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“First thing we do, let’s ditch all the wrapping paper.”

My family made the bold decision to forego gifts for Christmas 2013. We’re all adults. We say frequently that we don’t need more stuff, so we acted on it. No gifts! But what were we going to do on Christmas morning?

I suggested we choose a charity for the unused dollars. My wife, Susan, suggested we celebrate with a games marathon.

Bingo! The plan had hatched.

Here were the rules: Everyone contributed $50 to the pot and brought the name of a charity as a contender for the donation. Each household chose a game for our family of eight to play. At the end of our time together, we put the charity names in a hat and drew one, which received the entire pot.

Life was so different without the seasonal frenzy. No malls. No stores, except for groceries. No gift lists to seek or create. Add into the mix that I recently retired and you get the picture.

When my mother visited from Ohio in mid-December, we spent an afternoon decorating the house – a delightful shared activity because our showcase decoration is a huge Christmas village that Mom crafted one piece at a time over a 20-year period. Then we invited friends and neighbors to admire it and share some holiday cheer.

The Christmas season was unique because it was relaxing!

As we gathered on Christmas Eve at my nephew’s beautiful home in Cincinnati, I felt some trepidation about how this would play out. We would have 36 hours together. The dining room was a natural games area, but it was set for the incredible Christmas feasts under creation. Would there be enough time and space? How would we decide who drew the name out of the hat? Was everybody going to like the games?

Silly me. Not to worry. It was one of those times when everything flowed. My nephew, Jay, invited a family of his friends to stop by on Christmas Eve. Mom and Dad and the three youngsters were completely delightful, giving us a taste of children’s excitement anticipating the big day. Jay had a thoroughly modern conversation with the kids about how Santa would get through the decorative insert covering their hearth.

“He’ll open it with a passcode.”

“How will he know what it is?”

“I left it in a secret place on the other side.”

Even the 4-year-old understood the intricacies of passcode use.

On Christmas morning, the games marathon began. Our chef, Brendan, toiled away in the kitchen, his preferred room and activity. The rest of us perched in the living room and started with a spirited game of dice. Moving between the living room and the dining room, based on the space needs of the players and the demands on the dining room, we continued with Clue and a wacky card game, Beat Your Neighbor.

Then we ate a fabulous feast, cleared the table and went back to the games. We ended with a grudge match of dice, after which Jay produced a Bengals hat containing the charity names, and Brendan did the honors. The winner was the American Cancer Society, my brother Rod’s entry, and an appropriate donation as we all celebrate the fact that he has beaten six melanomas since he was 25. Now he’s helping his wife fight a carcinoma.

It was an amazing time. The hardest part was figuring out what to do with all that unused wrapping paper.

Kay Patterson is a licensed mental health counselor from Buffalo who is enjoying her recent retirement.