This past week provided a study in Christmastime contrasts.
On Friday, we celebrated a work-delayed Christmas in New Jersey with my wife's family, consisting of seven adults and two children, ages 8 and 2.
On Sunday, we celebrated a Christmas at home with my side of the family, consisting of 16 adults and nine children, ages between 15 and 7. A toddler and his parents couldn't be with us; his dad is laid up following recent surgery, and can't travel well until mid-January.
Among those 24 people expected Sunday, six "adults" are grandchildren or their significant others.
For the Friday celebration, gifts were fairly simple. Abby, 8, and Wyatt, 2, got the large stacks of presents. The rest of us got one or two gifts apiece.
For the Sunday celebration, the "big-family" rule applied: Nothing in the trash gets thrown away without a second in-the-garage search through the torn-apart wrappings. Inside, there could be an overlooked gift or, for that matter, a child, giggling at having hidden from the rest of us.
Well into January, we'll fondly recall the leisurely, child-centered gift opening session in New Jersey.
Well into January, we'll be remembering bits and pieces of the frenetic free-for-all that usually accompanies the big-family get-together.
Hershey bars are the great gift-leveler.
In buying gifts for some of the people attending either celebration, my tastes run from the bizarre to the banal, with occasional flashes of "Why, this is just what I needed!" brilliance. More often, when someone opens a gift that I have bought, there's a short silence and an earnest smile, along with a "Thanks, Grandpa ... I think."
So to ensure that everyone is happy, everyone gets a giant Hershey bar.
Who can argue with a Hershey bar? They're delectable and consumable and, to avoid confusion, each recipient's name is Sharpie-pen dabbed onto each bar.
For those few who might not covet chocolate, or who might be attempting to get rid of a post-holiday bloat by dieting, Hershey bars are eminently tradeable. "Hey, I'll give you my Hershey bar AND the gift from Grandpa in exchange for (whatever)...."
My wife puts thought into her gift-buying.
I go on impulse, and in batches.
Every year, I see something that could be an appropriate gift for one grandchild ... but might also work for several others. So the one grandchild who is thrilled by the ratcheting screwdriver with 24 bits and drivers is offset by others whose faces reflect the aforementioned halfhearted smiles.
Perhaps my gift-buying pattern is genetic.
When my own kids were children, my late mother insisted on buying pajamas for each of them, to be given to them on Christmas Eve and worn during the Christmas morning gift-opening session.
Mom thought pajamas with footies were cute; they are, but not on 15-year-old males. And, harking back to her own Depression-era youth, she always bought sizes that "they can grow into."
A toddler in a size 4T is cute.
An almost-man with shaving cream on half of his face, howling because he just stepped on a dragging footie and tripped himself into bouncing off the bathtub ... well, that is a Christmas morning memory of another sort.
With the cocky self-assurance that comes with thirtysomethng maturity, I used to make fun of Mom's gift-selection abilities with a patronizing smile.
Now, at seventysomething, I seem to have grown into those same warped selection criteria.
Oh, well. The Hershey bars make up for that, at least in part.
I never claimed to be a good gift-giver to my children or grandchildren, or to the extended cadre of them encompassed by my wife's family.
I do like to be a fun-spreading gift-giver. What I want them to remember is that, for all his goofiness, Grandpa did serve up love and affection, accompanied (most of the time) by laughter.
That is the common yarn knitting together the small-group and big-family gatherings that occur during Christmastime.
I remember with fondness my late mother-in-law's predilection to patterned sport shirts, cellophane-encased. The size was always correct, but the patterns dated back to the 1950s, and this was in the 1980s. My teenaged sons would look quizzically at me after opening one of Grandma's shirts, and I would shrug my shoulders with an air of "I got one too; just deal with it" resignation.
Some were exchanged. Others reposed inside dresser drawers until someone moved away, at which time they went to Goodwill Industries or the Salvation Army.
What remained, though, was the warm feeling that my sons and I felt as we both basked in Grandma and Grandpa's genuine affection.
That is what I hope my generation can now pass along to the younger folks. It's Christmas, and we cherish you.
Denny Bonavita is a former editor at newspapers in DuBois and Warren. He lives near Brookville. Email: email@example.com.