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My Father’s Creative Christmas

For Rena McDaniel’s father, Christmas was all about trying to keep secrets. He was very clever that way! Read more from Rena on her blog, Diary of an Alzheimer’s Caregiver.


Dad has been gone now for almost thirty years. He died of a sudden heart attack when I was only 15 years old. He grew up an orphan, his mother having died when he was only 4 years old. His father, not knowing what to do with a 4 year old, just left. He spent a couple of years with my grandma’s sister until she didn’t want to take care of him anymore and sent him to an orphanage to live.

He had a dismal childhood but he was determined to make up for that fact with his own family. He worked his behind off and made sure that we had the kind of life that I knew he had always dreamed of. I was his princess. The only girl with 4 brothers, there was no hiding the fact that I was his favorite. Of course, my brothers probably wouldn’t agree!

My Father's Creative Christmas

My dad getting ready to eat – his favorite hobby!


I had a very normal childhood.  We never had a lot of money, but we were comfortable. I grew up in a well-developed subdivision where we had neighbors to play with, and mom stayed home and cooked and cleaned. The only drama was my dad’s bad heart. He had several heart attacks during my growing up years.

Dad always pretended to hate Christmas. He would call himself the “grinch” and loved going around saying “bah humbug!” He didn’t have anyone fooled, though. He did most of the Christmas shopping, although I am sure mom kept him on a tight budget because one thing my dad loved to do was shop. He loved to buy people, including himself, gifts!

As I mentioned, I have 4 brothers, and three of those brothers are at least 6 years older than I am. So while I am sure they were threatened with death for spoiling the magic of Christmas for my younger brother and me, it was bound to happen. As soon as my parents would head out the door my older brothers would be searching the house looking for the gifts. If they were already under the tree, a mistake my dad made only a few times, they were carefully unwrapped and then hastily wrapped back up before our parents came home.

My Father's Creative Christmas

My mom, circa 1966

Of course a 10 year old boy can’t wrap a present like a grown-up, so my brothers were always caught. I never had the nerve to try! Because of my brothers, every year my dad would try to find a way for Christmas to be a surprise. Most years he failed – until I was 6. I will never forget that year! This is the year that Christmas would change forever and keep changing every year as we kids got older and wiser!

My Father's Creative Christmas

My brothers and me in 1973

That first year it was colors. The presents didn’t have names on them, they had colors. There would be a bunch of presents addressed to “blue” or “green.” Five different colors for five different kids. Of course, when there is only one girl and one color “pink” it was pretty much a given who those gifts belonged to. It was just a matter of figuring out the rest. The following year my dad used numbers 1, 2, 3 etc., and once again this was figured out rather quickly. I always thought of my brothers as dumb, but I guess at some things they were pretty smart

Finally, one year we came home from school and found all of the presents wrapped and under the tree. We gathered around to see which system was going to be used. There were so many presents the tree had to be put up on top of a box! We all looked at the name tags and saw these random series of numbers that looked crazy to us! No one was going to be able to figure this one out and no amount of shaking would tell us what was inside!

We waited and waited and finally Christmas Eve was upon us. Now, most people waited until Christmas Day to open gifts, but in our family even our parents were tired of waiting. My mom would fix platters of food, it was always the same. No big turkey or Christmas ham in our house. Christmas Eve would be sandwiches! I know it sounds so weird but that’s the way it was and is still done in our house on Christmas Eve. Mom would buy roast beef, ham and turkey lunchmeat. We would have potato salad and deviled eggs and all different kinds of chips and sandwich fixins. I didn’t realize until I was older that it was because my mother was never a very good cook!

My Father's Creative Christmas

Our Christmas Eve sandwich spread!

We would shove food down our throats like it could be taken back at any second! The faster we would finish the sooner it was time for presents!

I still eat fast. This never ceases to amaze my hubby, but as I have explained to him with 4 brothers, if you didn’t eat fast, you didn’t eat at all!

With dinner out of the way we would all head into the living room. My little brother and me,  and my older brothers, the married ones with their wives and kids. We all gathered around the tree so daddy could pass out presents! This is when things took a weird turn. Daddy passed out $1 dollar bills with our names written on it! The dollars were looked at with skeptical nose shrugs until it dawned on us that we had seen these strange numbers before. That’s right….all of our gifts had the corresponding serial number from the $1 on the name tags. So that year instead of Rena, I was FS834785459872268 if the present matched my dollar it was mine!

My Father's Creative Christmas

Mom’s ginormous microwave…notice the phone beside it!
We had such a blast with this that we carried it on year after year until my father passed a couple of years later. It is a tradition that I brought back when I had my children and will bring back again when I have 3 little boys and a little girl, my grandchildren, gathered around my Christmas tree once again! Christmas is for children…and adults who act like ones as well! It made Christmas so much more magical this one small thing. Something that I will remember all of my life. The box that the tree was sitting upon? That was my mom’s microwave – a new appliance on the market that year- and was the size of a mobile home.
I wish you could have seen her face when Dad even managed to trick her as well!

Rena McDaniel

Alzheimer Caregiver to my mother, Felty's Syndrome patient, wife, mother and grandmother. Appreciate the good, laugh at the crazy and deal with the rest.

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Tuesday 23rd of December 2014

What a dear memory! It is fun to read and learn about other people's holiday traditions.


Monday 22nd of December 2014

My sister was mercenary when it came to finding the presents too...and she'd always tell me what I got. What wondeful memories you have. I'm happy for your memories and sorry for your loss.


Monday 22nd of December 2014

First of all, I'm so sorry that you lost your dad at such a young age. I love this story! What a wonderful memory - and your dad was so clever!

Carol Graham

Monday 22nd of December 2014

I can see that the tenderness you have comes from your dad and your organizational skills from your mom. I am going to use those tactics next year. I absolutely love the idea of color or number coding. What a wonderful, heart warming Christmas story, Rena


Monday 22nd of December 2014

I love your Dad's enthusiasm. The serial numbers on a dollar bill is unique and the cleverest thing I ever heard! The picture of your Mom is classic with her white gloves and Jackie Kennedy style coat/dress!

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