crab box...

my grandma was a little girl a long long long long time ago. don't tell her i said that.

and excuse me while i sidetrack for a moment, but that reminded me of a story that i am feeling i need to tell you. my uncle matt is hilarious, he is also thoughtful, an unbelievable gift giver, one of the best fathers i know, and in my younger years would have inherited me if my parents bit it. but they didn't... but my point was he is hilarious. one time my grandma took us the museum and uncle matt with us. i was probably in junior high or so. after the museum we were wandering in the park between the museum and the zoo. my grandma, always feeling nostalgic, was telling us about how she used to play in these trees when she was a little girl. uncle matt's quick response, "oh, this is where you used to come to pet the dinosaurs." and we all instantly cracked up and ruined her nostalgia. sorry grandma. we are always ruining your moments. end of sidetrack...

my grandma was a little girl a long long long long time ago. she had 2 brothers and 1 sister. one year at christmas time they were all under the weather. with the creeping crud passing between them it became apparent it would be impossible for them to travel to grandmas for christmas. well, her grandma would hear nothing of the sort of them missing all the holiday festivities. she quickly started working, figuring out a way they could celebrate in their own home, alone. she walked around her house and started picking up things she didn't want or didn't need had no purpose for, or had meant to throw away. she wrapped them all up and shipped the box of unwanted gifts to my grandmothers house where 4 kids would be very sad they were missing out on christmas. in the box she included instructions; each child could open one gift at a time, and this gift was not like a usual christmas gift, if you didn't like it, you could crab about it all you want. i don't know if my great great grandma thought the kids deserved some crabbing time, since they were missing out on christmas, or just knew they would crab about the terrible gifts anyhow, so decided to give them permission. either way, the first rules were set. the 4 kids had a wonderful time opening gifts and crabbing about them and laughing and carrying on. and this event has carried on every year since.

we call it the crab box now, and the rules have changed a little, the game has certainly progressed from that first christmas. the entire family takes part now; adults, children, grandparents, great grandparents, toddlers, and everything in between. we don't just wrap things from around the house; we collect clearance shelf goodies all year round. and christmas eve night boxes and boxes and boxes of simply wrapped presents are dumped onto my grandma and grandpas living room floor. at the count of three everyone grabs one present and opens them at the same time. we are all then free to crab and whine about the gift we got, and trade with any body else for their slightly better crab box gift. we crab and crab and try to trade until grandma yells stop, and instructs us to grab again. the only rules are you have to wait for grandmas call to grab a present.

and christmas isn't christmas without the crab box.

christmas isn't christmas without all my aunts and uncles and cousins, and cousin's families now, our numbers reaching 30 or 40, gathered in my grandma and grandpa's house eating bacon wrapped water chestnuts, spinach dip, black bean and corn salsa, pinwheels, 7 layer bean dip, cheese and sausage and crackers, barbecue little smokies, and tons of other snack foods. we eat and eat until we eat can more, and laugh and laugh, and pee our pants a little. all waiting for grandma to say "okay... it's time for the crab box."

