.
This year, once again, Craig's ornament graces our tree, smiling back at the room as if to share a private joke or two. This week, as my Bride and I re-packed that same, opened jar with more chocolate covered almonds, I noticed it looked odd.
It was full.
In order to maintain the authenticity of the tradition, I had to "remove" a few of the nuts.
The tradition will continue.