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Dec 22 2004

Remembering My Dad at Christmas

114momanddad.jpgChristmas was, without a doubt, my dad's favorite holiday. He passed away last year just before Christmas and we wound up Christmas Eve/Morning in a Holiday Inn Express between funerals/wakes. This year Mary, Drew, my sister, mom and I will all be together to properly celebrate the birth of Christ.

But this is about my dad and how he so cherished the Christmas season. When I was younger, I remember him meticulously hand painting ornaments. Every year, he beautifully decorated the exterior of the house with Christmas lights on all the bushes and along the gutters and eaves. When he got older and was no longer physically able to hang lights from the gutters by climbing a ladder the way he used to, he rigged a system of permanent hooks on the house and used a pole with a custom end he made to raise the stings of lights and place them taught on the hooks.

115bellornament.jpgWe always had a real Christmas tree. Everyone helped hang ornaments. Most important was that each person hung the ornaments that they had made in school or that, otherwise, were special to them. My dad always hung a small bell that he had on his Christmas tree since he was a child. He always hung it in the same place at the same height and would recount for us each year how, when he was little and first learning to talk, he would tap it while saying, "bell, bell."

Some time around 1920 my dad's dad, my grandfather Otto, started trimming the family Christmas tree using lead tinsel. If you haven't seen lead tinsel hung one strand at a time on a live Christmas tree, you are really missing out on something special. For obvious reasons, lead tinsel hasn't been sold for many years. Lead tinsel is very heavy and doesn't blow in the slight wind created by someone walking by like the feathery aluminum tinsel you buy now days. Lead tinsel is very soft and crinkles in a unique way that reflects light in an attractive understated manner unlike any modern tinsel. However, being made of soft lead, the old tinsel is very very fragile and must be handled carefully and slowly. With these constraints, every year my dad would put the same package(s) of lead tinsel on our tree one strand at a time, and take it all off one strand at a time to be used the next year, just as his father had done before him. The process took several evenings, spending several hours each evening.

116christmastree.jpgMy dad loved tracking down difficult to find gifts and would often order items months in advance. He would then meticulously wrap his packages. Sometimes he perfectly lined up wrapping paper patterns so that you could barely tell where a seam or fold was located. Other times he would seal every seam and fold with tape so that it was near impossible to open without a knife. He would often camouflage an easily identifiable gift in an odd shaped or oversized box and maybe even with a weight thrown in so that the recipient wouldn't know what they were receiving until they finally opened up the box. There was no picking up a wrapped package and knowing it was a CD at our house. My dad's specialty, however, was nesting a half-dozen or more boxes in each other, each fully wrapped, to make opening a "biggie" all the more magical. This was done, up to the point where we expected a really expensive gift to be at the end of all the nested boxes, then he changed up and put a regular or gag gift in the last box. You just never knew what he was up to. My dad also started the tradition of getting himself something each year that no one knew about and wrapping it himself with a tag, "From Santa, To Donald." He'd then unwrap it Christmas day in front of us genuinely exhibiting all the excitement of child.

I don't really remember getting any toys when I was a kid other than on birthdays and at Christmas. Likewise, even with clothes, the vast majority were received at Christmas. This combined with the fact that by any reasonable standard my mom and dad overdid Christmas gift giving. We weren't rich, but were sufficiently well off that the wrapped presents, some years, flowed out of the living room into the foyer. We even had to hide gifts in another room when guests came over because it was just so ridiculous. Then Christmas day the unwrapping began.

117dadopeninggift.jpgIt wasn't until I was married that I learned that some people unwrap gifts differently on Christmas day. Mary's family pretty much says ready, set, go...and everyone unwraps their presents at the same time. But not the Danz's. We sit and watch everyone unwrap their gifts one at a time, including taking the gift out of its box and looking at it closely or trying it on, peppered along the way with many "ohhs" and "ahhs." Despite there only being four of us, it would take from 8:00 in the morning until after lunch to open everything, although there were plenty of breaks for eating, reading instructions or just playing.

My dad will certainly be missed this Christmas, but mostly he will be remembered.

Posted by Don |


  1. WOW. Great piece. Your fathers approach to Christmas reminded me of my grandfather. Thank you for sharing these pleasent memories and reawakening some of my own.

  2. Loved reading your posts and it had such a lovely lay out. Merry Christmas

  3. Good Read. Merry Christmas.

  4. I'm so sorry that you lost your dad.

  5. What a beautiful tribute to your father you wrote. I'm sure he is so very proud of you. Merry Christmas.

  6. I'm going to forward this to my brothers, great writing about cherished times and people. Thank you and have a Merry Christmas!

  7. Your banner was the first thing that attracted me to your site, but I stayed for the incredible tribute to your father and his joy in Christmas. I am so sorry he's gone.

  8. Today's entry was absolutely beautiful. Your dad sounds like he was an amazing man.

  9. Thank you for sharing some pretty awesome Christmas memories...and your Dad.

    Peace be with you, this Christmas.

  10. I am sorry for your loss, I feel your pain, my mom's favorite time was also Christmas and I have had such a difficult time this year getting into the swing of things. This was so great to read. You were obviously very blessed growing up and now you can pass all this to your son. Be blessed Dan, I will be thinking of you this season as you make the best of the holiday.

  11. What a wonderful memory to have of him. Beautiful!

  12. #12
    Karen said on December 23, 2004 | Reply

    What wonderful memories! I hope my children will look back on their childhood Christmases with as much joy and longing as you.

  13. He is obviously very special to you and you seem to have a lot of great Christmas memories. With those, your Dad will be celebrating this Christmas with you.

    This was a very heartwarming post, so thank you for sharing!

    I hope you and you family have a wonderful Christmas!!

  14. I lost my father when I was four, so I don't remember him much. I lost my mother in November 1997, just before Thanksgiving. That was the worst holiday in my life.

    Wonderful blog. A+. :)

  15. #15
    Beth said on December 25, 2004 | Reply

    I'm sorry to hear about the loss of your dad. This was a wonderful post. Thank you for sharing your memories. They are beautiful memories.

  16. #16
    deb said on December 25, 2004 | Reply

    What lovely memories! Thank you for writing this as I, too, am remembering my father this Christmas :)

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