Tuesday, December 27, 2011

"Note gifts"

Many years ago, my parents started a Christmas tradition for me and my siblings (older brothers, younger sister) which they called "note gifts". Here's the way it worked:

All the presents which once were stacked under the tree had been opened, and the typical "post-present letdown phase" was starting to settle in, when my father would say "Wait… what's this?" and point to small envelopes or folded pieces of paper stuck in the branches of the Christmas tree. Each of these items would be found to bear one of our names, and when opened, would reveal directions such as "Look in the closet at the top of the stairs" or "Look behind the toy box in the playroom".

We'd all rush off to the appropriate locations, and there find one last gift… and it was almost always the biggest, most expensive (within my parents' modest means) and/or most wanted present. 

Sometimes the notes themselves were delivered in an unusual fashion -- the one I remember most clearly was when my father handed us each a walnut after all the presents had been opened. We all looked at each other, wondering if note gifts were no more. But then we were directed to crack the walnuts' shells… and inside, tightly folded, we found the notes for the note gifts! My father had painstakingly cracked open the walnuts, scooped out the insides, stuffed the folded notes into the shells, and glued them back together.

It was a great tradition, and when Jeannine and I started hosting our family's Christmas gatherings, sometime about twenty-seven or twenty-eight years ago, I took it over, along with the "making of the Christmas stockings" tradition. For most of those years, I presented the notes in a standard way, but occasionally I have tried to emulate the creativity my father showed when he gave us those walnuts.

One year I created an elaborate crossword puzzle (and this was before crossword puzzle-making software was available) within which certain letters were to be used to spell out where all the note gifts were hidden. And last year, I made small jigsaw puzzles, using those pre-cut jigsaw puzzle blanks one can find at craft stores, each with one person's clue to the whereabouts of their note gift… and to read it, the puzzle would have to be reassembled. That was fun.

This year, I wanted to do that again, but I had eight note gift puzzles to make, but only three small blanks. However, I had plenty of larger blank puzzles, measuring about 8.5 by 11 inches, so I decided to use them. And unlike last year, I only used black marker to write the clues, due to time constraints (last year I included some color elements, as I felt that would help in the reassembly of the puzzles).

Big mistake.

I didn't realize -- until everyone started trying to piece their puzzles back together -- exactly how difficult it would be to put together a hundred-piece black and white puzzle consisting only of black letters written with a broad-tipped marker on a white background. Here's a photo of Emily beginning to work on hers.

After about twenty minutes, it dawned on me that this was going to take HOURS… so, even though some people wanted to keep working on the puzzles, I threw in the towel and printed out simple text directions to the note gifts. That worked much better (and quicker).

So next year, if I try this again, I will either do (a) smaller puzzles, (b) puzzles with colors, or (c) both. -- PL


Mom, Pop, and Chris said...

Dear Peter,

Chris led Mom & Pop to this blog posting and they (we) all really enjoyed reading and were touched by your fond memories of the note gifts.

Love, M&P and Chris

Brookslyn said...

I love the idea of "note gifts"... going to try it next year or maybe at some b-day party.

Mark H said...

What a great tradition. I should start that in my home. My kids are still young enough to really enjoy something like that. It seems like one of those things I could do to create great memories!