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The Christmas Knife

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Growing up, my family had the worst of Christmas traditions.

My brother and I would wake up early, as kids do, rush into the den where there'd be a pile of presents under the tree ...and then go back to our rooms and find some way to pass the time. An hour or two later, our parents would eventually wake up, and the process would begin.

First thing that had to be done was fixing breakfast. Bacon, eggs, grits, all that. Not quite an Irish breakfast, but a bit more involved than cereal. Then, we would have to wash all the dishes from breakfast.

Breakfast completed, it was time to begin lunch. That is, typically, we'd have to get the turkey started so that it would be ready for Christmas dinner (dinner in this case being a lunch time meal). Then, clean any dishes we were done with from the lunch prep. Really cleaning them, too. Not just rinsing them off in the sink and popping them into the dishwasher. My grandparents refused to use their dishwasher (and their washing machine), so everything was washed and dried by hand.

Next comes the sorting of the presents. Everyone would have a spot around the den, and before anything was opened, we had to sort all the presents into piles for who they were for.

"Does anyone care where they sit?"

No response

"AHEM! Does anyone care where they sit?"

"Oh, just put me wherever."

"Are you going to come in after saying that and complain that you don't like your spot?"

No response.

Put everyone in the exact same spot they were in last year, and arrange the presents into neat little piles.

Then comes the making of the coffee. Brew brew brew. Add some cream, some sugar, and the adults head into the den.

"Oh, well I don't want to sit there."


...Switch two of the piles to make everyone happy, settle into new spot, and discover that uncle is wearing nothing under his robe. Guess that's why a seat change was requested.

Now, at long last, opening presents can ...seriously? You have to go to the bathroom? Fine, we can ...oh my god, he's taking the paper with him...

Pass the time comparing gifts with my brother, identifying which are identical in size and shape.

Finally, everyone is back and opening gifts can start. This is done one at a time, so that everyone is sure to see what everyone else got. The circle starts with the youngest, that would be me, and I open a gift, from the grandparents.

It's an amethyst, because apparently my grandparents think my brother and I play Rock-Paper-Scissors with serious style. And really, there's a good chance we'll also be getting paper and scissors. Brother picks out a box that looked like mine. Also amethyst. ...Stupid Bart, always picks rock.

Next up, grandma.

"Where's the knife?"

The what?

Yes, the knife. Anyone over the age of 15 in this family is foiled by wrapping paper, and has to resort to using a knife to cut the tape. We spend a few minutes looking for the knife, and then it's handed over, little bits of tape pop, a box is opened, and it's some ugly tchotchke. On to grandpa? Nope, he's busy looking at the little porcelain whatever. Then, he hands it over to aunt, she looks at it. Then mom, then dad, then uncle, and then it has to get passed back to grandma. Now, grandpa can open his gift.

"Where's the knife?"


Of course, things are a bit different now. The tradition is pretty much the same. Fewer rocks now that the grandparents are dead, though they've mostly been replaced by tchotchkes that will go into a box in the bottom of the closet, next to last year's tchotchkes. Just how many little sculptures of Chinese fishermen does a guy in his 20s really need? The number is certainly well south of one per year.

The real difference now is the coffee. It gets made earlier.

It gets made often.

And half of it is Irish cream.

[Read more from BL1Y]

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