The sacred Christmas chocolate
Every Christmas as a child I used to get very excited when I heard the grumble of a diesel engine in the driveway and the doorbell ring moments later. It meant some delivery service had dropped off presents.
Usually, the biggest and best box came from my granny. There would be tons of artfully wrapped presents for us kids but only one small, rectangular box for my parents, with instructions to open before Christmas. And in this box was a smaller box of specialty chocolates from a chocolate maker in Ohio.
Now when I think about chocolate my mind doesn’t carry me to Ohio, but I guess these particular chocolates hold some regional importance as that is where my grandmother is from.
Every single year my dad would take this package. Open it. Let us look at the chocolates like some sort of ancient treasure. Then immediately close it and put it on the highest shelf in our kitchen or top of our refrigerator where we couldn’t reach. It used to drive me absolutely bonkers.
If we were lucky he would allow us one piece after dinner in a very ceremonious display, but that was rare. Many years the box just sat on high, collecting dust, eventually disappearing. Dad would constantly talk about how great the candy was, but would never eat it. I believe, to him, the torture was much more satisfying than the calories.
Because of the perceived rarity of this sacred chocolate, I felt a certain accomplishment when I became an adult and my grandmother started sending these traditional shipments to me.
I had crossed over from getting boxes full of plastic toys to becoming a man and having my own precious box of chocolates — all to myself. Except they weren’t just for me. My wife’s name was on the delivery as well, so I had to share.
To this woman I live with, these chocolates were nothing more than a slightly higher caliber candy. The same kind of stuff you can find on the top shelf of the grocery store candy aisle.
She would eat them as if they were any regular old holiday treat (because that’s what they were). But to me, they were something far more. They were constructed from the very ingredients of Christmas itself, each morsel a tiny piece of the spirit and embodiment of the season.
Granted, she thought they were delicious, but as I watched her consume these candies, my candies by birthright, I became jealous. I convinced myself she was unaware of the magic they contained, therefore unworthy, even if they were also sent to her. I started hiding them. Rationing them. I finally understood the strange hoarding behaviors I witnessed as a child.
My greed and protectiveness over this chocolate started to drive a wedge between her and me. I was regressing into another barbaric habit I picked up from my childhood. This would be another thing she needed to beat out of me in her never-ending crusade to make me a normal person.
She became even more baffled when she witnessed this same behavior in my brother.
One year she watched him slowly savor a few select pieces from his personal box and carry on about how delicious and special they were. She bet me that he would not be able to tell the difference between the “special” candy if it were to be switched out with a cheap alternative. There was no way. Christmas tastes like Christmas and cheap tastes like cheap.
So she went to the dollar store and bought the cheapest box of chocolates she could find. They had been in the store so long the distinct, discount smell of the store had calcified in every molecule of the candy. When my brother wasn’t looking she replaced them all and waited.
When he opened the box back up and meticulously surveyed his treasure, picking the perfect candy for that moment, I watched, waiting for him to spit it out this impostor. He did not, instead, he closed his eyes and savored every moment of it. For the rest of the holiday, it went like that until he had eaten every single piece, never knowing it was a cheap placebo.
After this experiment, I was no longer able to be as protective of the candy because I had been proven wrong.
I kept going over it in my head. I realized that a trick like that could work with my brother but not on me. Of course he couldn’t tell the difference! He didn’t have my sophisticated palate. I’ve seen the kid eat snakes before. He was only a few genes away from being a Neanderthal, not the next step in evolution like me.
I went back to hiding the candy so as to ensure its survival. That’s when my wife let me know that she knew the trick would work on my brother because she had been doing it to me for years.