Ah. Mom’s idea of a tree with subtle decoration. And it’s my gift to you. This is also a wallpaper. Click and save.

Ah, the first week of December. I don’t know about you but that’s when I traditionally pause and reflect on all the good times we’ve shared during a year that’s now coming to an end.

Hmm. Never mind.

Speaking of traditions, though, I’ve been thinking about those, too. Especially the holiday variety. Both those that have remained the same throughout the years and new ones that were hoisted upon me without my express knowledge and consent.

Some traditions are good and the earliest memories of them are engraved irrevocably in my brain. Like the time I opened the hall closet and found hidden on the top shelf a bunch of colorful presents. And, get this, they all said they were from Santa Claus. (Oops. Spoiler alert.)

I was a youngling at the time and I didn’t hesitate to share the information with my little sister who is three years younger. Why did I do that? I really don’t know. It was a long, long time ago. We must have been home alone, though. I’m probably lucky to be alive. In any case, voila! A new holiday tradition was born.

Back then we were the traditional family unit: mom, dad, son, daughter, and 2.5 cats. That was the only paradigm I’d ever known. For us, Christmas was a time of family. It was the four of us, together alone, all day long. We didn’t see anyone else and we received no visitors. Yet another Taker family tradition.

Over the years that basic family unit has naturally shifted. Parents come and go, step parents introduce themselves (with an occasional step sibling), and you find yourself celebrating Christmas with people you barely know. And other people who happen to be handy at the time like roommates, girlfriends, their kids, wives, and their kids, too. It can get rather confusing.

These days my clan is spread far and wide so, by necessity, the unit is only the wife and myself. Just the two of us creating new traditions along the way. Every other year we spend Christmas with her family which includes an aunt, an uncle and his girlfriend, a cousin, and, occasionally, her son The Gerbil. (His exploits are documented on my personal blog.)

I don’t have many memories of Christmas Day foods. We didn’t eat the same thing year after year, like goose, turkey, or ham. Mom liked to cook and I do remember a plethora of treats like divinity and fudge.

Thanksgiving, by comparison, was much more regimented. We’ve drive over the river and through the woods to grandma’s house where we’d have the complete and traditional turkey feast. Dinner was always at 3 p.m. sharp. To me, that’s when a real Thanksgiving dinner takes place. Unlike a current wife who shall remain nameless. Her family prefers to eat a little later in the day, like midnight. Hey! It takes time for your body to adjust to that much food!

We were never big decorators of the outside of the house. We didn’t put up lights but mom and dad would load up on mugs of coffee (kids with hot chocolate) and we’d drive around town looking at everyone else’s.

Inside of our house was another story. Mom always went nuts decorating for holidays. There were only a few weeks each year when the house would be undecorated and it felt weird. Christmas was no exception and she really went all out. Decorations on the walls, festive things hanging from the ceiling, lots of knickknacks, and of course, the Christmas tree itself.

It was a plastic tree so I have no fond memories of picking out a tree at the lot and bringing it home. We’d unpack the box, lay out the parts, and assemble the thing from the bottom up. Then, of course, came two metric tons of boxes of ornaments, lights, and stuff. It was basically the same tree every single year.

Other than that, the only other traditions we had we pretty simple. We opened presents on Christmas morning. Period. There was no latitude on this policy. Some people, or so I’ve heard, will open a single gift the night before. Or, like in my wife’s family, they opened them all. Shocking, I know.

By waiting until the morning itself and with absolutely no deviation of any kind, the day assumed immense significance. These days the entire Christmas season seems to come and go in the blink of an eye, but back then, counting down the 24 days of December seemed to last an eternity.

Just between you and me (shhh!) there was a way around this. Presents would appear under the tree weeks before the big day. This was, of course, designed to torment us and keep our emotions at a fever pitch. The waiting was hell. In some cases, wrapping didn’t do much to keep the nature of the gift well concealed. For example, an old style 12″ LP record was extremely obvious.

So, one year, came Operation Sneak Attack. I must have carried it out under the cover of darkness. It was a long time ago so I’m not sure but I do remember it was a success. In a chestnut shell, this was the plan:

Crawl stealthily under the tree, get the present, and study carefully to identify the best point of entry. Ever so carefully peel back the clear scotch tape and fold back the flap. Make a small slit along the edge of the album. Remove the LP from it’s protective cover. Slap that baby on dad’s sound system and record to audio cassette. Label cassette “BASIC run program” with a Sharpie. Slide the album back in its cover, close flap, and carefully reseal with the tape in the exact same position as before.

It was the perfect Christmas crime. I listened to that album repeatedly for three weeks and had it memorized by Christmas Day. I think it was Let’s Get Small by Steve Martin. (Questionable parenting choice there, I must say. Of course my other favorite album at the time was Hair: Original Soundtrack so I don’t think they worried too much about what I was exposed to.)

The only real problems with Operation Sneak Attack were not letting mom figure out what I was listening to and acting surprised when I opened the gift for the “first time.” As far as I know I got away with it.

But anyway, I digress. What are your Christmas traditions? What are your most treasured memories? Like Santa often says, all I want for Christmas is for you to share them in the comments section below. Free lump of coal to anyone who fails to comply.