Together, my wife, daughters and I hung the final ornament on the tree then stepped back to admire our handwork, a tradition that also includes reflecting on those long ago, seemingly simpler times.
"Remember when we used to decorate Christmas cookies before I shunned gluten?" my daughter asked.
"Remember when you girls sat on Santa's lap instead of just emailing him your lists?" my wife chimed in.
It was my turn. "Girls, remember when your text messages to me contained (sniff) words? I miss those days."
"You heard me," I said. "Texts. Those short sentences with actual letters of the alphabet. Even though you girls drove me crazy by spelling 'love' with a 'u,' or answering in the affirmative by creating an annoying word like 'yeppers,' or responding to my texts with 'K', whatever that means."
"It's the abbreviation for OK," my youngest said.
"OK IS an abbreviation," I reminded her. "I didn't realize you were that busy."
"What's your point, Dad?" they chimed in unison, a skill they have perfected over the years.
"My point is that I'm banning emojis from this house. Or at least from your phones when you text me."
"You heard me," I said. "I'm tired of receiving a string of facial expressions and objects that I'm supposed to decipher. I feel like those Survivor contestants who have to correctly assemble a puzzle if they want to avoid eating mosquito larvae for another week. I'm your dad, not a Mensa member."
"But they're so fun. And really, Dad, they're easy to figure out."
"Easy? EASY?" I said. "Remember when I sent a text asking you the name of that song that was really popular a few years ago? The one that everybody was lip synching in YouTube videos? You replied with a # sign, an image of a phone and a question mark."
"Here's my number, call me maybe," my daughter replied. "What's so hard about that?"
"You're kidding, right?"
"Dad, don't be so irrelevant," my oldest said. "Everyone uses emojis."
"Yeah, Dad, hop on the bandwagon," her sister said.
"Look, I'm just saying that they aren't always appropriate. Like that time, I texted you that I had caught food poisoning in New Orleans. I would have preferred a response like, 'I'm sorry' or 'Get well soon.' Instead, you sent me a sad face and eight images of a toilet."
"It takes too long to type, 'diarrhea.'"
"Hey Dad, if you update your iPhone to the latest software version, there's a poop emoji!"
Both girls exploded in laughter.
I took out my phone and scrolled through my messages. "How about this one? A slice of pizza, a house, two fish and a dollar sign?"
"It means 'Let's have pizza delivered. Sushi's too expensive.'"
I scrolled further. "And this one? A heart, a red double decker bus and a cookie?"
"I'd love an English muffin. By the way, Dad, that's a muffin, not a cookie."
"Then please tell the emoji baker to improve his graphic design skills."
"Dad, you can always complain to the Unicode Consortium if you're confused. That's the group that approves emojis."
"Wait. There's an actual group that had to approve a pile of poop? Who are these people?"
"Apple, Google, Facebook, IBM and a bunch of other companies. They've all got members in the group," my daughter said.
"Can I apply for membership?"
"I guess. But I'm not sure how. Maybe send them an email? Or a text?"
"I've got a better idea," I said, perusing the list of emojis in my phone. I tapped a few and then presented the message to my daughters for approval.
"What do you think of this?"
Both girls stared at the symbols, puzzled looks on their faces. Finally, my oldest spoke.
"An exclamation point, a globe, a group of people, a question mark, a leaf, a pair of scissors and a stop sign? What's that supposed to mean?"
"It means, 'Hey International Consortium, whatever you've been smoking, please cut it out. Now!"