The Christmas holiday was certainly different this year, for obvious reasons.
Mimi (Karen) and Poppy (me) are scheduled to watch grandsons Hampton, 4, and Graham, 2, open their presents on Christmas morning Friday, but we'll likely be wearing masks. Still, the sacrifices will be worth it just to see the looks on their faces when they tear through the wrapping paper to see what Santa left them under the tree.
Here's one of the differences between a 4-year-old and 2-year-old.
Hampton circled roughly 250 items in the holiday catalogs that began arriving the day after Thanksgiving. His wish list was expanded almost daily to the point where it was about as long as the Ocean City Boardwalk. Among the things he asked for were nightvision goggles, Frisbees, and a View Master. The letter sent to the North Pole included a myriad of toys and sports equipment but not a single stitch of clothing.
Graham is a boy of simple tastes. If there's a sword under the tree and a phone in his stocking, he'll be happy. We're not quite sure what to make of the requests, but there's undoubtedly a duel brewing. And reinforcements are just a text message away.
It's certainly going to be different than some past Christmases.
Growing up in the 1960s and '70s in Cape May meant attending the annual party at the Beach Theatre, where Santa stood on stage and gave away a slew of presents. The grand prize was a Stingray bike, which I was never fortunate enough to win.
It was also the time of year when our Aunt Josie and Uncle Bennie would visit from New York City, which was my mother's hometown. One year, Uncle Bennie got ahold of one of our walkie-talkies and convinced my two younger brothers and some other kids from the neighborhood that they were talking to Santa. During the conversation, Santa mentioned that he had heard their Aunt Josie had not been good that year and was going to get coal in her stocking. Which she did.
When I was around 10, I was picked to serve as one of the altar boys for midnight Mass at Star of the Sea. In the alter boy world, that was the equivalent of a callup to the Major Leagues. Father Flanigan performed the Mass in Latin in front of a packed house. My big moment came during Communion, when parishioners knelt along a marble altar as Father Flanigan and Father Bucheler gave out the wafers. My job was to hold the plate and to catch any that happened to miss the mark, kind of like a first mate who wields a net in case the fish jumps off the hook before it's in the boat.
On the way home, I kept my eyes peeled upward and swore I saw a sleigh and reindeer dashing across the sky near the beach. A year earlier, I was convinced I saw a black boot in our fireplace between the stockings that Mrs. Maxwell had made for us in 1961, along with the manger scene that was set up on the mantel.
Once Karen and I became parents, Christmas meant schlepping to the Hamilton Mall to grab the last Cabbage Patch Doll and WWF wrestlers off the shelves of Kay-Bee Toy Store for daughter Ashley and son Kyle.
There was also the annual trip to Storybook Land, a decades-long streak that was continued when Kyle and his wife, also named Ashley, became parents.
It ended this year.
Concerns about COVID-19 and mingling among crowds caused our family to cancel the visit, which meant there will be no photo of Hampton and Graham sitting on Santa's lap. We're also skipping Star of the Sea's Christmas Eve Mass for the first time in nearly 15 years.
Likewise, the vast majority of our shopping was done online, though we also made a couple quick trips to local stores — wearing masks and maintaining a six-foot distance — to help them stay in business.
We've tried our best to keep some family traditions alive amidst the chaos, however.
The manger scene is set up atop our entertainment center, along with some of the Thomas Kincaide Christmas ornaments Karen has accumulated through the years.
Once again, I'll be wrapping gifts in the den on Christmas Eve while drinking some of my late mother's "special" egg nog, which consists of a little egg, a little nog and a lot of bourbon. That will also include watching my all-time favorite Christmas movie, "Christmas Vacation."
Last year, I drank so much of it I swore I saw a black boot in our fireplace.
Which is all well and good except we don't have a fireplace.
David Weinberg's columns can also be found on his Dave Weinberg Extra Points Facebook page and blog, as well as on 973ESPN.comc. His podcast, Dave Weinberg's Tequila and Touchdowns, can be heard on Anchor, Facebook and Twitter. You can also hear him 5:10 p.m. every Tuesday at Newstalk 1400-AM WOND and WONDRadio.com on Off the Press with Scott Cronick and at 5:35 p.m. Wednesdays for his Beat the Degenerates appearance on Cronick's show. His Weinberg Wednesday segment airs at 6:15 p.m. weekly on 97.3-FM ESPN.