The Christmas Box

It wasn't anything, this gaily colored red and blue plaid box that easily nestled a sweater or sweatshirt or other similar sized item, that especially caught your attention. Brightest in its heyday when it first entered my home as one of a batch of multi-sized holiday gift boxes, after ten years the box was showing signs of wear. Not anything major, just tiny nicks where the colorful design adhered to scotch tape too rapidly peeled off in an effort to discover its contents; or small dents the effects of traveling in overstuffed car trunks.

For the Christmas box was a traveler. On a yearly basis, it alternated between my home in Long Island and my sister's home in Boston. Curiously, it owed its longevity to lessons learned from our Depression era parents. Following their example, the women in our family have saved wrapping paper, ribbons, greeting cards, string and anything else that might be of use someday because you never know when you're going to need it. Some customs never seem to disappear.

Wrapping gifts this year I reached for the Christmas box and really noticed it for the first time. Two overlapping gift tags were attached to the front of the box, one barely covering the other. Each tag had a different name. Calculating where we were when the gift was given, I realized that the Christmas box may have been present at family gatherings since I first purchased it almost a decade ago. All this time the box brought joy to one of us, passed from one family member to another, and from one household to the other. And year after year not one of us recognized the box.

The Christmas box seemed to have taken on a life of its own. Silent witness through the years, was it was there when the boisterous clan of now grown cousins flew to the front porch not to miss the town's Santa played by an enthusiastic fireman from his perch on top of a city fire engine? As children, the cousins believed the true start of a Boston Christmas began with this magical event. The box was probably there during quieter Yuletide celebrations when we remembered the passing of loved ones who were no longer with us to join in the festivities. And it was certainly there when we shared the particular highlights of the year over Christmas dinner -- a graduation, a new job, a first home, a move to another state, or a new canine addition to the family.

This year the Christmas box is home in Long Island once more. It sits under the tree waiting to reveal its surprises on Christmas morning. The box, I realize, has become more than just a gift box. It has come to symbolize the spirit of the season. Its durability exemplifies the lessons taught to us by our frugal parents who persevered so that their children and ours could have a better life. It reflects the familial bonds we continue to hold dear in this 21st century mixed family of Catholics, Jews and Buddhists. And it holds the promise that future generations will find the ways to gather together in this season regardless of distance and the passage of time.

May your own version of the Christmas box bring you the joys of the season.