Ah, Christmas celebrations with the family. We usually have our annual extended family get-together long after Christmas, but the mood is the same. Whoever hosts leaves up all their decorations inside and out. We visit with uncles and cousins we haven’t seen since last year, new babies, great aunts, other twice-removed relatives and lots of food. Our family is not Greek, but we’re loud enough to drown out even the biggest, fattest of their socials. With kids and dogs running amok, we laugh, tell stories, and stuff our faces.
This year my mom hosted. She spent a lot of time decorating, cleaning, and creating a festive mood with many lit candles and fake snow all around.
One of the highlights (besides aunt Shirley’s lemon bars) is our gift exchange. We do it in the ‘dirty Santa’ fashion – also known as ‘Yankee swap’ or sometimes ‘white elephant’ depending on your region. Basically, each person who wants to participate brings a gift worth $20 or so, then we draw numbers to set the picking order. Each person can unwrap a new gift or steal one that has been opened.
Anyone with an office job has done a variation of this sort of gift exchange. Usually they are quite civilized. My family is a bit…shall we say…competitive. Several of us bring gifts with the specific intent to see it fought over and stolen. Nuts, cheeses, and any sort of booze all go over well. The year after grandma died, one of her vases caused a family brawl. This year, the gift of great concern was the Snuggie.
My mom wanted that Snuggie.
Mom hopped up and down when #1 opened the Snuggie. She clutched her number – 3 – and watched with great concern as the next person opened a new gift but made no move for ‘her’ Snuggie. As soon as it was her turn, she popped up and grabbed it. Cousin Sheri, #4, grabbed it back. Disheartened, mom opened a new gift, a collection of soup fixings with giant mugs. “Oh, this is good,” she said with only the slightest hint of disappointment.
Aunt Shirley grabbed the soup. Mom opened a set of DVD’s, which was promptly stolen by #6 – me. Whining ensued, even as she was reassured that I would let her borrow them. She returned to the pile.
My dear, sweet mother excitedly opened her fifth present in a row, a gift bag of imported wine and pistachio nuts. “This is actually better than the Snuggie,” she gushed as she pulled out the tissue paper, and carefully laid said paper on the coffee table…
…where she had placed several lit candles…
Engrossed in the greatness of the gift, she remained oblivious to the rising flames. As mentioned earlier, we are a loud bunch, so this is her excuse for not noticing the yelling as several of us launched towards the plumes.
Cousin Sheri got there first and snatched the paper as the flames lofted it towards the curtains. The only dousing medium we had was coffee and she was honestly thinking of the carpets, so she tried to run to the door to toss it into the rain. The fire consumed the tissue too quickly for her to make it, so she threw it on the floor, grabbed the nearest thing and started beating out the flames – all to the frantic screams of “NOT THE SNUGGIE!!”
Meanwhile, cousin Rebeca poached the wine and nuts.