by that time, little kids are starting to nod off, but are suddenly zapped with a dose of energy and excitement. all 20 or 30 or 40 of us circle up in the living room, moving all the furniture to the outer edge. and the boxes are brought in one by one and dumped into a never ending heap in the middle of the floor. we all ooh and ahh and mention how we must have more this year than ever before. garbage bags in tow, to store our loot, and excitement growing every second... we wait for grandma to tell the story of the very first crab box. we wait for that first signal, the signal that says, now, this moment, is the start of every body's favorite christmas tradition. and we grab our gifts feverishly searching for the dollars wrapped around pencils, or stuffed in old medicine bottles. we search for the dvd that will make everyone else jealous, or that t shirt you know you can use for a good bargain. and cursed be the poor soul who gets that darn gold and pearl pin that has been in the crab box every year for 20 years. heaven forbid you be the one who opens the size 72 pair of boxers, or the pill bottle that has no dollar in inside. and as everyone throws their wrapping garbage at grandpa, who inevitably got stuck collecting trash again this year, the chaos ensues. everybody wants to trade, and uncle david will be yelling some nonsense about making copies, or the butt family. my dad, always the salesman, is doing his best to make his pink woven change purse look like a family heirloom. kevin undoubtedly has pocketed his dollar bill and thrown his unwrapped pencil back in the pile for anyone else to take if they please, and april and jennifer and i are all trying to get grandpa to trade for that cozy knit pair of socks. my mom is trading whatever sweet toy a child will like for some hideous ceramic figurine just so they can get what they want in the crab box this year. the two people who opened books are trying to trade with me, because apparently nerds who like to read like to read anything with a spine and pages inbetween. aunt kimberly and aunt stacy can not get a word in edgewise, they quietly sit and watch everyone else bicker and crab and sell. soon the 30 individual voices combine to make a noise that is unbearable, no one can hear any words but their own anymore. this is when grandma screams above them all... "okay. get ready. 1.2.3. go." and for a few moments all you can hear is shuffling and tearing and crumpling. and then it all starts again. this continues for about 30 rounds until your garbage bags are filling, your ears are ringing, you are sweating, and flushed, and dying of thirst, and you think you can not endure another round. when grandma declares the crab box as finished, everyone sets off to change into their pajamas for the night, and admire their loot.

all the kids set off to the basement where they will stay awake for hours, until the morning has almost come. laughing, and crying, and talking, and dreaming, and wrestling, and playing truth or dare. they adults upstairs will do the same, until they can take no more and must get some shut eye. after all, they have to wake up in the morning and make tea rings, and bacon and eggs and sausage and coffee, lots and lots of coffee. and they have to do it before they kids wake up, because when they do, there will be little time to pry their hands of the stacks of presents under the tree, and subdue them with simply filled stockings and food.

and christmas just isn't christmas without the crab box, without my family, and without these sweet memories.

i am not home in colorado with all my family for the crab box anymore, we chose to make our life in omaha. and every year it breaks my heart, and i imagine myself in that room with all my cousins and family a hundred times christmas eve night. we have our own crab box here, but it just isn't the same without all my family surrounding me. know, dear family, i love you. know i miss you, and i will wish a hundred times we were there with you. you are my christmas. these memories keep it real.

what christmas tradition can you not live without? what christmas tradition sets your year in motion? leaves you waiting anxiously for next year? please share... i would love to know.


  1. Anonymous23:41

    I feel your pain. We moved away from my large family in CA. I miss them every single day.

    Christmas traditions...we don't really have any...more like routines we follow. I think breaking out the decorations and putting up the tree with the kids each year is probably my favorite part of the season.


  2. Anonymous23:42

    PS I loved your story! Sounds like so much fun!

  3. Sarah Anne04:45

    I couldn't have described it better myself. Love you!

  4. Anonymous08:24

    That is an awesome story. I'm sorry you'll miss it. Merry Christmas!!

  5. i'm glad to finally know the how the crab box came to be. steve can't tell stories the way you can, and also assumes i already know everything. my little secret is that i don't.

    you're still invited to the carter crab box.

  6. Anonymous09:06

    that is brilliant. rich. fantastic.

    i didn't grow up with cousins or aunts and uncles nearby or even much extended family at all. i think i really missed out. i loved my family of origin... so much! but our traditions were all built around my playing-at-church schedule, and mom's smoke breaks. yeah. it's that good. :)

    merry Christmas, dear M. you are loved.

  7. I could not wipe the smile off of my face as I read this...I imagined us all sitting there...voices gone, headaches blaring...waiting for Matthew to hear Santa Claus...hahahahaha! He believed in Santa Claus way too long...

    We will have fun with the crab box...small....but fun...

    I love you, Sissy!

  8. Anonymous13:55

    You are so gifted. I am so proud of you and your wonderful gift of story telling. Can't wait to try to replicate at least some of that Christmas joy!

  9. Weekend UPDATE please :o)


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