The Christmas parcel

“Parcel went to the post office before 5 p.m. today,” my mother emailed me from Nova Scotia Monday. That puts me on high alert to get to our post office on Thursday or so. Mom will want to know when it arrives.

That should about do it.

That should about do it.

The parcel, I know, will be a box wrapped in brown paper and taped up like a hostage. We’ll have a team of Navy SEALs on standby to breach the packing tape if need be. Our address will be clearly marked on the paper. When we penetrate the paper and packing tape, the address will also be written on the box itself.

“Please note all the tape,” Mom wrote, as if it could be otherwise. “I always hope that the paper does not get ripped, and that is why I put an address on the box as well.”

I wrote back: “The writing on the box is the best part. And the tape!”

Mom replied: “Remember, I had a good teacher in mailing parcels” – her own mom, whose hyper-parcelling was likewise legendary – “those big parcels sent to England during WWII and knowing they would be on a ship for who knew how long.”

How Mom’s parcels might be subject to U-boat attack en route from the Maritimes, I’m not quite sure, but they are coming to Quebec, and that’s essentially foreign territory.

Never in all the years we’ve lived in Quebec has the box arrived anything less than pristine. And good thing. Because inside are our presents for Christmas Day. Very nice. But that’s not all. There are also treats. Treats for right now.

Every year, Mom sends Christmas goodies. The content has varied over the years. For some time, there was homemade peanut brittle and something called “yule log.” This was semi-sweet chocolate, coconut, walnuts and – pièce de resistance – coloured marshmallows, log-shaped and wrapped in wax paper. It was a recipe that recalled those Kraft commercials, the ones with the hands that I will ever associate with “The Carol Burnett Show.”

We haven’t seen the yule log in years. Marshmallows went out of style, maybe. (As if!) They were replaced by truffles – mocha balls rolled in cocoa that my son James can eat his weight in, given the chance. My mom likes sticking notes on things almost as much as she likes taping, and she will remind James that they are to share, with three exclamation marks!!!

But the one constant has been Scotch cakes, what the rest of the world outside Nova Scotia calls “shortbread.” In fact, do an online search for “Scotch cakes” and Google kind of looks at you funny.

But Scotch cakes they were growing up and Scotch cakes they remain, unchanged since my youth. They will arrive perfectly round and flat on top, likely punched out with an old condensed milk tin that Mom has used for years exclusively for this purpose. There will be a button of pink icing on top of each. They will arrive in an old greeting card box, and the layers of cookies will be separated, again, by wax paper.

Like eating a bunch of dimes... (

Like eating a bunch of dimes… (

There has been one change over the years: no more silver balls. I’m glad. I’m convinced those silver balls we ate as children were fabricated from spent plutonium rods.

So we know what’s coming in the parcel. And our family will devour it all.

We’ve sent parcels through the mail ourselves. We’ve sent my parents Quebec maple syrup and cheese and ice wine – er, I mean, “flavoured vinegar,” Canada Post. When our eldest daughter was in Malaysia for Christmas, we sent her a box filled with treats and Canadian goodies, and I’m not even going to hint at the things we shouldn’t have mailed, Canada Post. Besides, the postage we paid to mail the thing could have covered a good chunk of a plane ticket home, so you’re welcome.

Christmas parcels are as close as you can get to a loved one if you can’t be there yourself. They take effort. They involve shopping, wrapping, baking, packing, taping, more taping and just a bit more taping.

My mother is 84. Even last year, when Dad wasn’t well, she went ahead and sent her parcel, even though she shouldn’t have. And I think I know why. Sending the box of goodies is like retrieving that ancient Christmas garland out of storage year after year. It pulls a line through the years, from this troubled time with its worries and stress and aging, all the way back to childhood when Christmas and everything about it was wonderful. And we remember the hope we had back then, a hope that good things will get passed along.

And, of course, eaten.


About rossmurray1

I'm Canadian so I pronounce it "Aboot." No, I don't! I don't know any Canadian who says "aboot." Damnable lies! But I do know this Canadian is all about humour (with a U) and satire. Come by. I don't bite, or as we Canadians say, "beet."
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62 Responses to The Christmas parcel

  1. ksbeth says:

    I can so identify with this. Ever since one of my daughters moved to Australia, my packaging has been kicked up an extreme notch. I’m sure that it annoys customs to no end –

  2. Carrie Rubin says:

    How nice that your mother still does that. A box not only filled with sweets, but memories too. And now I really want one of those Scotch cakes…

  3. pinklightsabre says:

    Does she know not about Amazon? Much easier.

  4. pinklightsabre says:

    I’m going to speak Shakespearean on your blog henceforth: Does she know not about Amazon?

  5. This reminds me of care packages in university. My mom was a sew-er, not a baker so mine were filled with new clothes. Luckily my roommates recieved homemade goodies, so I got too enjoy the best of both worlds. Merry Christmas!!!

  6. This is such a great post. I am, for the first time, sending my shortbreads to my best friend in Calgary since she won’t be home over the holidays. I will have to steal your mom’s idea and wrap the box like a hostage!! (could be my favorite line of the post)

  7. I loved those silver balls, maybe that’s why I have a strange growth on my knee.

  8. Nice essay, Ross – humorous, but sweetly sentimental. When I was in the Army, my mother sent me packages to every duty station. If she were sending gold bricks, those packages couldn’t have been more secure. And she liked the shipping tape with fibers in it, requiring a machete and a nap to get the package open.

  9. Scott says:

    Thankfully, my parents and I all live in close proximity so we don’t have to mess with the postal service. Also, if my mom tried to bake cookies we’d have a Christmas tragedy on our hands.

