Tangerine peel.Photo: Mike Chaput

Our Christmas gifts were mostly practical ones: pencils, socks, toothbrushes, and that sort of thing. But each kid also received a favorite edible — olives for one brother, sweet and sour salt plums for the other, chocolate covered cherries for my sister and me. There was always the special item, too — the binoculars, the big Audubon book, something deeply desired but completely unexpected. As for our stockings, our names were not embroidered in glitter or sequins but there was always a tangerine in the toe of each one. Always. And it was always so juicy and good.

Besides the binoculars, what I really remember was my parents’ wrapping style. We never seemed to have gifts wrapped in normal Christmas paper, but rather, in anything but. One year it was rice paper. Butcher paper was featured another year. When my dad wrapped our gifts in newspaper I felt they were getting maybe too unusual. There were many years when colored tissue concealed our gifts. My parents had been in charge of decoration for a dance at the university and had bought an enormous box of tissue paper to use. A rainbow of gossamer-colored sheets remained from their efforts and showed up faithfully under the tree year after year. One year my brother, a budding botanist, got into the act and wrapped all his gifts in the leaves and stems of rather large plants — our houseplants, I believe. This was a hard family to live in if you longed for normal.

The stockings that held the little gifts and practical items were my father’s red hand-knit Norwegian ski socks with reindeer on them. Since he didn’t ski and wasn’t Norwegian, I don’t know why he had them or where they came from, but they were pulled out every Christmas, nailed to a mantel and filled. That is, every year except the one when my parents decided it might be fun to use my mother’s stockings instead. The thing about nylons, pantyhose, and all those feminine leggings is that they stretch. These stretched and stretched and in the end they accommodated the entirety of each child’s Christmas haul. There was nothing under the tree, and the vision that greeted us on the dawn of that 25th was bizarre. The stockings trailed down the fireplace and over the floor. They were all angles where the boxes had gone, puffy swells where the sweaters and soft things were. And there, in the toe, was still that tangerine.

I thought all this would end for me when I grew up, but no, it didn’t. The first year I was married, my husband, who is not a big fan of Christmas, but is a fan of tangerines, presented me with a garbage can (for the wrapping) that contained a hose. Actually, it was a terrific hose, and 20 years later it still is our best one. I love that kind of a present. For years I’ve said what I really want is a load of compost, but somehow he won’t make that leap. Maybe that’s just too bizarre, or maybe it’s just that there’s nowhere for the tangerine to go.

Regardless of how you wrap your gifts, I wish you all joyful and peaceful holidays with plenty of tangerines, either in socks, stockings, or maybe just in a bowl on the table.

This piece originally appeared on Deborah Madison’s blog, Growing Connections.