McCaleb: ‘Dreaded Mistletoe Gag Gift’ among traditions

We’re still nine days away from the official Christmas holiday, but today is a Christmas of sorts at the McCaleb household. We’ll be celebrating tonight with Mom, who is visiting from western Pennsylvania.

Ever since Dad died of lung cancer in 2007, Mom has traveled to Crystal Lake the weekend or two before Christmas to share some special time with my wife and me, and especially her grandchildren. It’s a relatively new tradition that we all look forward to.

Tradition always has been a special part of the holiday season. Traditions come and go, but the best of them remain with us for a lifetime, if only in memory.

Among my favorite Christmas traditions was venturing out with Dad on Christmas Eve day, when he’d do all of his shopping for Mom. Each Dec. 24 for years, he and I would drive to the mall to find Mom the perfect gift. (At least it was perfect in Dad’s mind. I don’t know whether Mom would agree.)

Sometimes Dad had a plan. Sometimes he didn’t. But it always was a special time, and they are moments I’ll always remember.

Mom and I have developed our own new Christmas shopping tradition in recent years. The Friday after she arrives, I take off work, and the two of us make the rounds, finishing up our Christmas shopping while the kids are in school.

With this new tradition, she doesn’t have to lug too many gifts with her on the plane trip here. And we make local merchants happy.

I do spend too much time in craft stores but, other than that, it’s all good.

The last couple of years before Dad died, when he wasn’t traveling well, we made a point to drive back to Pennsylvania so we could spend his last few Christmases with him.

My son, much younger then, became intrigued by all the mistletoe that his grandmother put up around their house. He wondered aloud, probably to his regret, what it had to do with kissing.

That started a new tradition in our family – the “Dreaded Mistletoe Gag Gift.”

Each year since then, Mom (Nana to my children) finds some knickknack or another with mistletoe on it, wraps it up, and inches closer to my son as he opens it. Then, she smothers him with kisses as he figures out what is going on.

As my son has gotten older, he’s become a little more savvy. Last year, he anticipated the “Dreaded Mistletoe Gag Gift,” and tried to escape the kissing part. His grandmother would have none of it, though. He was a good sport about it, even at 10.

I was hoping he’d forget about it this year and be surprised by the “Dreaded Mistletoe Gag Gift” again.

He isn’t quite old enough to take an interest in my column, so this wasn’t going to tip him off. But, then, as we sat around the dinner table Thursday night, his little sister, with a big smile on her face, asked Nana what mistletoe present she got her big brother this year.

Any chance at a surprise ended there.

Tonight should be a mini-adventure, then, but that’s OK. We’ll enjoy the moment, whatever it turns out to be.

Traditions come and go, and this one won’t last forever. But like past traditions that have long since ended, we’ll remember it – and likely talk about it – for a lifetime.

• • • 

Heavy hearts: We are all shocked and saddened by Friday’s senseless massacre in Connecticut. What happens to a human being in his young life that he gets to a point mentally where he kills his own mother in cold blood, takes her guns to an elementary school, then brutally slaughters so many innocent children and school staff?

I have no answers, only a very empty feeling inside.

Like so many others, I’m sure, I couldn’t help but to play the “what if” game much of Friday and Saturday. What if Friday’s horrible events happened at a local school? What if my children were there? What if – and I dread the thought – my kids were among the dead? I hugged each of them after school on Friday, and am thankful they are safe.

I can only imagine what the parents of the 20 slain children are going through, as well as the families of the others who were killed. My condolences and the condolences of the entire Northwest Herald family to the surviving family members and friends of the Connecticut shooting victims.

Most McHenry County schools seem to be reacting appropriately, or as appropriately as anyone can react when faced with such senseless violence, by offering counseling to local students and staff as necessary. Parents also should be prepared to talk with their children about it.

Prairie Ridge High School is directly affected by the slayings, as two cousins of the shooter attend school there. I’m sure the community will rally to support this local family as it too tries to make sense of everything while also mourning the deceased.

• • • 

Everyday Heroes: The deadline for nominating a McHenry County resident as an everyday hero is fast approaching.

For the second straight year, we’re looking to honor those local folks who go above and beyond to make their communities better places to live. Everyday heroes are those special people who perform countless good deeds simply because they care about their fellow human beings.

Last year, we honored dozens of local residents, many of whom volunteered their time and talents with local organizations that help those in need. In February, we published a special section telling their stories. We plan to do the same in February 2013.

We can’t honor these heroes if we don’t know about them, though. Take a few minutes and fill out our nomination form, which is printed on page 6 of today’s Business section, and also can be found online at

• Dan McCaleb is senior editor of the Northwest Herald. He can be reached at 815-526-4603, or by email at Follow him on Twitter at @NWHeditor.

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