This was the first year to have Christmas without my dad. Mom decided to stick with tradition though, and I'm so glad she did. Every year we celebrate Christmas at their house the weekend before Christmas Day. Rather than buy things for all the kids and grandkids, Mom cleans out her cupboards and gives away items she no longer needs/wants. Since they are secondhand items, she doesn't feel right wrapping them up and putting them under the tree. So instead, she distributes them under the guise of a white elephant gift exchange. The thing that is different is that instead of just one gift, she fills a lawn-and-leaf black garbage bag full of items (one bag per person). Some of the items are what Mom calls "three-star" items (like cut crystal from her china cabinet) and some receive no stars at all (like staple removers).

Still, the family embraces her game and what started years ago as a friendly white elephant gift exchange has evolved into what the kids call “Mimi’s Cutthroat Christmas”. Due to the plethora of items and competitive family spirit, the game can get pretty ruthless. LOL.

 "Game Faces" Left to Right: My son-in-law, 27 yo daughter, niece-in-law (is that a word?), and nephew.

"Game Faces" Left to Right: My son-in-law, 27 yo daughter, niece-in-law (is that a word?), and nephew.

Since Dad wasn't there to help, I went over to Mom's the week before. We corralled the gifts, divided the gifts, and wrapped the gifts. Took us about 30+ hours to get it all ready. My mom made a spreadsheet of sorts to make sure each garbage bag had items that a man would enjoy, items a woman would enjoy, items that were of high value, and items that were of no value.

This year's gifts ranged from blenders to Christmas decorations to pink flamingos. The rules change each year and the kids enjoy debating the rules almost as much as the actual game. Every year we tell ourselves that we’ll remember how we played for next year. And every year we always forget.

 My nephew opened a red velvet cape, which was stolen by my daughter-in-law.

My nephew opened a red velvet cape, which was stolen by my daughter-in-law.

It was great fun to see the kids open the gifts and to see if Mom and I were right in estimating what the "hot" items were. We were convinced that the fold out card tables would be a big hit. Much to our surprise, it was Dad's full size disco ball (he used to be a square dance caller) and his machete which were this year’s most sought after. (The kids were stunned when they opened the disco ball. They had NO idea their 84 yo grandpa had one up in the attic. That took a little explaining. LOL. And my sweet daughter-in-law who stole the velvet cape, also snagged the machete. An inner-warrior hiding inside that one. Ha.)

When all is finished, my mom let's them pick one painting from the wall (she's an artist). This is the highlight of the day and the kids have to draw numbers for their "Mimi art." There is NO stealing in this game. So getting the #1 pick is a big, big deal. 

Despite missing Dad, it ended up being a time of laughter and poignancy as we drew comfort from each other while still experiencing the joy of the season and joy of being with family. Do/did you have any special traditions when you went to Grandma's house?