From Chicken Soup for the Father & Daughter Soul

Christmas in a Nutshell

Though the gods feast on ambrosia, I savor the sweet meats of trees. I first encountered walnuts in the net stockings distributed by a jolly, red-suited man. Together with tangerines and candy canes, the English walnut became a Christmas treat—until the year there weren’t any.

The hustle and bustle of preparing for Christmas put the purchase of those relished walnuts at the bottom of my list. After dinner at my relatives’ home one Christmas night, Uncle Richie asked, “Can I get anyone anything?”

Without even thinking twice about their availability, I said, “Do you have any walnuts?”

He looked surprised. “Walnuts . . . hmmm . . . I’ll look.” Having searched the kitchen cabinets, he returned and announced cheerfully, “I guess I’m going shopping.”

Store-hopping on December 25th proved to be a futile event. Empty-handed, my red-faced uncle sighed sheepishly. “The stores are closed. I’m sorry.”

From that moment, my father took it upon himself to be an annual walnut-bearing Christmas elf. Each year, those special treasures prompted promise and laughter, camouflaged in a brown paper bag, crowded into a red-and-green stocking, crammed to abundance in a shoebox lined with tissue or wrapped in dainty holiday paper. This continued every year until my dad died.

An emptiness pierced the Christmas of 1985 even amid the joy of sharing gifts. Wrappings from all the opened presents cluttered the living room. A sudden stillness accompanied a final gift my unusually quiet brother, Doug, presented to me. My unsteady hands reached out to touch the shirt-sized box, as my eyes searched the pain in his hazel eyes. It was a moment that lasted a lifetime, filtered through shared experiences, hopes and dreams. Indecision was trapped in the tender but cautious presentation of my brother’s gift to me. “I almost forgot this one,” he whispered.

Five pairs of anxious eyes focused on the shiny, dark blue paper punctuated with dainty white snowflakes. Their ice-cold appearance must have frozen my fingertips, which carefully untied the curly silver ribbon. There in the box were three pounds of walnuts encased in wrinkled, woody shells. The room held its collective breath, treasuring the tears that trickled down my cheeks and mirrored by those in my brother’s eyes.

No gift was ever more precious. No walnut dessert has ever tasted as sweet or as palatable as the memories of my father. Every crunch imposed by the nutcracker echoes his love for me. It is impossible for me to shell or chop walnuts without sensing a delicious presence that warms my heart.

It’s been eighteen years since that Christmas when Doug continued Dad’s tradition. No Christmas goes by without a “nutty gift,” and year after year, I’m touched by love that comes in a nutshell.

Bobbie Bonk

More stories from our partners