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Emily Ford column: The McNulty Christmas Spectacular

My husband assures me that my family’s Christmas celebration is unusual.

Doesn’t everyone gather with 26 relatives in a basement on Christmas morning, open presents for nearly four hours (one at a time of course) with the kids in Santa hats and the women in bells, take one break for coffee and pop refills, then chat upstairs while the kids play street hockey in the garage, and later eat a huge meal together, watch a talent show, play a card game and exchange tacky $1 gifts?


OK, maybe we’re a little unusual.

My husband has grown accustomed to the McNulty Christmas Spectacular in South Dakota. He had a gentle initiation at his first one — a pair of Osh Kosh overalls and a Harley Davidson bandanna.

Uncle Ron, however, received an empty 5-gallon bucket nailed to some fake grass. Apparently, word got out that he’d had a little trouble relieving himself while fishing, far from shore.

That gift would have gone well with a cap Uncle Diet (long story) received. With a fish head sticking out the front and fish tail out the back, the hat proclaimed, “Kick some bass!”

The whole Christmas extravaganza only takes about 12 hours. The rookies (three new in-laws) hung in there.

Carson, 17, who didn’t expect any gifts, still had a pile of presents left toward the end. We warned him to open a few in the bathroom if needed — no one beats Grandma Peg in gift opening.

Peg McNulty loves Christmas. When a spider bit her this fall and caused a bad infection in her neck, she was less concerned about her health than missing two weeks of Christmas preparations.

She recovered, and we enjoyed her prolific baking and gift giving on Christmas Day. Her homemade fleece blankets were a hit. In fact, my daughter Nellie, 8, chose it as her favorite present.

Grandma sat in a revolving chair in the middle of the room so she could turn as the gift opening proceeded around the basement.

It was a joyous Christmas, although a brown one. Not a single flake. I can remember only one brown Christmas while growing up, and as an adult, we’ve had three or four.

If you don’t believe in global warming, go to South Dakota in December.

Thankfully, we woke a few days later to find everything covered with pristine snow. Perfect snow, heavy and wet. Just right for snowballs and snowmen. We built an 8-foot giant, perhaps the most well photographed snowman in history.

My son Henry, 11, got to run the snowblower, until we heard a loud crash. I looked out and saw Dad back at the helm. Henry had an old-fashioned shovel.

My mother still loves to tell the story of Dad’s first Christmas with her family.

Everyone sat down behind the piles of beautifully wrapped presents. Dad, as was the custom in his family, started tearing into his gifts. He looked up to find the entire group staring at him, mouths open.

One at a time, Bruce!

Mom and Dad had a little discussion later about why Mom did not prepare Dad for Christmas with her family.

“I guess I just thought that’s how everyone did it,” she said.

Apparently, not everyone celebrates Christmas like the McNultys.

But I wouldn’t want it any other way.


Emily Ford is a freelance writer living in Salisbury.


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