As an author and an avid, under-the-covers-with-a-flashlight reader, I feel like I should say "favorite gift? Books, books, books!" And while I have certainly received my fair share of amazing bookish presents, it's really nothing compared to the best Christmas ever. I was eight, I think, and a full-blown, shakes in withdrawal, Strawberry Shortcake junkie. There was no shame in my habit. I went nowhere without a little stash -- a lemony-scented miniature of Lemon Meringue Pie in my pocket at church, a couple of big-headed dollies stashed in my "purse" at family dinners.
I'm also the youngest kid on both sides of my extended (extremely extended -- Italian on one side, Hungarian on the other) family, which meant that at that time, all my cousins were either in the brooding, high school, give me money or give me death stage or the fresh into college, bro can you spare a microwave? stage. Meaning, no one knew what to get the sole kid in the family.
So Christmas Eve comes along and in our family that is the coup de gras, the pinnacle of all nights, because that is the night Santa doesn't just slip through the chimney in the dark of night -- he actually stops in to say hi. See, my family has connections. Everywhere. Our reach goes all the way to the North Pole so for as long as my little eight (and now 30-somethin') brain can remember, Santa was a pop-in-for-a-few mainstay at Christmas Eve. And he always brought a little something to lighten his load for the work to come. And that year, the little something that he handed to me smelled like strawberries.
I tore it open with hopped-up-on-candy cane glee. And there she was: the newest, smelliest Strawberry Shortcake on the market. I was ecstatic. Life couldn't get better. And then Santa called my name again. Me, Santa? I asked, wide-eyed. My whole family grinned and ushered me forward and Santa handed me another box. And then another. And then another. All shaped the same. All vaguely scented.
My heart beat. Adrenaline raced through my body, right to my fat little fingers as I tore smiling Santa paper off package after package - until there they were, lined up under the tree: the entire Strawberry Shortcake line up, from Blueberry Muffin to the ethically ambiguous Cafe Au Lait. Even - EVEN - the Purple Pie Man.
I've had wonderful Christmases every year since then, but nothing compared to that night, the magical smell of Strawberry -- and with just the slightest twinge of Douglas Fir. Best. Christmas. Ever.