  10. goldfish says:

    I’m with you in not missing silver nonpareils. By the way, nonpareils is the fancy, technical term for balls.

  11. This post made me feel all Christmas-y and whatnot. Now I’m ready for mistletoe and shoving.

    What’s your beef with silver nonpareils? Do you hate peeps, too? Devil.

    I friggin’ love yule log. I wish I had one right now. Do you know what buckeyes are? Maybe an Ohio thing only. Ball o’ peanut butter wrapped in chocolate. Looks like a buckeye, tastes like a Reese’s cup but softer.

    I can’t believe “Reese’s” was in the spell check database. Awesome.

    • rossmurray1 says:

      Oh man, I forgot about those! My mom makes them too, with the nondescript name of “Peanut Butter Balls.” I think there’s a whole lot of icing sugar mixed in with the peanut butter to keep it soft. If those arrive this week, I’ll be ecstatic. (P.S. I accidentally spelled “peanut better”; yes.)

  12. Ned's Blog says:

    This post brought back memories of my first year away from home, living on my own, hundreds of miles away from family. My Mom sent a package with her homemade Nestlie’s Toll House chocolate chip cookies, which no one — including myself — has ever truly duplicated. Eating those cookies alone in my little apartment was bitter-sweet. Or semi-sweet, I guess. It made that Christmas a little easier to take. Now that we’re less than 10 minutes away from each other again, I taste those cookies warm from the noven and think of that first Christmas away — and how thankful I am to be home again.

    • rossmurray1 says:

      We turn into nostalgic suckers this time of year, eh?
      My wife throws a handful of rolled oats in her cookie batter. You don’t know it’s there but, mmmm, it does something magical.

      • Ned's Blog says:

        That sounds like a great idea. I can’t figure out what my mom does differently to the recipe. I really don’t want to; it’s part of that same magic. Knowing my mom, if I asked her to whisper it to me on her deathbed, she’d say “Rosebud.”

  13. markbialczak says:

    You and the family are lucky recipients once you slice the package open and not your fingers, Ross. An exacto knife to the fleshy part between the thumb and fore of the hand holding the slippery tape just so … Yes, my grandmother would send me her uncrackable care packages when I was in college. My roommates would hide behind the desk while I opened it and then beg for the sweets. By the end of my two years at the junior college upstate, though, I had eight-dozen uneaten packs of ramen noodles in the back of my closet.

    Truffles and Scotch cakes, oh, my. Oh were did the yule logs go, pray tell? Silver balls can be bought in a box at the movie theater, the silly non-pareils that Fishy writes of, so no loss there, no.

    Enjoy the tradition, sir. Happy holidays, Ross’ Mom! Keep those packages airtight. Your son loves them that way.

  14. buntymcc says:

    They were called Scotch cookies in my house too, in New Brunswick, in Edmundston, not 20 km from la belle province. But in PEI where I now live, and where they make shortbread, nobody ever knew what I was talking about. Thanks for restoring my sanity with that nostalgic tale of Christmas parcels.

  15. Nic says:

    This post is a delight. I could smell the balsam and fur (and Scotch cakes) as I read through its ode to holiday tradition and family. Mostly, though, this post is a delight because of your brilliant usage of “As If!”

  16. I know very well what you mean! My mom (she passed away many ago) used to do the same, and she was an expert, too. She was from England and used to send all manner of Canadian goodies over there, especially during the fifties when there was still some rationing going on. One time she sent a whole smoked salmon, and it arrived just fine! Her packages followed us kids around the world – it didn’t matter where we were. Your post has triggered some very pleasant memories – thanks! 🙂

  17. Letizia says:

    Your daughter must have been so excited to receive a parcel when she was in Malaysia. Nothing like the comforts of home when you’re far away.

    Your mother wraps her parcels like I wrap my Christmas presents. My family jokes that it’s as if I don’t want anyone to open them!

  18. Susan C. Mastine says:

    Love this, Ross. There is one key ingredient that fills all the empty air space in every such parcel – love. 🙂

  19. In my wife’s family, they don’t butter your nose on your birthday, they shove your face into the birthday cake. They do this at graduations and other special occasions, too. Happily, I am both a vegan and a diabetic, so I don’t do cake. 🙂

  20. Love the Christmas parcel!
    The brown paper, the magic of travel from faraway and all of the love wrapped up inside. If your mama is anything like mine, she is probably tickled pink that you wrote about her and this tradition.
    You’ll probably get extra treats for the efforts.
    Happy Holidays, Ross!
    (no, I’m not stalking your blog today…just getting caught up!)

    • rossmurray1 says:

      Ha. Glad to have you stop by.
      Yes, my Mom was tickled indeed. She noted, though, that I was getting the greeting card box mixed up with my own grandmother. My Mom’s arrived in a old chocolate assortment box.

      • Paul says:

        Hmmm, a chocolate assortment box – I’ll bet it was Moirs. My Dad used to work for Ben’s Bakery in Halifax and the founder was Ben Moir. He also started a chcolate factory called Moirs which was the gold standard in chocolate in Nova Scotia for decades.

  21. Paul says:

    Great Post Ross. I’m just catching up on back e-mails -sorry. My Mum, who is 81, also wraps parcels so they cannot be opened. She too uses a box, which she addresses. Then wraps the box completely in brown paper, which is also addressed. Then she will take a whole roll of clear packing tape and seal every inch of the parcel with a plastic clear , unbreachable layer. This too she will address. then she ties string aorund the parcel looping it around and around and around, then tieing it all together. The end result requires some special equiment to open. I have been known to leave her parcels unopened for days simply because I dd not have the necessary tools at hand. And she wants to know to the day and hour when it arrived, and can never understand why I don’t rip it open immediately. ha!

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