In my house, that’s what Santa Claus preferred, his favorite cookie; I know this because my dad told me it was so.
On Christmas Eve, I spread a circle of Oreos on a plate and set them on our brick fireplace hearth next to a full glass of milk. And I went to bed.
In the morning, before I allowed myself to look at the tree, before I allowed myself to peek inside the stockings, before I allowed myself to wake up my parents and wait for them to pour coffee, I checked the plate.
It was a gift itself — and a relief — to see the crumbs, the empty glass with a milk ring in the bottom, evidence — proof — that Santa had indeed come to the Hudson household, that he had not forgotten us this year after all.
Those Christmas mornings were as happy as anything I can remember. We took our places — Dad in his chair, Mom in her chair, me on the floor, the same positions every year — and started with our stockings.
One at a time, each of us dug in. My dad pulled out his can of Barbasol shaving cream; my mom pulled out a pair of leather gloves; and I pulled out a bag of Bazooka Joe bubble gum. The items were the same every year, and yet, I never tired of this ritual. Traditions are born through repetition, and so much stays the same at Christmas.
Except, of course, it doesn’t.
My parents celebrated their first Christmas as a married couple in 1969.
That year, 11 months before I was born, the two of them went to Kmart on North Main Street in High Point and bought a six-foot-tall artificial tree, reams of plastic greenery and garlands, and a cart full of multicolored, mercury-glass ornaments.
They decorated their small house on Eastchester Drive and trimmed their new tree and sat together on the sofa, admiring the glow of the lights, mentally recording the placement of the ornaments so they could duplicate it the next year, and every year after that.
When my parents moved to Asheboro with me in tow, they carted those decorations with us.
That first year, my mother hammered nails in the new barn-wood walls in our den. She put up a wooden NOEL and her painted candy canes, gifts from friends who were regular customers so many years ago in her crafts shop. She hung her collection of pewter ornaments on a wreath that the girls who worked for her went in together to buy; she hung my framed letter to Santa Claus from 1976. On the coffee table, she displayed a collection of hand-painted Santa Clauses from her best friend and, in a basket, my dad’s collection of illustrated Christmas books from his childhood. She draped garlands — the same garlands from that Kmart in High Point — on the mantel and looped our stockings onto their nails.
My grandmother made those stockings, painstakingly needlepointing every stitch, including our names. There’s a colorful train on my dad’s stocking. My mom’s shows leaping reindeer, and mine has a Raggedy Ann on the front.
My grandmother is no longer here — it’s been 20 years now — but when those stockings are on display, they are evidence — proof — that she was.
This year, there’s a For Sale sign in the front yard of the house. My parents have put much of their belongings in storage, waiting for the day when the real estate agent says it’s time to go.
On Christmas morning, we’ll sit together like we’ve done for 35 years, our small family circle, surrounded by everything in the same place.
We’ll start with the stockings.
I’ll look around at everything, mentally recording the placement of it all so that I won’t ever forget it: the decorations on the walls, the stockings on the mantel, my mom and dad in their chairs, drinking coffee and watching the glow of the lights.
It’s becoming so clear to me that real gifts aren’t the ones under the tree.