Check the expiration date.

Are you here for guilt-free holiday recipes? Well you have come to the wrong place! Because all you’ll find in this blog for the next week or two is a compilation of stories about the holidays, many of which include important life lessons like “Don’t feed ham to the cat” or “No one wins an argument that involves a dictionary.”

So without further ado, here’s one from 2004 about maintaining grace during gift-giving.

My grandmother was 83 at the time and, as usual, taking the holidays very seriously.

She had barely taken off her coat in my parents’ kitchen before saying to me and my brother, “Hey!! Do you want to open your presents now???”

We didn’t, really. Because we were in our mid-twenties and we already had a lot of excitement that morning when we spilled water on our carpet and our father told us that we ruined Christmas. (Santa brought us squirt guns, what did he expect?)

“I want you to open them before the other kids come,” she said, referring to our cousins, also adults. “So that they don’t get jealous.”

This concern, while perhaps sincere, turned out to be unwarranted. Because the gifts she had for me – a package of dollar store Neapolitan wafers and a bag of generic cheese puffs – were not exactly envy-inducing. My brother got a half-wrapped box of mostaccioli rigati. Maybe she ran out of paper, maybe she just gave up – we don’t know for sure, but it really added to the presentation.

“I know you like Cheez Doodles, Nova,” she said.

I thanked her, of course – doubly so because I do, in fact, like Cheez Doodles and because I knew that I would be telling this story without fail for the next 20 years. In fact, that’s exactly why I packed those snacks up and took them all the way back to Philadelphia with me – to use as a prop during story-telling.

And that’s how this gift got even better.

“I remember those!” one of my roommates said when he saw the cookies. “The pink ones are the best!”

“They’re all yours,” I told him. And he ate all the pink and half a row of chocolate right then and there.

Several hours later, sick in the bathroom, he yelled to me, “Throw those cookies out!! There’s something wrong with them.”

And that there was. While looking for the expiration date, I noticed that the package said that consumption could have a laxative-like effect.

“We don’t know for sure that it was the cookies,” I said to him through the door. “But I’m sorry.”

But we did know it was the cookies. We totally knew. Gifts don’t get any shittier than that.

And for that I thank my grandmother a million times over – for a story good enough to last a lifetime.

And also for the Cheez Doodles. Those were fine.

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